Teacher Notes

Tree Growth Study

Super Value Kit

Materials Included In Kit

Magnifiers, 15
Marking pins, 100
Rulers, metric, 5
Tree round samples, 15

Safety Precautions

Although materials in this lab are non-hazardous, follow all normal safety precautions. Remind students to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before leaving the laboratory.


Materials should be saved and reused for future classes.

Teacher Tips

  • Enough materials are provided in this kit for 30 students working in pairs or for 15 groups of students. All materials are reusable. This laboratory activity can reasonably be completed in one 50-minute class period.

  • The three tree round samples provided will vary from kit to kit.
  • If trees have enough space to grow and normal amounts of sunlight and water, normal growth rings should occur. If trees are planted too closely together, a competition for sunlight may occur and growth may be accelerated. Also, sometimes the trunk of a tree may have to grow “around” an object causing increased growth on one side of the trunk.
  • If desired, obtain local samples and compare and contrast the growth rings as well.

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Asking questions and defining problems
Analyzing and interpreting data

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
HS-LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and effect
Structure and function

Performance Expectations

MS-LS4-2: Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.
HS-LS4-1: Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.

Sample Data


Answers to Questions

  1. Which of the tree round samples were hardwoods? Which were softwoods? How can you tell the difference?

    Answers will vary. The growth rings of softwoods (conifers) are usually larger than those found in hardwoods since needle trees continue growth later into the fall. Hardwoods generally also have a darker inner region than softwoods.

  2. What causes the darker coloration of the heartwood in the hardwood tree samples?

    The darker coloration results from gums and resins in the heartwood.

  3. In the hardwood samples, which region was larger, the heartwood region or sapwood region?

    Answers will vary.

  4. Compare and contrast the ages of the trees. If the tree round samples are of similar size, how do their ages differ? What does this tell you about the growth rate of different tree species?

    Answers will vary.

  5. How does the ring during the tree’s best year of growth (step 9 of the Procedure) compare to the rings of other years?

    The rings will be larger in the best years of growth.

  6. What factors may be responsible for any differences in the widths of the growth rings?

    The different rings sizes may be due to environmental conditions, disease, injury and frost to name a few.

Student Pages

Tree Growth Study


How can the age of a tree be determined? Is there a way to tell a good year of growth versus a bad year? Perform the following activity and find out!


  • Tree rings

  • Hardwood tree
  • Softwood tree


Trees contain some of nature’s most accurate records of the past. Each spring and summer a tree adds new layers of wood to its trunk. The wood formed in spring, known as springwood, grows fast and is lighter in color because it consists of large cells. In summer, growth is slower. Summerwood has smaller cells and is darker in color. These layers of alternating lighter springwood and darker summerwood are called annual rings. The number of annual rings can be counted to find the age of a tree! Note: It is possible in some years that more than one ring is made. These false rings occur due to disease, frost damage or injury. Under these conditions, ring counts are not always 100% accurate.

The individual layers of growth in the cross section of a tree begins at the center and continues outward to the area of most recent growth. The newest growth layer is surrounded and protected by a layer of bark.

Tree growth in a specific year depends upon a complex set of local growing conditions. The amount of rainfall and water availability is one key variable affecting the growth rate in a given year. Since most trees grow more during wet, cool years than during hot, dry years, tree rings are usually wider during wet years. Drought or a severe winter can cause narrower growth rings. When rings are consistently of the same size, it suggests that the climate is consistent from year to year.

In temperate regions, seasonal growth in diameter of a tree usually continues longer in conifer or softwood trees than in deciduous or hardwood trees—softwood trees continue to produce growth late into the fall. The growth rings in softwood trees are therefore larger than those of hardwood trees. Some hardwood trees like ash, oak, elm, hickory and black locust have distinct rings. Other hardwoods like birch, maple, poplar and sycamore produce cells (vessels) of similar size through the growth rings, which makes it more difficult to identify the springwood from the summerwood.

Many hardwood trees may also exhibit two distinct regions of growth (see Figure 1). The outer area of the new growth is usually light in color and represents an area of active or live tissue. This region is known as sapwood. A darker region, known as heartwood, may also be present. The heartwood is dead and is often filled with gums and resins which gives it a darker color.


Scientists can use tree-ring growth pattern data to identify trends construct models of past weather and climate conditions. The field of study that looks at historical patterns in plant growth and climate is known as dendrochronology. Modern dendrochronologists do not usually cut down trees to analyze their annual rings. Instead, a boring device known as an increment borer is used to extract a small core sample from the tree. The boring device is screwed into the center of the tree trunk and a straw-sized sample about 4 mm in diameter is removed, and the hole in the tree is then sealed to prevent disease. The tree rounds used in this activity were obtained from limbs of trees that had already been cut for some purpose. Scrap limbs are usually burned for waste, so these tree rounds are, in effect, being recycled.

With the aid of computers, dendrochronologists can analyze regional tree growth data to generate models of past climate changes either in specific regions or worldwide. By analyzing core samples from wooden logs in human dwellings, archeologists can estimate the age of the dwellings. Matching growth patterns with other trees in the area can help pinpoint the age of the wood and also the time of the construction.

Experiment Overview

In this activity, three different tree round samples will be examined and the annual rings counted.


Marking pins
Ruler, metric
Tree round samples, 3

Safety Precautions

Although the materials in this lab activity are non-hazardous, follow normal safety precautions. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before leaving the laboratory.


  1. Obtain a round tree sample.
  2. Describe the overall appearance of the tree round sample and if it is a hardwood or softwood sample in the data table under round tree sample 1.
  3. Use a pin to mark the center location of the first year’s growth.
  4. If the sample is from a hardwood tree, use a pin to mark the area that separates the heartwood (the inactive darker wood tissue) from the sapwood (active lighter colored wood tissue).
  5. Using a ruler, measure the distance from the center pin to the pin placed in step 4. Record the distance in cm in the data table.
  6. Count the number of annual rings outwards from the center pin toward the bark to find the age of the tree when it was cut. Mark the last ring with another pin. Record the number of annual rings in the data table.
  7. Using a ruler, measure the distance from the center pin to the outer pin. This distance may not be even on all sides of the tree round. Record the range of distances in cm in the data table.
  8. (Optional) Locate the ring that would best represent your current age if you were born the same year as this tree.
  9. Observe the tree rings and find the best year of growth. Record the tree’s age during the best year of growth in the data table.
  10. Remove the pins from the tree round sample.
  11. Obtain another type of tree round sample from another group.
  12. Repeat steps 1–11 until the three types of tree round samples have been analyzed. Answer the Post-Lab Questions.

Student Worksheet PDF


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