Once the seed has found the right conditions, it needs to secure itself. The first root breaks through the seed, anchoring it and taking in water for the developing plant. The next stage in germination is the emergence of the embryonic shoot.
The shoot pushes up through the soil, with the shoot leaves either poking above ground or rotting underneath as the rest of the shoot grows above.
A shoot becomes a seedling when it is above ground. This stage is when trees are most at risk from diseases and damage like deer grazing.
A tree becomes a sapling when it is over 3ft tall. The length of the sapling stage depends on the tree species, but saplings have defining characteristics:
- Flexible trunks
- Smoother bark than mature trees
- An inability to produce fruit or flowers.
Trees with really long life spans like yews and oaks are saplings for much longer than shorter-lived species like silver birch and wild cherry.
A tree becomes mature when it starts producing fruits or flowers. This is when the tree is at its most productive. How long it will stay productive depends on the species.
A typical English oak tree starts producing acorns at around 40 years old, peaking in productivity around 80-120 years. Oaks, in general, can be productive for 300 years then rest for 300 years before moving on in the life cycle. In contrast, rowan starts producing berries after around 15 years, and by 120 years or so it is already at the end of its life.
These fruits are dispersed and the life cycle repeats, but that’s not the end of a tree’s journey.