Daisugi – Growing Straight Lumber Without Killing The Tree

A large, short set of tree stumps supports many smaller, straight trees atop them. They are on a picturesque mountain with a orange deciduous tree behind them.

In 14th Century Japan, there was a shortage of straight lumber for building and flat land on which to grow it. Arborists there developed a technique that looks like growing trees on top of trees, called daisugi.

Similar to the European practice of pollarding for firewood and basket materials, daisugi has been likened to bonsai on steroids. Starting with a Japanese cedar tree, one chops the top off the tree once it has grown to sufficient size to survive this initial shock. The following spring, you start carefully guiding the new growth through pruning to create tall, straight trunks on top of the “platform cedar.” Pruning takes place approximately every two years and harvesting every twenty. A daisugi tree can produce new shoots for several hundred years if properly maintained.

Although often used as a decorative technique today, it seems like an interesting way to grow your own perfect lumber if you have the room for it. We suspect the technique could be used on other species that lend themselves to pollarding like oak or maple, but harvest times and reliable straight trunks might vary. With sustainable production of wood for cross-laminated timber (CLT) and other advanced timbers being of growing importance, we wonder if these techniques could make a comeback?

30 thoughts on “Daisugi – Growing Straight Lumber Without Killing The Tree

  1. FWIW pollarding is somewhat related, but they all fall under the idea of coppicing, which was practiced from the stone age onwards in many places across the world. Pollarding is when you did it up top, and coppicing is when you do it right at ground level.

    1. Coppicing tends to yield grow straight shoots. They tend to stay that way because the crowding keeps the branching down.

      Usually the coppiced wood was used for firewood or charcoal, but you could weave it into baskets or fences. You can make poles, handles and many farming tools. The sticks also lend themselves to making chairs. The seat would be a slabor other wood or woven from bark or other material

  2. Apparently, in 14th century Japan, worthless pole type trees had some value.

    In a modern society, with _plenty_ of forest land available, they aren’t even worth cutting down for pulp.

    Also note: Mature forests or jungles don’t sequester carbon. Closed cycle, rot on the forest floor equals take up in the canopies. Calling the Amazon ‘the lungs of the planet’ is an oft repeated lie.

    The places genuinely sequestering carbon are those that were previously largely deforested. e.g. The USA’s east coast, Europe. Also tree farms, but that carbon is being stored in the form of houses.

    1. >”Amazon ‘the lungs of the planet’ is an oft repeated lie.”

      I thought it was because you can literally see it “breathing” during the day night cycle in certain satellite imagery.

    2. > Also note: Mature forests or jungles don’t sequester carbon. Closed cycle, rot on the forest floor equals take up in the canopies. Calling the Amazon ‘the lungs of the planet’ is an oft repeated lie.

      That in itself may be close to true, but this comment style still suggests that forests don’t have an effect on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But destroying a forest will release much of the carbon, which is the danger here. Destroying the Amazon is hazardous for the whole planet.

      1. Forest fires is what sequester the carbon, by charring the wood so it becomes inedible to micro-organisms. This carbon then gets buried and turns into topsoil, which accumulates over millions of years. New trees then pick up more carbon and the cycle continues.

        1. Also, the rate at which biological matter accumulates and gets covered over with more stuff means that some always ends up buried under anaerobic conditions where the decomposition slows down and virtually stops. E.g. in peat bogs, but forests do this too. The organic run-off with rains sediments in lakes and oceans and becomes trapped. That’s how we get brown coal deposits, natural gas and oil.

      2. Currently, air blowing off of NAmerica has less CO2 than air blowing onto it.

        Because it’s _reforesting_. Brazil will get there too. Right now they are too poor to care. If they get their shit together, kick out the commies etc they will be able to afford to care.

        Crop land is more bioactive than forest. Takes up more CO2/acre. They are both short cycle.

        1. Not to say anything against reforestation, but Brazil can just keep making their cane ethanol, it’s a slick system. The bagasse burns for more heat than it takes to produce the ethanol, so with an incentive to sequester carbon, the excess could be charred and buried. Normally, a cane operation makes a bit more money off the excess bagasse, whether as a cellulose product or a fuel for power production.

        2. Kick out the commies? Their last president came out and said that Hitler should have killed more people!

          I’m sorry, but if you believe that communism is what’s causing the world’s problems, I’ve got a bridge to sell you in San Francisco…

          1. Commies are definitely what are causing Brazil’s problems.

            Commie does not just mean communist, it includes every name they have used or will use. Partial list: Marxist, Socialist, Bolshevik, Liberal, Progressive, Anarcho-syndicalist, Economic democrat, Green, Maoist, Communist with Chinese characteristics, The thoughts of Emperor Poo bear, etc etc etc.

            They change their names as often as MTD mowers.

    3. >Mature forests or jungles don’t sequester carbon. Closed cycle,
      Not really true, as they are not a true closed cycle and in many cases will still be accumulating biomass, just much slower than a new growing forest as the explosive growth rate of the many young plants with no established competition can’t be matched. For instance soil depth will often increase locally when the conditions are right – lots of carbon sequestered in soil. However as rain will carry some of that biomass in varied forms into the rivers and ocean where it most likely remains sunk carbon, created by the forest but retained elsewhere. The timber created by a mature forest will be harvested, and then its up to us (or the beaver) if the use we put it too keeps the carbon sequestered for a long term – build a log cabin you keep using and those logs probably remain for well over 100 years, build really cheap ‘disposable’ furniture and while each piece uses less wood it only lasts a handful of years and then is disposed of in a way it probably will not remain sunk carbon (though where and how it is disposed of will vary that and the low resource investment in these cheap furnitures may be a good thing overall still).

      1. There are a very few swamps still putting carbon down on a geological timescale. Okifenoki is the only one I can recall.

        No forests.

        All the coal/oil/gas on earth comes from before bacteria learned to decompose cellulose. Unless you’re a ‘deep oil formation’ nutter.

        1. So I was thinking “He clearly meant ‘steady state’ when he said ‘closed system’ but maybe the basic point is correct” but then you completely destroyed your credibility by confusing cellulose and lignin, fungi and bacteria and the fact that coal and oil/gas formed from completely different sources. I have to conclude that you are not in fact an expert on geological carbon sequestration

        2. Doesn’t need to turn to coal/oil/gas to be storing more carbon, as I pointed out soil depth often increases in and around forests, and soil is full of sunk carbon. Peat bogs and swamps can be good carbon stores, but again once its a mature established ecosystem it won’t be doing anything like the same carbon sinking as a recovering or new one. But equally true none of this is really a closed cycle – there is a whole rest of the world out there it interacts with. So the carbon captured doesn’t all stay in the environment it was captured or in the form it was captured – might be turned into shell for instance, something that doesn’t break back down to carbon in most circumstance.

  3. Why is it more of a decorative thing now? Certainly the land to people ratio has not risen. Is it because other materials have pushed wood down so that less is used? Or is wood just being imported from elsewhere.

    If the latter.. with so many conflicts arising around the world it might be a good idea to start a bunch of these now just in case!

    1. >Why is it more of a decorative thing now?

      It was always more of a decorative thing, since daisugi cannot grow as thick as trees planted directly into the ground. They’re pruned and cut down relatively young. The idea is to grow straight slender beams that are commonly used in Japanese traditional building. They’re easier to move and process using traditional tools, since there’s less wood to remove for size. The load bearing elements of the houses are still built out of heavier logs, which would be in short supply – so the idea was to save the good stuff for where it was needed and grow small lumber quickly for the decorative stuff.

      These days with mechanized processing, you get narrow poles and boards out of bigger logs when they’re sawed instead of having to hew them down to size with axes, so there’s less material wasted and less of a need to grow special trees for the purpose.

  4. Paper & Cellulose industry has a more direct approach: while using Eucalyptus (it gives crop cycles of about 7 years), the go-to method is to clone matrices that have low lignin production. This protein is responsible for the cells and fibers binding (not exactly wanted during the cellulose production), and its low rate also makes the trees span less branches. With debilitated structural integrity, the trees grows as straight as a telephone pole – which is also great for transport and processing…

    …not exactly something that you could do alone in the forest, but still an interesting info.

      1. Sure do! They are grown in large farms (with trees usually 4x4m apart each other) with the only intention of being chopped 7 years later and almost liquefied to extract the cellulose pulp. But I must say: it is a terrifying place to be during a windy day…

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