The influence of cellulose content on tensile strength in tree roots

M. Genet, Alexia Stokes, Franck Salin, Slobodan B. Mickovski, Thierry Fourcaud, Jean Francoise Dumail, Rens van Beek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

315 Citations (Scopus)


Root tensile strength is an important factor to consider when choosing suitable species for reinforcing soil on unstable slopes. Tensile strength has been found to increase with decreasing root diameter, however, it is not known how this phenomenon occurs. We carried out tensile tests on roots 0.2-12.0 mm in diameter of three conifer and two broadleaf species, in order to determine the relationship between tensile strength and diameter. Two species, Pinus pinaster Ait. and Castanea sativa Mill., were then chosen for a quantitative analysis of root cellulose content. Cellulose is responsible for tensile strength in wood due to its microfibrillar structure. Results showed that in all species, a significant power relationship existed between tensile strength and root diameter, with a sharp increase of tensile strength in roots with a diameter 1.0 mm, Fagus sylvatica L. was the most resistant to failure, followed by Picea abies L. and C. sativa., P. pinaster and Pinus nigra Arnold roots were the least resistant in tension for the same diameter class. Extremely high values of strength (132-201 MPa) were found in P. abies, C. sativa and P. pinaster, for the smallest roots (0.4 mm in diameter). The power relationship between tensile strength and root diameter cannot only be explained by a scaling effect typical of that found in fracture mechanics. Therefore, this relationship could be due to changes in cellulose content as the percentage of cellulose was also observed to increase with decreasing root diameter and increasing tensile strength in both P. pinaster and C. sativa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005


  • cellulose content
  • Biomechanics
  • root reinforcement
  • soil fixation


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