We introduce the notion of a hereditary property for rooted real trees and we also consider reduction of trees by a given hereditary property. Leaf-length erasure, also called trimming, is included as a special case of hereditary reduction. We only consider the metric structure of trees, and our framework is the space $\bT$ of pointed isometry classes of locally compact rooted real trees equipped with the Gromov-Hausdorff distance. Some of the main results of the paper are a general tightness criterion in $\bT$ and limit theorems for growing families of trees. We apply these results to Galton-Watson trees with exponentially distributed edge lengths. This class is preserved by hereditary reduction. Then we consider families of such Galton-Watson trees that are consistent under hereditary reduction and that we call growth processes. We prove that the associated families of offspring distributions are completely characterised by the branching mechanism of a continuous-state branching process. We also prove that such growth processes converge to Levy forests. As a by-product of this convergence, we obtain a characterisation of the laws of Levy forests in terms of leaf-length erasure and we obtain invariance principles for discrete Galton-Watson trees, including the super-critical cases.