Skip to main content Accessibility help

Unambiguous and Low-Cost Determination of Growth Rates and Ages of Tropical Trees and Palms

  • Jorge I del Valle (a1), Juan R Guarín (a2) and Carlos A Sierra (a3)


The determination of the age of tropical trees and palms is of significant importance for ecological studies and designing sustainable forest management plans. Radiocarbon is a powerful tool that can potentially help the determination of ages and growth rates of these plants. However, the application of 14C analyses has one important problem for trees without annual rings and palms: the calibration of 14C measurements with common programs such as CALIBomb or OxCal gives erroneous determinations for wood formed between AD 1954 and 1964. This problem is illustrated here using samples from a tropical tree (Otoba gracilipes) and a tropical palm (Oenocarpus bataua). This study shows how the use of two adjacent samples can help to unambiguously determine the real age of the samples and their mean growth rates. For comparison, long-term growth measurements for both species were used and it was determined that 14C analyses provide accurate determination of growth rates for tropical trees and palms. Furthermore, the application of 14C analyses in palms allows the determination of the rosette stage, rarely quantified in forest inventories and life-history studies.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Abdoun, F, Jull, AJT, Guibad, F, Thinon, M. 2005. Radial growth of the Sahara's oldest trees: Cupressus dupreziana A. Camus. Trees 19(6):661–70.
Biondi, F. 1999. Radiocarbon analysis of Pinus lagunae tree rings: implications for tropical dendrochronology. Radiocarbon 41(3):241–9.
Biondi, M, Strachan, SDJ, Mensing, SM, Piovesan, G. 2007. Radiocarbon analysis confirms the annual nature of sagebrush growth rings. Radiocarbon 49(3):1231–40.
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51(1):337–60.
Bullock, SJ, Heath, D. 2006. Growth rates and age of native palms in the Baja California desert. Journal of Arid Environments 67(3):391402.
Calmels, F, Froese, DG, Clavano, WR. 2010. Dating recent permafrost disturbance and recovery with tritium and post bomb radiocarbon isotopes. In: Geo2010. 1st International Conference on Computing for Geospatial Research and Applications. Washington, DC, 21–23 June 2010. New York: ACM. p 1533–9.
Chambers, QJ, Hguchi, N, Schimel, JP. 1998. Ancient trees in Amazonia. Nature 391(663):135–6.
Corner, EJH. 1966. The Natural History of Palms. Berkeley: University of California Press. 366 p.
Currie, LA. 2004. The remarkable metrological history of radiocarbon dating [II]. Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology 109:185217.
del Valle, JI. 1997. Crecimiento de cuatro species de los humedales forestales del litoral Pacídico colombiano. Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias 21(81):445–65.
del Valle, JI, Restrepo, H, Londoño, M. 2011. Recuperación de la biomasa mediante la sucesión secundaria, cordillera Central de los Andes, Colombia. Revista de Biología Tropical 59(3):1337–58.
Dezzeo, N, Worbes, M, Ishii, I, Herrera, R. 2003. Annual tree rings revealed by radiocarbon dating in seasonally flooded forest of the Mapire River, a tributary of the lower Orinoco River, Venezuela. Plant Ecology 168(1):165–75.
Fichtler, E, Clark, DA, Worbes, M. 2003. Age and long-term growth of trees in an old-growth tropical rain forest, based on analysis of tree rings and 14C. Biotropica 35(3):306–17.
Fumal, TE, Rymer, MJ, Seitz, GG. 2002. Timing of large earthquakes since A.D. 800 on the Mission Greek Stand of the San Andres Fault Zone at Thousand Palms Oasis, near Palms Springs, California. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 92(7):2841–60.
Giraldo, JA. 2011. Dendrocronologia en el trópico: aplicaciones actuales y potenciales. Colombia Forestal 14(1):97111.
Giraldo, JA, del Valle, JI. 2011. Estudio del crecimiento de Prioria copaifera (Caesalpiniaceae) mediante técnicas dendrocronológicas. Revista de Biología Tropical 59(4):1813–31.
Giraldo, VD, del Valle, JI. 2012. Modelación del crecimiento de Albizia niopoides (Mimosaceae) por métodos dendrocronológicos. Revista de Biologia Tropical 60(3):1117–36.
Harrison, KG, Post, WM. 1995. Soil carbon turnover in a recovering temperate forest. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 9(4):449–54.
Herrera, DA, del Valle, JI. 2011. Reconstrucción de los niveles del río Atrato con anillos de crecimiento de Prioria copaifera. Dyna 169:121–30.
Hua, Q. 2009. Radiocarbon: a chronological tool for the recent past. Quaternary Geochronology 4(5):378–90.
Hua, Q, Barbetti, M. 2004. Review of tropospheric bomb 14C data for carbon cycling modeling and age calibration purposes. Radiocarbon 46(3):1273–98.
Hua, Q, Barbetti, M, Worbes, M, Jead, J, Levchenko, V. 1999. Review of radiocarbon data from atmospheric and tree ring samples for the period 1945–1997. IAWA Journal 20(3):261–83.
Janick, J, Paull, RE, editors. 2008. The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 160 p.
Kurokawa, H, Yoshida, T, Nakamura, T, Lai, J, Nalashisuk, T. 2003. The age of tropical rain-forest canopy species, Borneo iron wood (Eusideroxylon zwageri), determined by 14C dating. Journal of Tropical Ecology 19(1):17.
Laurance, WF, Nascimento, EM, Laurance, SG, Condit, R, D'Angelo, S, Andrade, A. 2004. Inferred longevity of Amazonian rainforest trees based on a long-term demographic study. Forest Ecology and Management 190(2–3):131–43.
Lieberman, M, Lieberman, D. 1988. Age-size relationships and growth behavior of the palm Welfia georgii. Biotropica 20(4):270–3.
Lisi, CM, Tomazello, M, Rosanski, K. 2001. 14C bomb effect on tropical and subtropical tree species of Brazil. Tree-Ring Research 57(2):191–6.
Loader, NJ, Walsh, RPD, Robertson, I, Bidin, K, Ong, RC, Reynolds, G, McCarrol, D, Gagen, M, Young, GHF. 2011. Recent trends in intrinsic water-use efficiency of ringless rainforest trees in Borneo. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 366(1582):3330–9.
Lugo, AE, Rivera, CT. 1987. Leaf production, growth rate, and age of the palm Prestoea montana in the Luquillo Experimental Forest of Puerto Rico. Journal of Tropical Ecology 3(2):151–61.
Martínez-Ramos, M, Álvarez-Buylla, H. 1998. How old are tropical rain forest trees? Trends in Plant Science Perspectives 3(10):400–5.
McPherson, K, Williams, K. 1996. Establishment growth of cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto (Arecaceae). American Journal of Botany 83(12):1566–70.
Meerow, AW, Krueger, RR, Singh, R, Low, ET, Low, ETL, Ithnim, M, Ooi, LCL. 2012. Coconut, date, and oil palm genomics. In: Schnell, RJ, Priyadarshan, PM, editors. Genomics of Tree Crops. New York: Springer, p 299351.
Menezes, M, Berger, U, Worbes, M. 2003. Annual growth ring and long term growth patterns of mangrove trees from the Bragança Peninsula, North Brazil. Wetlands Ecology and Management 11(4):233–42.
Pinard, MA, Putz, FE. 1992. Populations matrix models and palm resource management. Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Études 21(2):637–49.
Ramirez, JA, del Valle, JI. 2011. Local and global climate signals from tree rings of Parkinsonia praecox in La Guajira, Colombia. International Journal of Climatology 32(7):1077–88.
Reimer, PJ, Brown, TA, Reimer, RW. 2004. Discussion: reporting and calibration of post-bomb 14C data. Radiocarbon 46(3):1299–304.
Robertson, L, Froyd, CA, Walsh, RPD, Newberry, DM, Woodborne, S, Ong, RC. 2004. The dating of dipterocarp tree rings: establishing a record of carbon cycling and climate change in the tropics. Journal of Quaternary Science 19(7):657–64.
Robertson, L, Loader, NJ, Froyd, CA, Zambatis, N, Whyte, I, Woodborne, S. 2006. The potential of the boabad (Adansonia digitata L.) as a proxy climate archive. Applied Geochemistry 21(10):1674–80.
Roig, FA, editor. 2000. Dendrocronologia en America Latina. Mendoza, Argentina: EDIUM. 434 p.
Rozendaal, DMA, Zuidema, PA. 20011. Dendrochronology in the tropics: a review. Trees Structure and Function 25:316.
Sierra, CA, del Valle, JI, Restrepo, H. 2012. Total carbon accumulation in a tropical forest landscape. Carbon Balance and Management 7(1):12, doi:10.1186/1750-0680-7-12.
Sierra, CA, Jiménez, EM, Reu, B, Peñuela, MC, Thuille, A. 2013. Low vertical transfer rates of carbon inferred from radiocarbon analysis in an Amazon Podzol. Biogeosciences 10:3455–64.
Soliz-Gamboa, C, Rozendaal, DMA, Ceccantini, G, Angyalossy, V, van der Borg, K, Zuidema, PA. 2011. Evaluating the annual nature of juvenile rings in Bolivian tropical rainforest trees. Trees 25(1):1727.
Stemcamp, CJ, Vogel, JC, Fuls, A, van Rooyen, N, van Rooyen, MW. 2008. Age determination of Acacia erioloba trees in the Kalahari. Journal of Arid Environments 72(4):302–13.
Tomlinson, PB. 1979. Systematics and ecology of the Palmae. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematic 10:85107.
Tomlinson, PB, Huggett, BA. 2012. Cell longevity and sustained primary growth in palm stems. American Journal of Botany 99(12):1891–902.
Turetsky, MR, Manning, SW, Wieder, RK. 2004. Dating recent peat deposits. Wetlands 24(2):324–56.
Vanclay, J. 1994. Modelling Forest Growth and Yield: Application to Mixed Tropical Forests. Wallingford: CAB International. 312 p.
Vogel, JC, Fuls, A. 2005. The life-span of leadwood trees. South African Journal of Science 101(1–2):98100.
Vogel, JC, van der Merwe, H, Grobbelaar, N. 1995. The use of radiocarbon for determining the growth rate of arborescent cycads. In: Voster, P, editor. Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Cycad Biology. Stellenbosch: Cycad Society of South Africa, p 115–9.
Vogel, JC, Fuls, A, Visser, E. 2001. Radiocarbon adjustments to the dendrochronology of a yellowwood tree. South African Journal of Science 97(3–4):164–6.
Vogel, JC, Fuls, A, Visser, E. 2002. Accurate dating with radiocarbon from the atom bomb test. South African Journal of Science 98(9–10):437–8.
Wang, Y, Hsieh, YP. 2002. Uncertainties and novel prospect in the study of soil carbon dynamics. Chemosphere 49(8):791804.
Westbrook, J, Guilderson, TP, Colinvaux, PA. 2006. Annual growth rings in a sample of Hymenaea courbaril . IAWA Journal 27(29):192–7.
Wiesberg, LHG, Linick, TW. 1983. The question of diffuse secondary growth of palm trees. Radiocarbon 25(3):803–9.
Wils, THG, Robertson, I, Eshetu, Z, Sass-Klaassen, UGW, Koprowski, M. 2009. Periodicity of growth rings in Juniperus procera from Ethiopia inferred from crossdating and radiocarbon dating. Dendrochronologia 27(1):4558
Worbes, M. 2002. One hundred years of tree-rings research in the tropics – a brief history and an outlook to future challenges. Dendrochronologia 20(1–2):217–32.
Worbes, M, Junk, WJ. 1989a. Dating tropical trees by means of 14C bomb tests. Ecology 70(2):503–7.
Worbes, M, Junk, WJ. 1989b. How old are tropical trees? The persistence of a myth. IAWA Journal 20(3):255–60.
Worbes, M, Stachel, R, Roloff, A, Junk, WJ. 2003. Tree ring analysis reveals age structure, dynamics of wood production of a natural forest stand in Cameroon. Forest Ecology and Management 173(1–3):105–23.
Zuidema, PA, Brienen, RJW, Schöngart, J. 2012. Tropical forest warming: looking backward to more insights. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27(4):193–4.

Unambiguous and Low-Cost Determination of Growth Rates and Ages of Tropical Trees and Palms

  • Jorge I del Valle (a1), Juan R Guarín (a2) and Carlos A Sierra (a3)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed