Bimodal cambial activity and false-ring formation in conifers under a monsoon climate

Kiyomi Morino, Rebecca L. Minor, Greg A. Barron-Gafford, Peter M. Brown, Malcolm K. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Tracking wood formation in semiarid regions during the seasonal march of precipitation extremes has two important applications. It can provide (i) insight into the adaptive capacities of trees to drought and (ii) a basis for a richer interpretation of tree-ring data, assisting in a deeper understanding of past and current climate. In the southwestern USA, the anatomical signature of seasonally bimodal precipitation is the 'false ring' - a band of latewood-like cells in the earlywood. These occur when a particularly deep drought during the early growing season ends abruptly with timely, mid-growing season monsoonal rains. Such conditions presented in southern Arizona in 2014, enabling us to explore false-ring formation in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson and C. Lawson) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii Mirb. Franco) in mixed-conifer forest at 2573 m above sea level. We ask: what were the cell-by-cell timings and durations in the phases of wood cell development in 2014? How do these seasonal patterns relate to strongly fluctuating environmental conditions during the growing season? We took weekly microcores from March through November from six ponderosa pine and seven Douglas-fir trees at a well-instrumented flux tower site. Thin sections were prepared, and we counted cells in cambial, expansion, cell wall thickening and mature phases. For ponderosa pine trees forming a false ring, the first impact of intensifying seasonal drought was seen in the enlarging phase and then, almost a month later, in cambial activity. In this species, recovery from drought was associated with recovery first in cambial activity, followed by cell enlargement. This timing raised the possibility that cell division may be affected by atmospheric moisture increases before soil recharge. In both species, the last false-ring cells matured during the summer rainy season. Bimodal cambial activity coincident with moisture availability was observed in both species, whether or not they formed a false ring. This deeper knowledge of the precise timing of both developmental and environmental events should help define mechanistic connections among these factors in creating bimodal growth patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1893-1905
Number of pages13
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • Arizona
  • Douglas-fir
  • IADF
  • North American Monsoon
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • false ring
  • inter-annual density fluctuation
  • ponderosa pine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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