General Question

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

Why don't trees get cancer?

Asked by JeSuisRickSpringfield (7739points) May 19th, 2014

I know that trees can get tumor-like growths, but they never seem to affect the tree like cancer affects a human. So why don’t trees get cancer? Or maybe I’m wrong and they do. If so, could you set me right?

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11 Answers

Pachy's avatar

I would think that fungus/mold is tantamount to cancer in humans. Sometimes it can be cut away, sometimes it just kills the tree.

Coloma's avatar

From a quick research/read. Trees/plants can get tumors but, they do not metastasize like humans as their cells do not move around and are protected by cell walls. They also do not have vital organs that can be crowded out like humans do. Tumors ( growths) are localized only.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Coloma is right. Plants can get galls, which are a kind of runaway cell growth analogous to cancer, but they can’t spread because plant cells don’t move.

Coloma's avatar

This is a great Q. I learned something new myself! :-)

ibstubro's avatar

I’m guessing that the trees “cancer like growth” is due to some insect or bacterial infestation.


Cancer is a human conceit?


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kritiper's avatar

I’ve seen trees that have fallen or been blown down and some were rotted out on the inside clear down to the roots.

Zaku's avatar

@Pachy Fungus and lichen on trees is usually in a symbiotic relationship with it, not harming the tree and in fact helping it, for example by storing water when it rains and releasing it gradually when it’s dry, etc.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@kritiper It’s very common for particularly hardwood trees to be hollow on the inside. It is indeed caused by rot (which is not similar to cancer, and not a symbiotic relationship with a fungus).

However, the inside of a tree is made of xylem, which is composed of cells that are already dead. Because water and nutrients are carried through the tree closer to the bark, having a hollow core is not harmful to the tree (although it may be more susceptible to windfall) and it means that the tree does not have to spend energy maintaining the wood by producing defence chemicals, etc.

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