What is tree crown shyness?

Sometimes trees can be a little too respectful of one another’s boundaries. Or maybe they just stop growing when they get too close.

The phenomenon is called crown shyness — when the tops of individual trees avoid touching in the forest canopy, creating separation lines and boundaries in the sky.

Experts aren’t exactly sure why the naturally occurring phenomenon happens, but they’ve been studying it for decades and have a few theories.

The first has to do with competition for resources — especially light. Trees have a highly sophisticated system for measuring light and telling time. They can tell whether light is coming from the sun or if it’s being reflected off leaves of other trees.

Another possible reason for crown shyness is to prevent the spread of harmful insects and their larvae, which could eat the tree’s leaves.

Crown shyness occurs with many species of trees, such as black mangrove trees, camphor trees, eucalyptus, Sitka spruce and Japanese larch. Intercrown spacing can happen between different species, the same species or even within the same tree.

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