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Wood

Wood is a porous and fibrous structural tissue found in the stems and roots of trees and other woody plants. It has been used for thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers (which are strong in tension) embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression.

Wood is sometimes defined as only the secondary xylem in the stems of trees, or it is defined more broadly to include the same type of tissue elsewhere such as in the roots of trees or shrubs. In a living tree it performs a support function, enabling woody plants to grow large or to stand up by themselves. It also conveys water and nutrients between the leaves, other growing tissues, and the roots. Wood may also refer to other plant materials with comparable properties, and to material engineered from wood, or wood chips or fiber.

The secondary xylem
in the stems of trees

The Earth contains about one trillion tonnes of wood, which grows at a rate of 10 billion tonnes per year. As an abundant, carbon-neutral renewable resource, woody materials have been of intense interest as a source of renewable energy. In 1991, approximately 3.5 cubic kilometers of wood were harvested. Dominant uses were for furniture and building construction.

Physical properties

Wood, in the strict sense, is yielded by trees, which increase in diameter by the formation, between the existing wood and the inner bark, of new woody layers which envelop the entire stem, living branches, and roots. This process is known as secondary growth; it is the result of cell division in the vascular cambium, a lateral meristem, and subsequent expansion of the new cells.

Growth rings

Where there are clear seasons, growth can occur in a discrete annual or seasonal pattern, leading to growth rings; these can usually be most clearly seen on the end of a log, but are also visible on the other surfaces. If these seasons are annual these growth rings are referred to as annual rings. Where there is no seasonal difference growth rings are likely to be indistinct or absent.

Heartwood and sapwood

A section of a Yew branch showing 27 annual growth rings, pale sapwood, dark heartwood, and pith (center dark spot). The dark radial lines are small knots. Heartwood (or duramen) is wood that as a result of a naturally occurring chemical transformation has become more resistant to decay. Heartwood formation occurs spontaneously (it is a genetically programmed process). Once heartwood formation is complete, the heartwood is dead. Some uncertainty still exists as to whether heartwood is truly dead, as it can still chemically react to decay organisms, but only once.

Heartwood is often visually distinct from the living sapwood, and can be distinguished in a cross-section where the boundary will tend to follow the growth rings. For example, it is sometimes much darker. However, other processes such as decay or insect invasion can also discolor wood, even in woody plants that do not form heartwood, which may lead to confusion.

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