Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

How To Tell Which Tree is Older?

Which is the older of these two large trees?

Clue: there are a few ways we can age trees, including one related to natural navigation.


The tree on the right, a lime, is slightly older.

First, let’s gather some more clues that will help us interpret this scene.

There are lots of patterns that tell us that we are looking east and south is to the right, particularly in the angles of the main branches and those at the tops of the trees. This is a sunrise, not a sunset.

The best general indicator of tree age is not height, but circumference of the trunk. Very old trees – veterans – lose height but continue getting fatter.

The tree on the right appears to have a very slightly thicker trunk, meaning it is more likely to be the older of the two.

But is there any evidence to support this theory? Yes.

Look at the branches of both trees that are trying to grow in towards the middle, between each trunk. There is a very different pattern here.

The branches on the right tree have formed and then died, leaving stubs of fairly thick branches that once were thriving and now no longer are. Whereas the branches growing from the left side are mostly continuing to grow and prosper.

This is a story of branches that were coping on the north side of the righthand tree, but then snuffed out by the branches growing out to the southern light from the lefthand tree.

The tree on the right could not have come second and grown in this way.

Lots more on how to interpret these types of patterns in How to Read a Tree.