• cambial activity;
  • causal modelling;
  • cell production;
  • cold environments;
  • duration of cell differentiation;
  • growth cessation;
  • Picea mariana;
  • wood formation;
  • xylogenesis


Delays in the start of the growing season reduce the period available for growth and the amount of xylem production. However, a higher number of developing tracheids could prolong cell differentiation and, consequently, lengthen the growing season. The relationship between the amount and duration of cell production in the xylem remains an unresolved issue. The aim of this study was to resolve the chicken-or-egg causality dilemma about duration of growth and cell production through simple- and double-cause models. This was achieved by (1) analysing the intra-annual growth dynamics of the xylem in Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP during 2006–2009 in two contrasting sites of the boreal forest of Quebec, Canada, and (2) extracting the dates of onset and ending of xylem formation and the number of radial cells along the tree ring.

A higher number of cells was linked to an earlier onset (r = 0.74) and later ending (r = 0.61) of cell differentiation. The absence of a relationship between the residuals of the onset and ending of xylogenesis (rp = −0.06) indicated that cell production influenced the correlation between the two phenophases of the xylem.

These results demonstrated that a higher number of cells produced delay the ending of xylem maturation, so extending the duration of wood formation.