Outer bark is really a thick shell of dead cells that protect softer, living tissues inside. Outer bark keeps a tree from losing too much water, which could happen easily in a plant so large. It also keeps many insects and other damaging things like fungi from reaching a tree’s living center. Bark can protect a tree in very cold or very hot weather too. Trees that live in areas that are prone to natural wildfires have thick bark to protect from possible fire damage.
Outer bark protects the inner living tissue of the tree, which is why the outer bark is thick. The thick bark keeps the tree from losing water and can also protect the tree from insect infestations and wildfire damage.
Don’t really have a citation, but can offer an opinion as one who works with trees. Some trees have thicker bark for at least 2 reasons. One is that some trees just produce more bark, or bark region tissue. Like the coast redwood, or the cork oak, which has an exceptionally thick cork layer. Many trees and shrubs have cork layers in the bark, but most people are unaware.
The other aspect is rate of decay. Bark does not last forever on trees. It can shed over time. And the rate per species varies.
Thick bark can help resist fire, but fire cannot be listed as a reason for thick bark. For example, the madrone tree overlaps the habit of redwoods and trees like ponderosa pine which have thicker bark. But the madrone / Arbutus, still remains in an area noted for more frequent natural forest fires. Like Red Buttes Wilderness, the Siskiyou Mountains or Rogue River National Forest.
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