Background

The forests of the world hold some of our richest treasures. Throughout human history, civilizations have depended on forests as a sourcc of building material, fuel, food, and medicine. Even today, the most commonly used domestic fuel is not petroleum but wood. Globally, 80% of the domestic- fuel used for cooking or heating is firewood or charcoal. Unfortunately, our heavy use of wood and fossil fuels may contribute to the greenhouse effect by releasing more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. At the same time, living, growing forests may help moderate potential global warming by extracting carbon dioxide via photosynthesis and storing the carbon in die wood of intact trees. The balancc of carbon in the environment pivots on our management of forests and our use of wood and wrood products.

Why has wood played such a significant role in the affairs of humans over die ages: What is it about the composition of wood that makes it such a choice material for constructing buildings or making quality pieces of fur niturc? What is the function of this special tissue in die life of a tree: Finally, how can wc use otir knowledge of the growth pattern of trees to precisely date wooden objects from our prehistoric past?

The excrases in this laboratory topic explore wood and the plants that produce wood. First you will examine the cellular structure of wood, and then apply this knowledge to different types of wood. Exercisc C introduces the growth pattern of a typical twig or branch, and Exercisc D gives you an opportunity to identify many of the common trees on your campus or in your community. The final exercise introduces dendrochronology, a method that uses die annual grow th pattern of wood to understand tree biology and to date events and artifacts.

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