Thursday, November 15, 2007

ISA HK/China --- Review of Prof. Mattheck's 'Tree Bio-Mechanics' series

*** Our weekly Station Mail is for the information of Station Members only, but Station Mail has given up copyright & can be freely circulated. For administrative reasons, comments from outsiders are usually not entertained & may be circulated within our system locally & overseas. Please note Station Mail is sometimes given in Blog at , although images are usually not attached due to size. ***

Dear Station Members,

It has been an enormous task for this Station to research into the lecture materials, websites & literature of this equally giant Tree Specialist of Professor Claus Mattheck of Germany. We have spent months actually. Profile of Prof Mattheck is given in the attachment for general information.

Despite some may think Prof Mattheck would behave eccentrically especially in his delivery of lectures (He enjoyed shouting 'Ha !!' to wake up the class), this Station has found his teaching is primarily based on years of observation on the behaviour of trees under various conditions with a lot of experimental work. In his books & lectures, Prof Mattheck has given hundreds of photos showing tree defects & responses under wind loading & this evidence serves to back up his claims. In a way, Prof Mattheck was speaking with details of his research, & its up to the audience to reply otherwise.

The 3 books & website besides the lectures notes of Prof Mattheck that this Station has reviewed are:

1. Stupsi Explains the Tree 3rd edition --- 115 pages (1999)

2. Updated Field Guide for Visual Tree Assessment (VTA) --- 170 pages (2007)

3. The Face of Failure in Nature & Engineering --- 208 pages (2004)


Whereas the first two books written in children's language can still be understood in most parts by an experienced Arborist, the 3rd book would definitely require knowledge of Physics & Engineering to apprehend all the equations & mathematics. The written language has been extraordinary in the sense that it was translated from German into English with a heavy European ascent. If anyone in our territory finds Dr. Shigo's Tree Biology with American colloquial English would be difficult enough to read, Prof Mattheck's literature might be even harder. To this Station, reading Dr. Shigo's work was like an uphill battle in every page, whereas for Prof Mattheck's would be for every sentence. There were times that this Station had to go back to Physics & Engineering textbooks to try to figure out the meaning of certain Tree Bio-mechanics terms so described. Arborist without such knowledge may be completely lost in a whirl.

If this Station is asked to compare Dr. Shigo's education with Prof Mattheck's, this Station would reply that Dr.Shigo's work was more on the microscopic side of arboriculture, whereas Prof Mattheck would focus on the macroscopic side. Dr. Shigo would dissect & go deep into the tissue response of a tree after wounding, & Prof Mattheck would focus on the Reaction Wood Development of a tree in wind. This Station felt the work of these two giants complimented each other, & each has filled in the void by the other.

The European attitude of Prof Mattheck in sustaining Mature Trees by constant Crown Reduction to minimize wind loading, would tend to counteract the American attitude of pruning only dead tissues to encourage healthy growth. The two philosophy seems to go in a completely opposite direction, & can anyone say keeping a shortened Mature Tree a crime against humanity while its life can be extended? It may really depend upon how one would take the preference. On the other hand, Prof Mattheck has stood up in Court many times to provide Expert Witness in law cases with his mechanical theories on Tree Failures, & his observation of the development of Fungal Growth in assessing failure time can be educational in our territory. Some of his ideas were completely brand new to many of us indeed.

This Station generally felt that Prof Mattheck's teaching was to incorporate Physics & Engineering into explaining how trees stand & fall. This Station would agree with the proposition of Prof Mattheck in that everything does eventually fail, be it material or organism. It's just that it should not fail prematurely in its designed life, be dead or alive. The ability to predict failure may rest on the knowledge of Failure Mechanics . Since Failure Mechanics are largely studied on objects rather than on living organisms, it may be appropriate that such engineering theories can be borrowed to begin the study on organisms as a start. For living trees, this would mean to combine Tree Biology & Tree Structure for predicting Tree Failures. Prof Mattheck's knowledge seemed to have supplemented the structural side of Tree Physiology in many ways.

Prof Mattheck's education on Tree Mechanics began with forces, vectors, moments, stresses, strains & then progressed to Failure Mechanics, & would even go as far as Mohr-Coulomb's Law of Soil Mechanics. Some may have gone far beyond the domains of our local landscapers & designers. Some would actually take an Engineer to understand what is going on. Yet to carry out Tree Risk Assessment & Tree Failure Analysis to any advanced extent, the knowledge of Bio-mechanics seems inevitable, especially if Expert Witness is to be provided in Court. However, this Station would be bewildered to ask our landscapers & designers to learn Engineering from ground zero to carry out such kind of work, unless we would like to imitate what Singapore has already gone ahead.

There were 5 of our Station Members including the Station Manager attended the 3 day Workshop on Tree Mechanics by Prof Mattheck in August 2007 in Singapore. Pretty much we were all lost during his seminars, because we did not study his information in advance & perhaps thought it could be easily apprehended. We were wrong. Now as this Station has returned to diagnosis this great man's teaching, the knowledge did not seem coming out from nowhere but rather from years of observation & hundreds of experimental research. It is our Station's principles to be fact-finding & truth-telling to be an Arborist in our territory, & Prof Mattheck's information appeared to go along with our belief.

This Station has so far reviewed in our limited capacity of the work of two Arboricultural giants Dr. Alex Shigo on Tree Biology & Prof Claus Mattheck on Tree Mechanics, one being expert on the microscopic side & the other on the macroscopic. Both are necessary to complete our knowledge on Risk Assessment & Failure Analysis. Both are necessary to serve our community with so many Mature Trees nowadays.

Prof Mattheck has expressed the last time he was in Singapore that the Tree Mechanics Workshop there may be his last to tour Asia due to the distance & efforts. May we hope he can change his mind some time in future if we can gather enough money to invite this giant to come over to our territory to share his expertise with us.

May Prof Mattheck live long, healthy & keep shouting 'Ha!!' to us in his lectures.

best regards,

Sammy Au
Station Manager

The ISA Mission - Through research, technology, and education, promote the professional practice of arboriculture and foster a greater public awareness of the benefits of trees. (


Unknown said...

Hello Sir,
Because of Professor Mattheck's misunderstanding of elementary foundation theory, he has mislead arborists around the world about any tree's factor of safety. In Australia, I am organising for him to be exposed as a scientific fraud. He has threatened me with defamation but a scientist who cannot address evidence of his cheating is in a lot of strife. Please see Professor Gruber's 2007 papers proviing Mattheck's fake scientific claims. Regards Don Ross

Anonymous said...

Just found on the internet evidences of how Mattheck's opponents, the tree-pullers, might have committed severe scientific fraud!

Very interesting information that Klaus Mattheck surely should have!

Someone called "Anonymoustreelover" posted this on


Results of tree-pulling (SIM) a possible fraud?

I would like to ask the following to Detter, Brudi and Bischoff (2005) to clarify a doubt we have:

Quote (Bond 2006):
“Detter et al. (2005) reproduced a graph of t/R ratio by radius that summarizes close to 5,000 individual tree investigations (Figure 3). A full 45 percent of this large number of trees “in parks and along roadsides” had a t/R ratio less than 0.3.”

Is that not wrong?, since:

The degree of hollowness diagram, as published by Detter et al (Bond 2006, figure 3) might simply be a mathematical tramp?
As understood in their workshops, the formulae it uses takes in account the modulus of elasticity (MOE ) as given by Wessolly and assuming an ellipse shaped trunk at the height of the elastometer measurements at about 15cm from the ground.
While this is probably seldom the case in their nearly 5000 trees?
In reality, at the measuring points at the trunk base usually there are wide root flares and a irregular outer cross-section, thus not being a nice ellipse at all. So the cross-section modulus is in reality lower than the one the ellipse formula assumes in the SIM method! And the real fibre-elongation measurements might indicate a lower MOE than the high Wessolly values, even in sound trees, not?

So, if we're not wrong, the result is that the SIM method uses the measured stiffness of the tree (high fibre-elongation and irregular outer geometry ) and compares it with what it likes better (a high Wessolly MOE and a perfectly ellipse shaped geometry), though it is not correct.
Hence, the calculations, wrongly, suppose then a lower stiffness “than what should be” and assume the trunk is hollow or has a defect…

In other word, and correct me if we're wrong, but saying that these results (the t/R to R diagram) “show how all these hollow trees still are standing” seems completely false!

Most of them might have not a single mechanical defect, and in the case there is a defect, its mechanical “weakness” could have been highly exaggerated by the calculations!

The answer to the above quote, if I am correct would be thus that the statement “A full 45 percent of this large number of trees in parks and along roadsides” had a t/R ratio less than 0.3” is FALSE?

I suppose that you never thought about this and that you published unintentionally results that seem completely wrong if my simple analysis is correct (if not, it could be regarded as scientific fraud, which nobody wants and surely not you).

It would be great to have an answer on this, since many more will come up with the same questions!
Or better would be, I only suggest, if the authors Detter et al. could demonstrate scientifically that their t/R diagram is no fraud, in a peer-reviewed journal?(but please, preferably no ISA one, since the ISA supports you already with a stunning ease)

Greetings ,
Anonymous for obvious reasons.
(don't search for me, my job is done here, now it is up to you and the arb-scene)

Bond, Jerry. 2006. FOUNDATIONS OF TREE RISK ANALYSIS: Use of the t/R ratio to Evaluate Trunk Failure Potential. Arborist News. ISA.

Figure t/R by R for 4807 standing trees (Detter et al. 2005):
Detter, Andreas, Erk Brudi, and Frank Bischoff. 2005. Statics Integrated Methods: Results from Pulling ests in Past Decades. Barcelona. ISA Spain.

1. The MOE for each tree-species of the Stuttgart Strength Catalogue might be higher than the one found in a standing tree. So it is easy to be mislead by the lower MOE found in a standing tree.
In this way, even completely defect-free cross-sections can have a lower MOE than the one used in the treepulling SIM and the calculations would tell us that there is a hollow while the trunk in reality is sound and full.

2. The way of measuring the geometry of the pulled tree (elastomethod) can result in a deformed vision of the relative stiffness of a cross-section, since a very irregular stem base, for example, is assumed to be an ellipse. So the calculations will assume a much bigger cross-section modulus ( a full ellipse) than the stem base, with its root buttresses and spacing in between.
And the combination of comparing MOE’s and the practical impossibility of registering the real cross-section modulus will lead to a, theoretically, very low stiffness and thus, according to this method, a very low t/R, FALSELY.

3. the load-bearing geometry or cross-section modulus of this irregular cross-section of a trunk will be overestimated when the ellipse formula is employed in the elastomethod. The combination of this methodological error (also an understandable limit in the real field-work) and taking as a standard a higher MOE than the real MOE of this tree, leads to a “hollow trunk and very thin residual wall”, although the trunk is completely full or almost never as hollow as calculated by the Elastomethod (SIM tree-pulling).
If so, the t/R over R of Detter et al 2005 would be completely false!

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