TOPIC: Multitrunk Trees
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Date: Sun, Dec 16 2007 8:28 pm
From: "Edward Frank"
I have posted a new page to the website that will be the index of a
section of the website devoted to Multitrunk trees and other odd
forms. It is posted at: http://www.nativetreesociety.org/multi/index_multi.htm
It is essentially what I posted about a few weeks ago. I intend to
devote a separate page for discussion and elaboration of each of the
categories I have proposed. This is a work in progress and is
subject to change as our ideas evolve.
Looking over our past discussions I wanted to post with some revised
comments based on a post I made two years ago, that did not have any
takers at the time. It was a summary of comments made by a group of
people concerning the topic.
Multi-trunked Trees (part 3)
At this juncture we have had some good discussions on multi-trunked
trees, but a number of questions remain unanswered. Some perhaps
people on this list can answer now, others probably must wait until
we gather more information and have time to figure them out. I would
like to summarize some of what was determined and restate the
Bob Leverett has expressed an interest in expanding our measurements
of multi-trunked trees. These are outlined initially in a post dated
Jan 04, 2005. Will Blozan on the other hand (Jan 04, 2005) expressed
the opinion: "The seed sprouts a single stem, and that is an
individual. What the tree does from there is to be considered by
ENTS, but the accomplishments of a single stem are what I am
As I see it the answer is all of the above. If some people are
interested in doing more detailed measurements of multi-trunked
trees, and they are going to measure them using ENTS high standards,
there is not reason not to support the effort and publish the
results on the website. The standard measurements of height, cbh,
and crown spread should be taken for the largest stem of the group
so that data from the multi-trunked tree can be directly compared to
those single stemmed trees, and additional information and
measurements can be taken of the other stems and incorporate into a
separate data set focusing on multi-trunked specimens.
2) How do these multi-trunked trees form?
Lee Frelich (Jan 05, 2004) wrote:
"One of the main ways to identify the boundary of old growth
stands in the northern hardwoods is the presence of multi-stemmed
trees, which signal the end of the old growth. The one exception to
this is basswood, which sometimes sprouts a ring of smaller trees
around the mother tree in the absence of disturbance. In a 1953
blowdown in the Porcupine Mountains in sugar maple, red maple, red
oak, basswood, yellow birch forest (with very few white pine, white
spruce and hemlock), the areas that were salvaged have many multiple
stemmed trees that are crooked, whereas the areas not salvaged have
straight trees with much bigger trunks. All the species in this
forest except the conifers will stump sprout, especially younger
trees up to 80 years old. Older trees die if the top is lost. In
other forest types, such as floodplain forest of cottonwood and
silver maple, stump sprouting is more common and occurs after
natural disturbances such as wind and fire. Oak forests, especially
northern pin oak, northern red oak and white oak stump sprout
prolifically after fire or logging, and multiple-stemmed trees are
the most common, especially in forests that have frequent fires.
Aspen forests root sprout, rather than stump sprout, and multiple
stemmed trees are therefore not common."
3) Are double trunked trees fundamentally different from multi-trunked
trees? Is there some biological difference that allows double
trunked trees to grow in areas where single trunks are the norm - as
opposed to multitrunked that tend to form in areas that have been
I pose this question again. Scott Wade wrote (Jan 13, 2005):
"One thing to add is that there is a balance that the tree
wants to maintain as a system. If a limb is lost from another tree
falling onto it, the tree reacts by trying to replace the lost
canopy as quickly as it can to re-balance the canopy to root zone
ratio. I believe that is why suckers that grow from around a wound
grow so fast. The tree has to make x amount of sugar to support y
amount of mass. When a tree is cut to the ground, the suckers that
form grow at an amazing rate. It only takes one nibble of a terminal
bud from a deer to get a two stem tree. Also, a tree that is
alternately branched will have more of a tendency to maintain a
single leader, where a tree that is oppositely branch will tend to
form two. This is not a rule though, as anything can, and will,
happen in nature." This is something that could be investigated
Lee Frelich commented (Jan 15, 2005): "Not much is known about
why some trees sprout and others don't, across species or within
species, or within one tree, since the probability of sprouting
changes over a trees lifetime. We can speculate that unique events
in the evolution of each species has led to the type of sprouts, and
that unique disturbance history in each stand leads to a pattern of
single stemmed or multiple-stemmed trees. Most of the stuff in the
literature is observational (i.e. trees sprout more when young than
old, intense fire makes aspen more likely to sprout on some sites
and less likely on others). There isn't much known that is
mechanistic, so we can't make any sense of it or make any
[These explanations are part of an answer, but though I am not
satified completely with the explanations proffered so far.]
4) Do you get multiple trunked specimens of trees that don't stump
sprout? How do these form?
5) What should be considered a trunk in a multi-trunked tree?
Ed Coyle wrote (Jan 05, 2005): We could have a category for
coppices. It could not be compared with anything else. A multi
trunked silver maple could not be compared to a single stemmed one.
What would be the point? You could get some mind blowing numbers if
you included the included bark bunch though. Some have suggested
adding the stems greater than 3" dbh to quantify the plant.
Good idea for the coppice category.
I suggested an alternative definition of what is a trunk (Jan 05,
2005): This is something to consider, at least it is a start. If you
are looking at a tree with a wide variety of stems from finger sized
to a couple feet in diameter, it might not be practical or useful to
measure every wisp of stem. I personally am interested in some of
the smaller tree species, dwarfed forests, and shrubs like
rhododendron so a 3" diameter measurement would not be a useful
criteria at this lower end of the measurement spectrum. Perhaps
something more like stems at least 3 inches in diameter, or at least
20% the diameter of the largest stem in the grouping.
[Looking back on this, I am still not sure what to do. In the new
page I suggested leaving it up to the discretion of the investigator
to determine what is or is not a significant stem.]
8) What measurements should be taken for multi-trunked trees?
Bob Leverett Proposed (Jan 04, 2005) The system of reporting only
the largest trunk measurement where were are multiple trunks seems
to me to miss the whole point of comparisons. If the point of split
is changed by a few inches, what was a 20-foot circumference tree
shouldn't shrink to a 9 or 10-foot circumference. By gum it ain't
right! One the other hand, what should be done? Well, if we're
trying to reduce a tree to a single composite measurement, the
multi-stemmed trees will always present us with headaches. For my
purposes, which aren't better than those of any of the rest of you,
just my thinking, I would want to see
the following numbers.
1. Total height
2. Longest limb extension
3. Average crown spread
4. Height at branching point
5. Circumference at base
6. Circumference at narrowest point between base and branching
7. Circumference of each trunk above branching point when that can
This series of measurements would certainly not be taken for all
trees in our collective database - just the biggest ones. I think I
would like to begin applying the above or something close to it for
the biggest trees in Massachusetts.
I proposed (Edward Frank, Jan 21, 2005) :
a) species - common name and scientific name
b) The number of significant trunks....[edited] ...A significant
trunk would be any trunk greater than 3" in diameter at breast
height, or 1/4 the diameter of the largest trunk in the coppice.
c) The girth (cbh) and height of the tallest trunk. If a girth for a
branch of trunk fused at the base is taken at some height other than
breast height that height needs to be noted.
e) measurement of the composite canopy spread of all of the trunks
in a multitrunked tree. (Edward Frank, Jan 21, 2005)
Better Information ( all of the above plus):
a) The canopy spread of the tallest trunk.
b) The height and girth of both trunks of a double, and/or the
height and girth of each of major trunks of a multiple.
c) The girth of each of the significant trunks of a multiple.
d) The composite canopy spread of the entire coppice.
e) Basic description of the tree form and growing location.
Optimal information (all of the above plus):
a) The height, girth, and canopy spread of each major trunk.
b) More detailed tree description and detailed description of the
location as outlined by Don Bragg. His comments are listed below.
c) GPS location
Don Bragg wrote (01-18-2005):
"I have a few thoughts in regards to your question as to what
ecologists may like to have measured from champion trees. Given
conventional uses, circumference/diameter at breast height (C/DBH)
or its accepted equivalent (e.g., adjustments made for buttressing
or burls), height, and crown spread are the most useful, as most
allometric relationships can be estimated from these numbers.
Certainly geographic location (as precise as possible, including
driving directions, if permitted). I think it would also be
valuable to include information on the physical structure of the
tree e.g., one or many trunks) and location (cove, ridgeline, etc.).
Ideally, other information on local stand density (basal area, or
trees per acre), site quality (site index, or other information on
soil type). I would also suggest taking at least three photographs
of the tree from different perspectives, with a standard scale or
reference item placed alongside the trunk. One photo would be the
standard shot of the bottom of the bole, another would be shooting
up the bole towards the crown, and another (if possible given stand
conditions) would be from a distance showing the full
height and breadth of the tree."
10) Scott Wade suggested a formula for comparing mutitrunk diameters
with those of single trunked trees (Jan 0, 2005). I was pondering
some formulas for MS (multi-stemmed) trees. tell me what you think.
- Average circumference of all stems > 3" dia at the break.
plus the cbh of the trunk at it's narrowest point below 4.5',
divided by two. for it's cbh points.
Example (not a real tree): leaders of 50, 69, 88, 57 have an average
of 66" circ. say the main trunk measures 150 circ at 2.5 ft. so
the points awarded would be 108?
I am not sure that this is workable given our lack of numbers to
test the idea fairly. In a broader manner, I am not sure the idea of
comparing multitrunk trees with single trunk trees through a
mathematical formula is useful.
I will close for now and ask that you view the webpage and consider
the issues presented and the groupings I have proposed.
TOPIC: Pine doubles vs forked trees
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Date: Sun, Dec 16 2007 8:42 pm
From: "Edward Frank"
There is a small couple acre patch of pine trees along the road on
my way to work. The owners of the property have removed all of the
brush and trees aside from the white pine. In the summer the area is
mowed as if it were a lawn. This area was logged multiple times in
the past, and the trees are likely in the range of 70 to 80 years
old and not very large. At first glance it looks like there are many
double-trunk pines, ghowever when you look more closely, you see
that really these are not doubles, but trees that fork close to the
ground. I know pines don't stump sprout, so I have been wondering a
couple of things. How did these low forked trees grow that way? Was
the top (terminal bud) nipped off by wildlife or human
process.resulting in two side branches each curving upward to form
What I also am wondering is if a fair amount of the pine and hemlock
trees we have been calling doubles, might really be low forking
trees instead, where the forks have fused together?
TOPIC: Pine doubles vs forked trees
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Date: Mon, Dec 17 2007 5:25 am
From: James Parton
Will and I found a huge White Pine at the Kellogg Center that
out very close to the ground but starts as a single trunked tree.
tree was nearly 5 feet in diameter! I uploaded a picture of it that
Will took, to the file page where all can see it. I had walked by at
distance many times from this tree and had not gave it more than a
passing glance. Will noticed it immediatly.