annual rings, the growth layers of wood that are produced each year in the stems and roots of trees and shrubs. In climates with well-marked alternations of seasons (either cold and warm or wet and dry), the wood cells produced when water is easily available and growth is rapid (generally corresponding to the spring or wet season) are often noticeably larger and have thinner walls than those produced later in the season when the supply of water has diminished and growth is slower. There is thus a sharp contrast between the small, thick-walled late-season wood cells produced one year, and the large, thin-walled cells of the spring wood of the following year results. Where the climate is uniform and growth continuous, as in wet, tropical forests, there is usually little or no gross visible contrast between the annual rings, although differences exist. When rings are conspicuous, they may be counted in order to obtain a reasonably accurate approximation of the age of the tree. They are also reflective (by their range of thickness) of the climatic and environmental factors that influence growth rates. The science of dendrochronology is based upon the phenomenon of variability in the thickness of annual rings.
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