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5.2: Crown Classes

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    5.2 Crown Classes

    Crown class is a term used to describe the position of an individual tree in the forest canopy. It can be used in both evenaged and unevenaged stands. Kraft’s Crown Classes are defined as follows (Smith et al. 1997 and Helms 1998 modified for clarity):

    • Dominant Trees These crowns extend above the general level of the canopy. They receive full light from above and some light from the sides. Generally, they have the largest, fullest crowns in the stand (Figure 5.4).
    • Codominant Trees These crowns make up the general level of the canopy. They receive direct light from above, but little or no light from the sides. Generally they are shorter than the dominant trees.
    • Intermediate Trees These crowns occupy a subordinate position in the canopy. They receive some direct light from above, but no direct light from the sides. Crowns are generally narrow and/or one-sided, and shorter than the dominant and codominant trees.
    • Suppressed Trees (Overtopped Trees) These crowns are below the general level of the canopy. They receive no direct light. Crowns are generally short, sparse, and narrow.

    Figure 5.4. An illustration of crown classes. “D” = Dominant; “C” = Codominant; “I” = Intermediate and “S” = Suppressed.

    “General layer of the canopy” refers to the size class or cohort being examined. Crown classes are most easily determined in evenaged stands, as depicted in Figure 5.4. In an unevenaged stand, a tree would be compared to other trees in the same layer. Crown classes are a function of tree vigor, tree growing space, access to sunlight (functions of stand density), and species shade tolerance. A “suppressed” Douglas-fir tree is likely of low vigor and will probably die out. It typically would not be able to respond to an increase in sunlight if a neighboring tree fell over. A shade tolerant “suppressed” western hemlock on the other hand, may survive very nicely and be able to take advantage of increased sunlight if a neighboring tree were to fall over.

    Crown class can also tell us something of the overall vigor of an evenaged stand. If most trees are in the intermediate crown class, then the stand is likely too crowded and the trees are stagnated. A stand with nearly every tree in the dominant category is either very young, and all of the trees are receiving plenty of sun, or very sparse and may be considered “understocked.” A typical evenaged stand has the majority of trees in the codominant class, and the fewest trees in the suppressed class. The relative ratios of dominant and intermediate classes are generally a function of species composition. Examine the data in Figure 5.5 and Table 5.1 below.


    Figure 5.5. Diameter and crown class data for an evenaged stand near Larch Mountain. Data collected by MHCC Forest Measurements I class on January 26, 2005.

    This 60-yr old stand of primarily Douglas-fir and western hemlock, displays a bell-shaped diameter distribution, typical of an evenaged stand. Most of the trees are clustered around the average DBH, with some smaller and some larger than the center range.

    Table 5.1. Percent of each Species by Crown Class. Data collected in evenaged stand near Larch Mt. by MHCC Forest Measurements I class on January 26, 2005.
    Species Dominant

    29% of all trees measured


    35% of all trees measured


    24% of all trees measured


    13% of all trees measured

    Douglas-fir 67 64 40 12
    Western hemlock 33 36 60 88

    Note that the majority of trees are in the codominant crown class (35%), which most likely makes up the bulk of the 16’’-22” trees. It is interesting to examine the species composition data. The majority of dominant and codominant trees are Douglas-fir, while the intermediate and suppressed trees are primarily shade tolerant western hemlock. Therefore, many of the trees in the small diameter classes (6’-10”) may survive over time, even though they are surrounded by large trees. So there is another element to examine besides position in the crown.

    This page titled 5.2: Crown Classes is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Joan DeYoung (OpenOregon) .

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