Research at the Arboretum using space shuttle techniques to study the strength and resilience of trees brought together not only Arboretum scientists and NASA aeromechanical engineers but colleagues from France, England and Germany.
Among them was Thierry Fourcaud, who studies tree biomechanics – “l'architecture des plantes” – at a research laboratory in Montpellier, France. He is trying to develop a computer model to conduct virtual experiments to learn more about the effect on trees of stresses such as severe winds or the removal of a major branch or root.
Studying such simulations could eventually lead to better practical tools for arborists. “We are trying to learn the effect of branch removal and root removal on the stability of trees, and trying to learn the best way to prune the tree to make it safe,” he says.
Dr. Fourcaud hopes to use the data from the Arboretum experiments – showing how real trees react when they are bent or pulled out of the ground – to test the accuracy of his mathematical model. If the model holds up, it could be used to better understand not only what happens when trees bend, break or are drastically pruned, but how injuries affect their growth as they recover or compensate for damage.