Biology of Resprouting Woodies

Following is a basic explanation of the biology, a listing of some resprouting advantages, and some important definitions of various resprouting methods. Click here for a link discussing how to apply it to management practices.

The 3 fundamental biological elements of woody growth are apical dominance, C3 photosynthetic pathway, and resprouting morphology.

Apical dominance is when the topmost growing point controls the growth of lateral roots; and it maintains this control until it is disturbed (Cline 1997; Dun et al. 2006). Once the top growth is removed or damaged (e.g. fire, grazing, mowing) apically dominate woody plants respond by resprouting at the base; reaction times are species specific (Cline 1997; Sigma-Aldrich 2016).

Bushes and trees use the C3 photosynthetic pathway. This makes them more competitive than C4 plants at processing carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into food under cool, moist conditions. 

 

These plants are growing and getting a head start in the early months of spring. Most plants using C3 photosynthesis are also shade tolerant and most of the unwanted woodies exhibit apical dominance.

Some resprouting woodies are also clone forming. Common pricklyash (Zanthoxylum americanum) is one example. When the apical meristem is damaged, not only does it resprout from the base adding additional flowering stems, it sends underground runners to establish another colony nearby.

Cytokinin, auxin, and gibberellins are phytohormones that promote root and shoot growth. Made in the roots and also in the seeds and fruits, cytokinins travel up the xylem and promote lateral growth. Since auxins travel down from the growing tip and act to suppress lateral growth, these two types of hormones strike a balance. This push-me-pull-me aspect of woody resprouting growth is maintained by certain plant hormones and is an important concept.

The Phytohormones

Auxins

Auxins are the main plant growth hormones responsible for cell elongation (Boundless 2016). The term is derived from Greek meaning “to grow.” They control the differentiation of meristem into vascular tissue (phloem and xylem) and promote leaf development. Apical dominance (the inhibition of lateral bud formation) is triggered by auxins produced in the apical meristem (Boundless 2016).

When the apical bud is removed, the source of auxin is removed. Without the inhibitory effects of the high auxin concentrations, lateral buds begin to grow. In fact their growth is stimulated by a relatively small drop in auxin concentration. Thus, decapitating a shoot without killing it will cause it to resprout.

Cytokinins

Cytokinins are any class of plant hormones involved in cell growth and division (Boundless 2016).

They are most abundant in growing tissues, such as roots, embryos, and fruits, where cell division occurs. They are known to delay senescence in leaf tissues, promote mitosis, and stimulate differentiation of the meristem in shoots and roots. Many effects on plant development are made under the influence of cytokinins, often in conjunction with auxin. For example, apical dominance seems to result from a balance between auxins that inhibit lateral buds and cytokinins that promote bushier growth (Boundless 2016).

Gibberellins

Gibberellins are a group of about 125 closely-related plant hormones that stimulate shoot elongation, seed germination, and fruit and flower maturation. Gibberellins are synthesized in the root and stem apical meristems, young leaves, and seed embryos. They are responsible for breaking dormancy (a state of inhibited growth and development) in the seeds of plants that require exposure to cold or light to germinate.

The stages of apical dominance or the “push-me-pull-me” process of resprouting behavior.

 This diagram represents how apical dominance works. This is what I call the push-me-pull-me process of resprouting.

Developmental stages of apical dominance.

Stage 1 – This is a new plant or seedling. Cytokinin is promoted for growth and is produced in the roots or top of the stem.  Cytokinins increase cell division by stimulating the production of proteins needed for mitosis. 

Stage 2 – Apical dominance is demonstrated. As long as the shoot tip remains, auxin is released. This keeps the growth at the tip and suppresses the lateral buds.

Stage 3 – Apical dominance is destroyed by removal of the shoot tip. Once the tip is removed, damaged, or destroyed, cytokinin is released and the lateral buds begin to grow.

Stage 4 – The lateral buds elongate, creating a separate shoot and establishing their own apical dominance. This happens as auxins and gibberellins are promoted.

Resprouting Advantages

From the woodies’ perspective, their goal is to occupy sites with as much biomass as possible for as long as possible (Bellingham and Sparrow 2000). Resprouting is an evolved key competitive strategy for increasing the life of the seedling when plants experience loss of aboveground biomass (Del Tredici 2001; Vesk 2006). Nearly all flowering, seed-producing and fruit-setting woodies (angiosperms) can resprout when young (less than 6” diameter) and many can after reaching adulthood (more than 6” diameter) (Del Tredici 2001). The post-fire nutrient increase created by microbe activity that enhances plant growth also enhances established woody growth (Briggs et al. 2005).

Characteristics of resprouters, which give them the advantage over non-resprouters:

  • Resprouters are more widely distributed (Bond and Midgley 2001);
  • Resprouters allocate more resources to roots and have “higher levels of non-structural carbohydrate in the roots” than species killed with fire (Clarke and Knox 2009; Clarke et al. 2012);
  • They grow rapidly and tall to escape fire (aerial) and store nonstructural carbon (basal) before they are shaded (Clarke et al. 2012);
  • They have lower reproduction costs because their larger offspring are more able to survive environmental stress (Hoffman 1998);
  • Their bud locations are generally at or below soil level but varies with species (Clarke et al. 2012); this is a key criteria that defines resprouting ability;
  • They allocate 4-5 times more sugar and starches to their roots than non-sprouters (Bond and Midgley 2001; Clarke and Knox 2009; Clarke et al. 2012). This ability to store the necessary nutrients, sugars, and starches for future use makes resprouters hardy and quick to recover from disturbance.

6 Types of Sprouting Morphology

There is a medley of resprouting morphology or forms. Knowing the mechanism and structure for resprouting isn’t imperative to understanding that the plants resprout, but knowing there are different forms is beneficial. The possibilities include lignotubers, rhizomes, stolons, adventitious roots, root suckers, epicormic buds, and collar buds; these are categorized into three basic resprouting responses — “aerial, basal, and below-ground” (Clarke et al. 2012).

Lignotuber

Develops from suppressed buds at the cotyledonary node of seedlings – think of autumn olive or boxelder (Del Tredici 2001). These are dormant buds containing nutrients for bud development.

See photo below of a lignotuber of a prickly ash.

Rhizome

Nodes that grow out from the base of the trunk and produce aerial stems some distance from the parent  – think of sumac or prickly ash (Del Tredici 2001).

Stolon (AKA runners)

An aboveground creeping horizontal plant stem or runner that takes root at points along its length to form new plants. Horizontal connections between plants.

Lignotubers are dormant buds containing nutrients for bud development; these large underground bodies form by prolonged periods of stress of repeated damage by fire.
Rhizomes are nodes that grow out from the base of the trunk and produce aerial stems some distance from the parent (e.g. sumac or prickly ash)
Stolons are an aboveground creeping horizontal plant stem or runner that takes root at points along its length to form new plants. Horizontal connections between plants.

Adventitious roots 

Adventitious buds develop from places other than a shoot apical meristem, which occurs at the tip of a stem, or on a shoot node, at the leaf axil, the bud being left there during the primary growth. They may develop on roots or leaves, or on shoots as a new growth. Shoot apical meristems produce one or more axillary or lateral buds at each node. When stems produce considerable secondary growth, the axillary buds may be destroyed. Adventitious buds may then develop on stems with secondary growth. Adventitious buds are often formed after the stem is wounded or pruned.

Layered sprouting

This occurs when a branch is forced to the ground while attached to the main tree. The portion touching the soil will develop adventitious roots; these can become individual trees (Del Tredici 2001).

Coppice shoots and Root Suckers

A young tree that has grown from a root sucker and not from seed; a coppiced tree will have multiple stems growing from its base – think boxelder or honeysuckle. Frequent fire and logging favor the spread of root-suckering species (Del Tredici 2001).

Adventitious buds develop from places other than a shoot apical meristem, such as a leaf or a root.
Layered resprouting occurs when a branch is forced to the ground while attached to the main tree. The portion touching the soil will develop adventitious roots; these can become individual trees.
Coppicing occurs when young tree grows from a sucker and not from seed; a coppiced tree will have multiple stems growing from its base (e.g. boxelder or honeysuckle).

Resources

Abrams, Marc D., Alan K. Knapp, and Lloyd C. Hulbert. 1986. A ten-year record of aboveground biomass in a Kansas tallgrass prairie: effects of fire and topographic position. American Journal of Botany 73(10): 1509-1515.

Anderson, Roger C. and John Schwegman. 1971. The response of southern Illinois barren vegetation to prescribed burning. Transactions of the Illinois Academy of Sciences 64: 287-291.

Archer, Steve, David S. Schimel, and Elisabeth Holland. 1995. Mechanisms of shrubland expansion: land use, climate or CO2? Climatic Change 29: 91-99.

Artman, Vanessa L, Elaine K. Sutherland, and Jerry F. Downhower. 2001. Prescribed burning to restore mixed oak communities in southern Ohio; effects on breeding bird populations. Conservation Biology 15: 1423-1434.

Bellingham, Peter J. and Ashley D. Sparrow. 2000. Resprouting as a life history strategy in woody plant communities. Oikos 89: 409-416.

Bennett, Karen and Alison C. Dibble. 2003. Questions from the Fire and Invasives Workshop. Pages 42-49 in Allison C. Dibble, Catherine A. Rees, David Crary, Jr., and William A. Patterson III (eds), Using fire to control invasive plants: What’s new, what works in the Northeast? Workshop Proceedings. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Benson, Emily J. and David C. Hartnett. 2006. The role of seed and vegetative reproduction in plant recruitment and demography in tallgrass prairie. Plant Ecology 187(2): 163-178.

Blake, John G. 2005. Effects of prescribed burning on distribution and abundance of birds in a closed canopy oak dominated forest. Biological Conservation 121:519-531.

Bond, William J. and Jeremy J. Midgley. 1995. Kill thy neighbor: an individualistic argument for the evolution of flammability. Oikos 73: 79-85.

Bond, William J. and Jeremy J.Midgley.  2001. Ecology of sprouting in woody plants: the persistence niche. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 16(1):45-51.

Bond, William J. and Brian W. van Wilgen. 1996. Fire and Plants. London: Chapman & Hall.

Bowles, Marlin L., Karel A. Jacobs, and Jeffrey L. Mengler. 2007. Long-term changes in an oak forest’s woody understory and herb layer with repeated burning. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 134(2): 223-237.

Brand, Raymond H. 2002. The effect of prescribed burning on epigeic springtails of woodland litter. American Midland Naturalist 148: 383-393.

Briggs, John M., Alan K. Knapp, John M. Blair, Jana L. Heisler, Greg A. Hoch, Michelle S. Lett, and James K. McCarron. 2005. An ecosystem in transition: causes and consequences of the conversion of mesic grassland to shrubland. BioScience 55(3): 243-254.

Brown, James K. 2000. Introduction and Fire Regimes. Pages 1-7inJames K. Brown and Jane Kapler Smith (eds),Wildland Fire in Ecosystems: Effects of Fire on Flora. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-42,volume 2. Missoula, MT: United States Department of Agriculture.

Chow, Loraine. 2018.  Earth’s average CO2 levels cross 410 ppm for the first month ever. EcoWatch website.

Clarke, Peter J. and Kirsten J.E. Knox. 2009. Trade-offs in resource allocation that favour resprouting affect the competitive ability of woody seedlings in grassy communities. Journal of Ecology 97: 1374-1382.

Clarke, P.J., M.J. Lawes, J.J. Midgley, B.B. Lamond, F. Ojeda, G.E. Burrows, N.J. Enright, and K.J.E. Knox. 2012. Resprouting as a key functional trait: how buds, protection and resources drive persistence after fire. New Phytologist 197: 19-35.

Cline, Morris G. 1997. Concepts and terminology of apical dominance. American Journal of Botany 84(9): 1064-1069.

Curtis, Peter S. and Xianzhong Wang. 1998. A meta-analysis of elevated CO₂effects on woody plant mass, form, and physiology. Oecologia 113(3): 299-313.

DeBano, Leonard F., Daniel G. Neary, and Peter F. Folliott. 1998. Fire’s Effects on Ecosystems. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Del Tredici, Peter. 2001. Sprouting in temperate trees: a morphological and ecological review. The Botanical Review 67(2): 121-140.

Dibble, Allison C., Kristin Zouhar, and Jane Kapler Smith. 2008. Fire and nonnative invasive plants in the northeast bioregion. Pages 61-89 inKristinZouhar, Jane Kapler Smith, Steve Sutherland, and Matthew L. Brooks (eds), Wildland Fire and Ecosystems. General Technical Report RMRS-GG7R-42, volume 6. Missoula, MT: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Dickmann, Donald I. and David T. Cleland. 2002. Fire return intervals and fire cycles for historic fire regimes in the Great Lakes region: a synthesis of the literature. Draft. Great Lakes Ecological Assessment.

DiTomaso, Joseph M., Matthew L. Brooks, Edith B. Allen, Ralph Minnich, Peter M. Rice, and Guy B. Kyser. 2006. Control of invasive weeds with prescribed burning. Weed Technology 20: 535-548.

Dorney, Cheryl H. and John R. Dorney. 1989. An unusual oak savanna in Northeastern Wisconsin: the effect of Indian-caused fire. The American Midland Naturalist 122(1): 103-113.

Dun, Elizabeth Ann, Brett James Ferguson, and Christine Anne Beveridge. 2006. Apical dominance and shoot branching. Divergent opinions or divergent mechanisms? Plant Physiology 142: 812-819.

Foster, Bryan L. and Katherine L. Gross. 1999. Temporal and spatial patterns of woody plant establishment in Michigan old fields. American Midland Naturalist 142: 229-243.

Glenn-Lewin, David C., Louise A. Johnson, Thomas W. Jurik, Ann Akey, Mark Loeschke, and Tom Rosburg. 1990. Fire in Central North American Grasslands: Vegetative Reproduction, Seed Germinations, and Seeding Establishment. Pages 28-45 in Scott L. Collins and Linda L. Wallace (eds),Fire in North American Tallgrass Prairies. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Grimm, Eric. 1983. Chronology and dynamics of vegetation change in the prairie-woodland region of southern Minnesota USA. The New Phytologist 93: 311-350.

Guyette, R. P., R.M. Muzika, and D.C. Dey. 2002. Dynamics of an anthropogenic fire regime. Ecosystems 5: 472-486.

Guyette, Richard P., Daniel C. Dey, Michael C. Stambaugh, and Rose-Marie Muzika. 2006. Fire scares reveal variability and dynamics of eastern fire regimes. Pages 20-39 in M.C. Dickinson (ed),Fire in Eastern Oak Forests: Delivering Science to Land Managers: Proceedings of a Conference. General Technical Report NRS-P-1. Newtown Square, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station.

Higgins, Steven I., et al. 2012. Which traits determine shifts in the abundance of tree species in a fire-prone savanna? Journal of Ecology 100: 1400-1410.

Hoffman, William A. 1998. Post-burn reproduction of woody plants in a neotropical savanna: the relative importance of sexual and vegetative reproduction. Journal of Applied Ecology 35: 422-433.

Hoffman, William A., Ryan Adamse, M. Haridasan, Marina T. DeCarvahlo, Erika L. Geiger, Mireia A. B. Pereira, Sybil G. Gotsch, and Augusto C. Franco. 2009. Tree topkill, not mortality, governs the dynamics of savanna-forest boundaries under frequent fire in central Brazil. Ecology 90(5): 1326-1337.

Huebner, Cynthia D. 2006. Fire and invasive exotic plant species in eastern oak communities: an assessment of current knowledge. Pages 218-232in M.B. Dickinson (ed),Fire in eastern oak forests: Delivering science to land managers: Proceedings of a Conference. General Technical Report NRS-P-1.Newtown Square, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station.

Hulbert, L.C. 1986. Fire effects on tallgrass prairie. Pages 38-42 in G.K. Clambey. &R.H. Pemble (eds), Proceedings Ninth North American Prairie Conference. Fargo, ND: Tri-College University Center for Environmental Studies, North Dakota State University.

Kahn, Brian. 2017. We just breached the 410ppm threshold for CO2. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-just-breached-the-410-ppm-threshold-for-co2/.

Kingston, Eva, Van Bowersox, and Gayle Zorrilla, eds. 2000. Nitrogen in the nation’s rain. National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) brochure. http://nadp.isws.illinois.edu/lib/brochures/nitrogen.pdf.

Kline, Virginia M. and Tom McClintock. 1994. Effect of burning on a dry oak forest infested with woody exotics. Pages 207–213 in R. G. Wickett, P. D. Lewis, A. Woodliffe, and P. Pratt (eds),Proceedings of the Thirteenth North American Prairie Conference. Windsor, Ontario, Canada:  ..

Lawes, Michael J. and Peter J. Clarke. 2011. Ecology of plant resprouting: populations to community responses in fire-prone ecosystems. Plant Ecology 212: 1937-1943.

Leitner, Lawrence A., Christopher P. Dunn, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Forest Stearns, and David M. Sharpe. 1991. Effects of site, landscape features, and fire regime on vegetation patterns in presettlement southern Wisconsin. Landscape Ecology 5(4): 203-217.

Loria, Kevin. 2018. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just hit its highest level in 800,000 years, and scientists predict deadly consequences.Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/carbon-dioxide-record-human-health-effects-2018-5.

Lorimer, Craig G. 2001. Historical and ecological roles of disturbance in eastern North American forests: 9000 years of change. Wildlife Society Bulletin 29(2): 425-439.

Lyon, L. Jack, Robert G. Hooper, Edmund S. Telfer, and David Scott Schreiner. 2000. Fire effects on wildlife foods. Pages 51-58 inJane Kapler Smith(ed), Wildland Fire in Ecosystems: Effects of Fire on Fauna. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture.

Mandle, Lisa, Jennifer L. Bufford, Isabel B. Schmidt, and Curtis C. Daehler. 2011. Woody exotic plant invasions and fire: Reciprocal impacts and consequences for native ecosystems. Biological Invasions 13: 1815-1827.

Milbauer, Michelle L. and Mark K. Leach. 2007. Influence of species pool, fire history, and woody canopy on plant species density and composition in tallgrass prairie. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 134(1): 53-62.

Mitchell, Laura R. and Richard A. Malecki. 2003. Use of prescribed fire for management of old fields in the Northeast. Pages 24-25 in Karen P. Bennett, Alison C. Dibble, and William A. Patterson III (eds),Proceedings of Using Fire to Control Invasive Plants: What’s New, What Works in the Northeast?Workshop. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Extension.

Morgan, Penelope, Colin C. Hardy, Thomas W. Swetnam, Matthew G. Rollins, and Donald G. Long.  2001. International Journal of Wildland Fire 10: 329-342.

Munger, Bill and Cassandra Volpe Horii. N.d. Nitrogen Deposition. Harvard University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences website. http://atmos.seas.harvard.edu/lab/hf/hfnitro.html.

Nekola, J.C. 2002. Effects of fire management on the richness and abundance of central North America grassland land snail fauna. Animal Biodiversity and Conservation 25(2): 53-66.

Ojima, Dennis S., D.S. Schimel, W.J. Parton, and C.E. Owensby. 1994. Long-and short-term effects of fire on nitrogen cycling in tallgrass prairie. Biogeochemistry 24: 67-84.

Patterson III, William A. 2003. Using fire to control invasive plants: overview and synthesis. Pages 38-41 in Karen P. Bennett, Alison C. Dibble, and William A. Patterson III (eds),Proceedings of Using Fire to Control Invasive Plants: What’s New, What Works in the Northeast? Workshop. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Extension.

Pausas, Juli G. and Jon E. Keeley. 2014. Evolutionary ecology of resprouting and seeding in fire-prone ecosystems. New Phytologist 204: 55-65.

Pyke, David A., Matthew L. Brooks, and Carla D’Antonio. 2010. Fire as a restoration tool: a decision framework for predicting the control or enhancement of plants using fire. Restoration Ecology 18(3): 274-284.

Pyne, Stephen J. 1982. Fire in America. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.

Ratajczak, Zak, Jesse B. Nippert, C. Hartman, and Troy W. Ocheltree. 2011. Positive feedbacks amplify rates of woody encroachment in mesic tallgrass prairie. Ecosphere 2(11): 1-14.

Rice, Peter M. 2004. Fire as a tool for controlling nonnative invasive plants. Bozeman, MT: Center for Invasive Plant Management website.

Richburg, Julie and William A. Patterson III. 2003. Can northeastern woody invasive plants be controlled with cutting and burning treatments? Pages 1-3 in Karen P. Bennett, Alison C. Dibble, and William A. Patterson III (eds),Proceedings of Using Fire to Control Invasive Plants: What’s New, What Works in the Northeast? Workshop. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Extension.

Risser, P.G., E.C. Birney, H.D. Blocker, S.W. May, W.J. Parton, and J.A. Wiens. 1981. The True Prairie Ecosystem. Stroudsburg, PA: Hutchinson Ross Publishing Co.

Scott, Andrew C., David M.J.S. Bowman, William J. Bond, Stephen J. Pyne, and Martin E. Alexander. 2014. Fire on Earth: An Introduction. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Sigma-Aldrich website. http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/life-science/molecular-biology/molecular-biology-products.html?TablePage=9435376.

Transeau, Edgar Nelson. 1935. The prairie peninsula. Ecology 16(3): 423-441.

Vesk, Peter A. 2006. Plant size and resprouting ability: trading tolerance and avoidance of damage? Journal of Ecology 94: 1027-1034.

Vogl, Richard J. 1974. “Effects of Fire on Grasslands.” Pages 139-194 inT.T. Kozlowski and C.E. Ahlgren (eds), Fire and Ecosystems. New York: Academic Press.

Wade, Dale D., Brent L. Brock, Patrick H, Brose, James B. Grace, Greg A. Hoch, and William A. Patterson III. 2000. “Fire in Eastern Ecosystems.” Pages 53-96 inJames K. Brown and Jane Kapler Smith (eds),Wildland Fire in Ecosystems: Effects of Fire on Flora. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-42, volume 2. Missoula, MT: United States Department of Agriculture.

Whelan, Robert J. 1995. The Ecology of Fire. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press