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A tree is generally understood to be a woody plant consisting of a root, a tall trunk rising from it, and a leafy crown.

Botany defines trees as perennial and woody seed plants that have a dominant shoot axis that increases in girth through secondary growth of thickness. These characteristics distinguish a tree from shrubs, ferns, palms, and other woody plants. In contrast to their developmental predecessors, most trees also have much more differentiated leaf organs that arise from multiple branched lateral shoots (long and short shoots). The trunk, branches and twigs elongate every year through the sprouting of terminal and lateral buds, becoming lignified in the process and continuously increasing in girth. In contrast to shrubs, it is a special characteristic of trees that the terminal buds dominate over the lateral buds (apical dominance) and thus a predominant main shoot develops (acrotonia).

Arborescent life forms occur in various plant groups: "True" trees are the deciduous trees among the angiosperms and the arborescent gymnosperms, which include conifers such as the conifers, but also Ginkgo biloba (as the only extant representative of the ginkgo family) and numerous representatives of the pinnate gymnosperms (Cycadophytina). The most peculiar tree is probably Welwitschia mirabilis, which is found in Namibia and whose trunk remains in the ground. In addition, the palms and the tree ferns can also form a tree-like shape. However, these groups do not possess true wood (secondary xylem) and are therefore not considered trees. A special position takes the dragon tree (Dracaena). Although this belongs to the monocotyledons, it has an atypical secondary thickness growth.