Macroanatomy and compartmentalization of recent fire scars in three North American conifers

Kevin T. Smith, Estelle Arbellay, Donald A. Falk, Elaine Kennedy Sutherland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Fire scars are initiated by cambial necrosis caused by localized lethal heating of the tree stem. Scars develop as part of the linked survival processes of compartmentalization and wound closure. The position of scars within dated tree ring series is the basis for dendrochronological reconstruction of fire history. Macroanatomical features were described for western larch (Larix occidentalis Nutt.), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex P. Lawson & C. Lawson), and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) injured by fire in 2003 and harvested in 2011 at the Lolo National Forest near Missoula, Montana, USA. Bark scorch did not necessarily indicate the formation of a scar. Wound-initiated discoloration inward from the scar face was bounded tangentially by reaction zones. In western larch, the transition between earlywood and latewood was much less abrupt in woundwood rings than in rings formed the same year but not associated with a scar. Wood formed the year after injury contained tangential rows of resin ducts in the earlywood. Compartmentalization plays a key role in resisting the spread of infection and the loss of healthy sapwood and heartwood. Wound closure restores some degree of circumferential continuity of the vascular cambium and reinforces stem structure. The terminology presented here should facilitate communication among tree pathologists, wound anatomists, and dendrochronologists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)535-542
Number of pages8
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016


  • Barrier zone
  • Bluestain
  • Conifer defense
  • Dendrochronology
  • Fire history
  • Fire injury
  • Reaction zone
  • Wound pathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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