3 Techniques Trees use to Survive Winter

It is quite amazing that many species of trees are able to survive through the brutal winters.

Especially the winters of the north. And all without moving any where!

Even without clothes or fire.

Trees somehow manage to make it through the harsh winter weather!

But, how is it that trees survive the harsh winters? Let’s take a look!

Sunshine through trees in winter.

Cold-Tolerant Trees Have a Few Tricks Up Their Leaves

It’s true, not all trees can survive all winter long. But there are many varieties of trees that can.

So, what are the techniques that these trees have learned to use to survive winter?

How can a tree which is nearly half water survive the frigid winter air, and not freeze to death?

Researchers have made several discoveries on this topic, but there are still several mysteries waiting to be solved. Even the discoveries that have been made are strange in their own rights.

Cabin next to trees in snowy winter

How Trees Survive Winter Technique One

During the first phase of winter preparations, a tree will soften the walls its cells. This softening which starts in late summer.

This process allows water to displace from within the cell and into the area between the cells.

The action of releasing most of the water that each cell contains is great at preventing the cells from bursting from the expanding water in their cells. This process however will not cease the freezing of the water when it gets too cold.

How Trees Survive Winter Technique Two

When you first consider how a tree would survive the winter. You may assume that trees utilize some form of antifreeze, similar to the ones we would use in a car.

In fact, this assumption would be correct.

However, instead of a salt based antifreeze, trees convert their stored starch into sugars. The sugar-rich mixture is what will fill the cells as winter rolls in. This is also the source of maple syrup.

“As the days begin to shorten and winter approaches, trees begin to convert stored starch into sugars to create an antifreeze for their cells.”

By lowering the freezing point of the liquid in the cells, it becomes less likely to crystallize. Which in return is responsible for preventing the damage the crystallization process would cause.

Trees in winter along the road.

How Trees Survive Winter Technique Three

Even with the previous two techniques employed, the water between the cells will still freeze. Under normal circumstances the freezing water would squish and possibly puncture the cells from the outside.

That is why trees have another technique up their leaves as well. This technique is really a product of the two aforementioned techniques.

With less fluid in the cells, and the anti-freeze mixture now inside. The cells of the tree enter what is known as the “glass phase”.

The Secret Technique Trees Use to Survive the Winter- “Glass Phase”

Researcher Paul Schaberg of the USDA Forest Service calls this the “glass phase”. In this phase the fluid in the trees cells becomes so thick that it appears solid, but is not.

“This flexibility prevents the outer shell from being punctured.”

In this plasma like state the fluid in the cells is unlikely to crystallize and injure the cell. More importantly, the cell is able to be flexible, meaning it will more likely to tolerate the freezing water around.

Trees Do Freeze in the Winter

Despite the techniques that trees implement to survive the winter. Much of the tree itself will actually freeze in the winter.

However, these processes protect the living cells.

These three techniques will protect most living cells.

Most of these cells that do freeze are “dead” and will not burst. This is due to their hardened porous state.

Although these cells are considered dead they do still do perform important functions. Such as provide the bulk of the trees shape, and also assist in transportation of water throughout the tree during the warmer months.

Trees at night in the winter

The Bottom Line On How Trees Survive the Winter

It is by utilizing these 3 simple techniques that trees have learned how to stand strong and survive the winter.

All without heaters, cotton clothing, fur or even the ability to move.

Trees are able to make it through conditions we would surely expire in.

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