How to Analyze Tree Rings


Cutting a slice of wood from a tree can tell you a lot about the tree's life. By looking at the tree's rings you can determine the age of the tree, which years produced extra rain, and if the tree was ever involved in a fire. If you are a teacher or homeschooling mom, you may want to analyze the tree rings along with your students so they can learn more about trees and how they grow.

Step 1

Count the rings going outward from the center ring in the middle of the tree slice to the bark, but don't count the bark. The bark is actually the tree's protective coating, not a ring. This is the age of the tree. Remember to only count the rings in the radius, not completely across the diameter. If you did that you would be counting the years twice.

Step 2

Examine the rings more closely with a magnifying glass. Look at the color shades of the rings. The lighter shades are rings that were growing during the spring months. The darker colored rings show growth during the late summer and early fall months.

Step 3

Examine the width of the rings. Notice how some of the rings are wider and others are quite thin. Wide rings indicate average or above average rainfall with appropriate growing conditions. Thinner rings indicate more of a dry season and less than appropriate growing conditions.

Step 4

Locate any dark scars on the tree slice. These indicate that the tree was involved in a fire. You can determine the year of the fire by looking at the ring where the dark scar occurred.

Step 5

Check the shape of the tree rings. If they have grown to look like a bull's eye, you can tell the tree grew straight up. If you notice, however, that any of the rings are not centered, you can tell that the tree grew at an angle. There may have been another tree or rock next to it that did not allow it to grow straight.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never attempt to chop down a tree to retrieve a tree slice. This is dangerous. Allow a professional to do it for you.

Things You'll Need

  • Tree slice or stump
  • Magnifying glass


  • Class Zone: Tree Rings Record Annual Growth
  • Illinois State Museum: Forest: How do We Know: Tree Rings
Keywords: tree rings, analyzing tree rings, reading tree rings

About this Author

Alicia Bodine has been a professional writer for six years. She has produced thousands of articles for online publications such as Demand Studios, Bright Hub, Associated Content and WiseGeek. Bodine is also the current cooking guru for LifeTips. She has received awards for being a top content producer.