How Trees Grow

By Nancy Penrose

All trees have a special type of plant tissue called meristem, a Greek word meaning “to divide”. The word was first used by Swiss botanist Carl Wilhem von Nageli (1817 to 1891). Trees grow when the cells within the meristem divide and produce new cells.

Meristem can be found at the tips of roots (root apical meristem) and shoots (shoot apical meristem). Root meristem creates root growth and shoot meristem produces more stem tissue, leaves and flowers. The trunk of a tree grows from another type of meristem called vascular cambium.

Trees only grow in height and width. A tree grows taller when new shoot meristem is produced at the tip of the twigs. Tree trunks and branches increase in diameter when vascular meristem cells divide beneath the bark.

A tree’s roots also grow at their tips. The root anchors the tree in the soil to keep it straight and stable. Tree roots also absorb water and nutrients from the soil, that are needed for growth.

Many trees start as a seed. The seed sprouts when there is sufficient water, light and warmth. A shoot goes up and a root goes down. There are also trees that start as shoots from the still living roots of a dead tree.

The tree continues growing by making its own food through a process called photosynthesis. It uses chlorophyll (green pigment) to capture energy from the sun. The energy is used to make sugars out of carbon dioxide from the air and water. The sugars (glucose) provide the fuel trees need to continue growing their roots, stems and leaves.

Young trees need sufficient water to maintain their growth. Mulching can help keep the soil around the tree moist and prevent weeds from growing. Use tree root stimulants for newly planted or transplanted big trees to help them recover more quickly from the stress of a move.

If you’re planning on buying a new tree, you can get more tree growing tips and advice from a big tree specialists at Big Trees Inc.

Nancy Penrose is owner of Big Trees Inc. (, (tree nursery Seattle / Snohomish, WA), one of the largest Seattle tree nurserys, specializing in large trees for sale and transplant tree service. Learn more about the care you can receive from our tree specialist at See our video at and connect with us on Facebook at