What Causes A Tree Trunk To Split Vertically?

There is something mysterious about the vertical splitting of a tree’s trunk, normally a symbol of majesty and durability. For years, this fascinating natural phenomenon has piqued the interest of scientists and arborists, who have wondered about its origins and potential consequences.

brown tree trunk near body of water during daytime

This article delves into the fascinating topic of vertical trunk splitting in trees, analysing the causes of this peculiar phenomenon and considering its possible implications for the natural world. Come with us as we explore the forces at work on our tree friends and try to figure out why their trunks split in the first place.

What Causes A Tree Trunk To Split Vertically?

The vertical splitting or cracking of a tree trunk, often known as “fissures” or “cankers,” is a common problem that can have several different causes. A tree’s health and longevity might be negatively impacted by these splits, so it’s important to understand what causes them. The vertical splitting of tree trunks can be attributed to several causes, some of which are listed below.


  • Mechanical Stress: One of the most common causes of trunk splitting is mechanical stress, often induced by external factors. This can include strong winds, heavy snow or ice loads, and even human activities like pruning or improper tree care. When a tree experiences excessive mechanical stress, it can lead to the formation of vertical cracks in the trunk.


  • Rapid Growth: Rapid growth during the tree’s early years can create internal stresses within the wood. As the tree’s outer layers grow faster than the inner layers, it can result in a strain that leads to vertical splitting. This phenomenon is more prevalent in fast-growing species.


  • Disease and Pathogens: Fungal infections and diseases can weaken a tree’s structural integrity and cause it to develop cankers or splits in the trunk. The decay caused by these pathogens can further exacerbate the issue, making the tree more susceptible to splitting.


  • Environmental Factors: Extreme environmental conditions, such as prolonged drought followed by heavy rainfall, can subject trees to significant stress. Drought weakens the tree’s structure, and subsequent heavy rainfall can cause rapid expansion of the trunk, resulting in splitting.


  • Age: Older trees are more prone to trunk splitting as they may have accumulated stress and damage over time. The natural aging process can lead to a decline in the tree’s structural stability, making it more susceptible to splitting.


  • Species-Specific Vulnerabilities: Some tree species are more prone to trunk splitting than others due to their specific growth characteristics and wood properties. For example, certain hardwoods may be more susceptible to splitting than conifers.


  • Genetic Factors: Trees with certain genetic predispositions may be more prone to developing splits in their trunks. These genetic factors can influence wood structure and growth patterns.


  • Improper Pruning: Incorrect pruning techniques, such as topping or excessive removal of branches, can lead to unbalanced growth and increased stress on the tree, potentially resulting in trunk splitting.


  • Insect Damage: Insects, such as wood borers, can weaken a tree’s wood, making it more likely to split. They create tunnels within the trunk, compromising its structural integrity.


  • Root Problems: Issues with the tree’s root system, such as root rot or damage, can reduce its ability to anchor itself properly. This can result in instability and an increased risk of trunk splitting during adverse weather conditions.


Arborists, foresters, and tree lovers alike can benefit greatly from learning more about what triggers vertical trunk splitting in trees. The risk of trunk splitting can be reduced and the health and lifespan of these invaluable natural treasures ensured via proper tree care, regular inspections, and early intervention.

How Do You Treat A Split Tree Trunk?

The extent of the split and what caused it will determine how the tree trunk is treated. If you have a tree with a split trunk, you can take the following measures:


  • Assess the Damage: Examine the split carefully to determine the extent of the damage. Is the split relatively small, or does it extend deeply into the trunk? Is the split open, or is it still partially connected?


  • Safety First: Before attempting any treatment, ensure your safety. If the tree is large or the split is extensive, it’s best to consult a professional arborist to assess the situation and make recommendations.


  • Clean the Wound: Use a sharp and clean pruning saw or chainsaw to remove any loose or damaged bark, wood, or jagged edges around the split. Make clean, smooth cuts to create a neat wound. This helps prevent further tearing and decay.


  • Evaluate the Split’s Depth: If the split extends deep into the trunk but is not completely separated, you can attempt to bring the two sides of the split back together. Use cables, straps, or sturdy braces to gently close the split. Ensure that the pressure is evenly distributed to avoid causing further damage.


  • Apply Wound Dressing: Some arborists recommend applying wound dressing or tree paint to the exposed areas of the wound. However, research suggests that wound dressings may not be necessary and can sometimes hinder the tree’s natural healing process. If you choose to use wound dressing, make sure it is specifically designed for trees and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


  • Monitor and Maintain: Regularly check the tree’s progress to ensure that the split remains closed and that there are no signs of infection or decay. Keep the area around the tree clean and free of debris that could harbour pests or diseases.


  • Provide Adequate Care: To promote the tree’s overall health and resilience, ensure it receives proper care. This includes watering during dry periods, mulching to retain moisture, and appropriate pruning to remove dead or diseased branches.


  • Consult a Professional: If the split is extensive, the tree is large, or there are signs of significant damage or decay within the trunk, it’s essential to consult a certified arborist or tree specialist. They can assess the situation, recommend appropriate treatments, and determine if the tree poses a safety hazard.


The safest course of action may be to have the tree removed if the crack is too large or the tree’s structural integrity has been damaged. When addressing fallen trees, safety must always come first.

Keep in mind that the greatest tree care and maintenance is done by experts who have the education and experience to properly diagnose and treat tree health problems. To protect the health and safety of a tree with a split trunk, it is best to seek professional assistance if you are unsure of how to manage the damage.


When dealing with a split tree trunk, it’s important to evaluate the situation thoroughly and take the necessary steps to hasten the tree’s recovery and lessen the likelihood of future damage. Taking the appropriate action depends on knowing the root causes of trunk splitting, which were previously mentioned.

Cleaning, mild realignment, and wound protection are usually sufficient for minor splits, but for more serious situations, the assistance of a qualified arborist or tree specialist may be required. Taking precautions is always important, but it is especially crucial when working with huge or damaged trees.

The occurrence of trunk splitting can be avoided with preventative measures such as regular inspections, appropriate pruning, and upkeep. Taking care of trees is important since they are a precious asset that improves our environment.

Whether you are a homeowner or a land manager, the best way to ensure the continued health and vitality of your trees and the safety of your property and those around you is to work with professionals who have the knowledge and experience to assess and address tree health issues.

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