Virtual Museum of Canada
Jardin botanique de Montréal 
Centre for Forest Research

Light in the forest

Light competition

In their quest for light, trees in a forest also have to consider another factor: other trees. A sugar maple seedling that wants to grow in a mature forest can't simply set down roots and start reaching for the sky. Other, larger and older trees are already established and hogging the light. The seedling has to patiently wait its turn, hoping for a break in the canopy that will let it grow a bit faster. Over time, trees have developed survival and growth strategies adapted to the amount of light available in the sites where their seeds usually sprout.

Racing for the sun

Finally, one day, a hole opens in the forest canopy. That's the signal that the seedlings of so-called "tolerant" trees have been waiting for. They race for the sky and the miraculous gap that's letting through the sun's precious rays. And to the victors go the spoils: light. Those seedlings that lag behind in this frantic race are surpassed by their neighbours and overshadowed. The unfortunate losers who have exhausted their resources in this race will die.

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