A tree ring is a layer of wood produced during a tree’s growing season. Each tree ring marks a line between the ‘late wood’ that grew at the end of one year and the ‘early wood’ that starts growing at the beginning of a new year. It is possible to tell the age of a tree by studying tree rings.
Tree rings are evidence of a tree’s growth each year. The xylem within the tree, which carries the water, nitrogen, and minerals that make up sap, is what makes the tree strong and helps the tree to store nutrients and starch for when the tree isn’t making food for itself. Each year, a new layer of xylem forms on the tree that darkens as summer goes on, and these layers form the rings you see inside a tree. Because a new layer is added each year, counting the rings can give you a close estimate to the age of the tree.
Each ring is indicative of a tree’s growth during a given season or year. The use of studying growth rings in trees to gain an insight into the tree or region’s history is called dendrochronology. Studying the patterns created by the rings, or disription or scarring in the rings, can be used to indicate important environmental events such as fires, floods, or even support archaeological findings and human-caused events throughout history.
When you cut a tree open and look at it you will see that there are rings that are going around the tree. Those are tree rings.
As others have said, tree rings are the layers formed within a tree as the tree grows.
Interestingly, the fire history of a stand of trees can be studied by studying tree rings. Wildland fires leave “fire scars” which are visible within the tree rings. By dating these scars and finding how widespread they are, information about historical large fires can be learned.
Studying tree rings is the focus of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring research at the University of Arizona in Tucson (link below).
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