A branch collar is the attached structure in woody plants that connects a branch to its parent branch or to the trunk. The branch collar consists of overlapping Wood fibres according to Alex Shigo's model of branch attachment. Recent research disputes this anatomical model, however some errors appear to have discredited recent claims. Prof. Dr. Claus Mattheck is the leading authority regarding branch collar attachment whom builds on Alex L. Shigo's work.
During plant growth cycles, wood on smaller branches forms first, according to Shigo's model. Wood at the base of the branch extends slightly over the face of the trunk, forming the branch collar. Then, the wood of the parent branch forms over the top of the basal branch wood, usually forming a circular structure called the trunk collar. Together, the branch collar and trunk collar in Shigo's model are simply referred to as the branch collar. Branch collars can also be flat or somewhat recessed into the trunk or parent branch, as in some conifers.
This model is not considered satisfactory by some current researchers, as it does not provide an adequate explanation as to how the anatomy of a fork-like junction is formed.
When woody plants naturally shed branches because they are nonproductive, usually from lack of light, these branches die back to the branch collar. Insects and fungi decompose the dead branch, and it eventually falls off, leaving the exposed branch core. The branch core resists the spread of decay organisms into the parent branch or trunk during the time it takes for the woundwood, or callus, to seal over the wound.
Events such as storms or pruning may damage the branch collar, thus defeating the naturally-occurring defense of the branch core and exposing the trunk to decay. Understanding the branch collar anatomy is important in tree pruning. Pruning practices that mimic natural branch shedding avoid unnecessary damage to the plant's defensive anatomy.
- Alex L. Shigo. How tree branches are attached to trunks, Canadian Journal of Botany, 1985, 63(8): 1391-1401, doi:10.1139/b85-193
- Towards a New Model for Branch Attachment'; Slater and Harbinson, 2012, Journal of Arboriculture 33 vol. 2, Taylor and Francis
- Tree pruning guide prepared by the US Forest Service for the US Department of Agriculture features a diagram of the branch collar.
- Tree Pruning a Worldwide Photo Guide, Pages 18,19,151 Shigo, Alex L., 1989 for the definitive illustration of a branch collar. ISBN 0-943563-08-9