Plant and Soil

, Volume 71, Issue 1, pp 171–188

Root architecture and tree stability

  • M. P. Coutts

DOI: 10.1007/BF02182653

Cite this article as:
Coutts, M.P. Plant Soil (1983) 71: 171. doi:10.1007/BF02182653


Root anchorage is discussed with a view to determining the optimum use of root material for enhanced stability. Field observations were made on Sitka spruce root systems while lateral forces were applied to the stem with a winch to pull the tree over. Measurements included the applied force, angles of inclination, soil and root movement, timing of the sound of root breakage using buried microphones, weight and shape of the root-soil plate and damage to the roots.

Components of anchorage include the dimensions and mass of the root-soil plate levered from the ground by the displaced stem, and tensile strength of roots and soil beneath the plate; root and soil tensile strength and root/soil resistance on the windward perimeter; and on the lee side the stiffness of the hinge at the fulcrum.

Strength properties of roots and soil are reviewed. Models devised for landslip are extended to consider behaviour under tension, of roots singly and in groups, and the concept is developed of a ‘critical rooting density’ at which root/soil resistance exceeds soil strength, giving rise to the characteric root-soil plate on uprooted trees. The lee side part of the root-soil plate acts as a cantilevered beam and determines the distance of the fulcrum from the tree. Physical laws defining the reduced stiffness of beams as a result of subdivision, indicate the importance of the number/size distribution of roots and weakening effects of branching.

On the windward side upward movement of the root-soil plate causes sequential breakage of soil and roots. Under an increasing applied load, failure occurs in parts of the soil-root system before the maximum force for uprooting is achieved. A preliminary approach is made to modelling where the changing contributions of the components of anchorage are allowed for throughout the uprooting process.

Key words

Anchorage Root architecture Root strength Soil strength Stability Windthrow 

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff/Dr W. Junk Publishers 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. P. Coutts
    • 1
  1. 1.Forestry CommissionNorthern Research StationRoslinUK