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How to Tell the Age of a Living Tree.

Estimating the age of a tree can be a rather difficult process if you don’t know precisely how old the tree is from its beginning. If you weren’t there to physically plant the tree itself, how can you know if the tree is 10 years old, or 100 years old? Well, there are actually a few ways that you can tell, and we are going to cover a small portion of them down below.

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First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way. The most accurate way to tell the age of a tree when you weren’t there to plant it is by counting the rings. If you cut a tree down and count the rings in the stump, these rings will show each cycle that the tree has gone through throughout its lifetime. The more rings there are, the older the tree is in years. This is a simple method, but unfortunately it requires you to kill the tree. If you are opposed to that, try these other methods:

Take A Core Sample

A core sample is very nearly as accurate as cutting the tree in half, provided that you get the right angle and go deep enough into the core. A core sample is done by drilling a chunk of the tree out with a specialized coring tool and pulling out the sample. This sample with be a thin cylinder of tree trunk, and from there you can count the rings on the sample. Core samples, when done right, will not kill the tree and can give a great indication of age. 

Measuring the Trunk

Measuring the diameter of the trunk is another way to estimate an age but is much more difficult to get with 100% certainty. This process requires you to measure the diameter of the tree and multiply that by its average growth factor. Let’s say you are measuring a Silver Maple. A Silver Maple has a growth factor of 3.0. You would measure the diameter of the trunk in inches and divide that by 3.14 (pi). The number that you get, you will multiply by the tree’s growth factor (3.0 in this case). A simple formula could look like this. 

  • 15″ diameter divided by 3.14 = 4.777.
  • 4.777 multiplied by 3.0 = 14.331.
  • The tree is nearly 14 1/2 years old. 

This method is excellent for estimating the age of a tree. However, you would need to know exactly what species the tree is, and what the official growth factor for that tree is. 

Conclusion

Getting an exact age for your tree, while still keeping it alive, is often very difficult to the untrained eye. If you for some reason need to know exactly how old a tree is, it’s best to call a professional arborist. They will know how to core sample the tree without damaging it, or at the very least they can give you the species and growth factor of your tree so you can do the measurements yourself. When in doubt, call for a professional!

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