It is argued that the development of decay in living hardwoods can best be explained in terms of the unsuitability of functional sapwood for mycelial establishment owing to its high moisture content and lack of easily assimilable nutrients other than within living cells. Decay occurs when these limitations are removed by any mechanisms which prevent or interfere with the normal functioning of sapwood. Recent concepts of decay in living trees have implied an active host defence against infection. This view is discussed against the alternative that non-specific mechanisms which maintain sapwood function will, by their very nature, prevent establishment of -ycelium of decay and stain fungi. The significance of mixed microbial communities in the development of decay is discussed, particularly in relation to the supposed requirement for specific sequences to overcome host defences.