Dendrochronologists have used the presence of spiral grain as an indicator of old trees for most of the history of the field, although this relationship has been little studied. We examined cross-sections from dead trees and used a 12-mm Haglof Swedish Increment borer to collect cores from living white oak (Quercus alba L.) trees in an Eastern Deciduous Forest stand in southwestern Illinois. Spiral grain is the alignment of wood fibers to the longitudinal axis of trees and is driven by patterns of initial cambial cell division. In this study, we examine environmental factors that may affect spiral grain severity, the usefulness of non-destructive sampling methods (using the 12-mm increment borer), and the relationship between tree age and spiral grain. We tested Brazier's method (1965) of averaging the spiral grain angle from two radii taken 180 degrees apart (i.e. one diameter in the tree) to get representative grain angles for the whole circumference of a tree at a certain height. The 12-mm increment borer did not produce consistent results in this study; therefore, the collection of cross-sections is advised for the study of spiral grain in white oaks. Brazier's method should not be used in white oaks and should not be applied universally to all tree species. The severity of spiral grain is expressed in the xylem and may not be expressed in the bark of the tree. Left spiral grain does generally increase in white oaks with age, although this relationship is not always consistent, so a tree without severe spiral grain is not necessarily young.
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