Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tree Root Failure: A Discussion

Earlier this week an arborist friend and I were discussing root failure.  The discussion revolved around, if roots were severed, which direction would the tree fall.  His argument was the tree would fall towards the severed roots, while my argument was the tree would most likely fall away from the severed roots.  I believe my argument, the tree would most likely fall away from the severed roots is supported by a publication from the University of Georgia Root Strength  & Tree  Anchorage.

Root failure occurs in association with wind load and gravity.  'Beyond the root plate area, root tensile strength becomes more critical to anchorage.'  That is, as the wind blows roots on the wind ward side of the tree, the tension roots, are doing the most work.  Relatively speaking of course.  If these roots should be severed or damaged the tree would fail in on the opposite side of the force, or away from the root damage. Mattheck describes the roots on the tension side of the tree as forming holding knots in the soil.  Again, considering damage to the tension side of the tree will give a hint to where the tree may fall.

In addition to these references, I have also seen trees that are root decayed fall opposite the decay.  Now I could be wrong in my conclusion, but I think I make a pretty good case.  Some other interesting information from the UGA publication:

-'To summarize, a few large diameter and long roots can not provide effective resistance to failure.  It is in the proliferation of smaller roots in consolidation of the root plate which provides anchorage success.  (Stufka & Kodrik 2008)'

- 'Compression strength increases for a short distance from the stem base before declining with length.  Root compressive strength was found to be roughly the same for angiosperms and gymnosperms, but bending strength was found to be much greater in angiosperms. (Stokes & Mattheck 1996)'

-'Anchorage is concentrated in two general locations around a tree base: 1)  close to the stem base on the
leeward side and focused on several large diameter roots; and,  2) farther away from the stem base on the windward side in many, smaller, large surface area, near-surface roots.  (Danjon 2005)'

-'Windward roots have forces applied which are concentrated approximately 1.5X (one and one-half times) farther away from the stem base than leeward roots.  (Stokes 1999)'


  1. Here is Claus Mattheck's YouTube Channel:

  2. it should be accompanied with some drawings for better understanding