The formation of secondary vascular tissues from the cambium is a characteristic feature of dicotyledons and gymnosperms. In certain monocots, the vascular tissues are also increased after the primary growth is completed but the cambium of these plants is of a different nature. In the living Pteridophytes this feature is rare but occurs in plants like Isoetes and Botrychium.
In many vascular plants, secondary growth is the result of the activity of the two lateral meristems, the cork cambium and vascular cambium. Arising from lateral meristems, secondary growth increases the girth of the plant root or stem, rather than its length. As long as the lateral meristems continue to produce new cells, the stem or root will continue to grow in diameter. In woody plants, this process produces wood, and shapes the plant into a tree with a thickened trunk.
Because this growth usually ruptures the epidermis of the stem or roots, plants with secondary growth usually also develop a cork cambium. The cork cambium gives rise to thickened cork cells to protect the surface of the plant and reduce water loss. If this is kept up over many years, this process may produce a layer of cork. In the case of the cork oak it will yield harvestable cork.
Abnormal secondary growth does not follow the pattern of a single vascular cambium producing xylem to the inside and phloem to the outside as in ancestral lignophytes. Some dicots have anomalous secondary growth, e.g. in Bougainvillea a series of cambia arise outside the oldest phloem.