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What's the Difference Between Trees and Shrubs?

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Sumac's red seed tuft

Tree or shrub? By this definition, smooth sumac is a shrub.

David Beaulieu
Question: What's the Difference Between Trees and Shrubs?
If we look at only the most obvious examples, there would be no debate over the difference between trees and shrubs. Nobody would look at mature oak trees and call these towering giants "shrubs." Nor would anyone mistake dwarf English boxwood shrubs for trees. But in cases where the distinction is less clear-cut, the following can be treated as the "official" word on the difference between trees and shrubs....
Answer:

According to the American Forests website, "As defined in the Checklist, trees are woody plants with one erect perennial stem or trunk at least 9 1/2 inches in circumference (3 inches in diameter) at 4 1/2 feet above the ground (breast height), a definitely formed crown of foliage, and a height of at least 13 feet. In contrast, shrubs are small woody plants, usually with several perennial stems branching at the base." Note that the "Checklist" referred to above is Agriculture Handbook 541.

In the next FAQ on garden shrubs, we'll discuss how to plant shrubs.

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