The tree observatory: creating a platform for the high-resolution observation of individual tree growth, behavior, and health

How do we detect whether a tree is ‘stressed’ or ‘vigorous’?  The Tree Observatory aims to decipher the secret language of trees so that we may interpret the physiological and reproductive status through the holistic examination of individual tree’s life history and growth.  

Morton Staff


We know surprisingly little about the biology, behavior, and sex of trees, particularly at the individual tree level. While numerous projects focus on forests and ecosystems and how carbon and water flow through them, we have neglected the biology of the individual tree. Forest function is an emergent property of the behavior of many millions of individual trees and yet we know little about why certain individuals thrive and others struggle or why sometimes reproduction and regeneration explodes while at other times, it fails. We need an in-depth study of long-term tree biology, through their entire life cycle, from seedling to mature tree. 

The excellently maintained and resourced living collection of trees at The Morton Arboretum provides a perfect opportunity to set up such a platform. We are developing new innovative protocols to comprehensively capture all aspects of a tree’s existence, from its early sapling stages through its growth to maturity until finally its decline and death.  The Tree Observatory will be a proving-ground for the latest techniques to closely watch tree growth, behavior, and sex through daily, seasonal and annual cycles.

Funding Sources

The Center for Tree Science

Project Status