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How to Tell The Age of a Tree Without Cutting It Down

This may not be the kind of information that saves your life but, you know what they say, knowledge is power.

In normal circumstances, when you want to tell the age of a tree, all you have to do is count the growth rings. That only works of course if the tree has been cut down and you can actually see the rings. So how do you tell the age of a tree without having to cut it down? There is a solution, although it will only give a rough estimation.

The solution was worked out by Alan Mitchell who was a famed dendrologist, botanist and forester. His biggest claim to fame is that he founded the ‘Tree Register of the British Isles’; he personally measured nearly every notable tree in the country. Mitchell was born in 1922 and died in 1995, throughout his life he studied trees. Some people might have thought he was ‘barking’. He worked out that the circumference of a tree’s trunk gave a good estimation of the age of the tree. He also found that, although trees grow at different rates depending on soil, habitat and climate, in Britain trees such as oaks, beech and sycamores grew at a relatively similar rate. A difference is noted though between trees that grow in woodlands and those that grow in the open.

Image via Wikipedia

Mitchell’s Rule for measuring the age of a tree without cutting it down:

  • Take your measurements from approximately 1.5 metres above the ground.
  • Measure the tree’s circumference.
  • If the tree is in a woodland setting the circumference will grow approx. 1.5 cm every year.
  • If the tree is in open country the circumference will grow approx 2.5 cm every year.
  • Divide the circumference by either 1.5 or 2.5 (depending on the above) and you will have a good idea of the age of the tree.

For example: A tree that has a circumference of 2.5 metres will be around 100 years old.

Of course, it should be noted, that Mitchell’s rule is not 100% reliable and if you really wanted to know the true age of a tree you would need to cut it down and count the rings (doing so would probably kill the tree though). Perhaps knowing the age of a tree is pointless after-all.

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