Hardwood or Softwood?

Cut Tree TrunkContrary to popular belief, whether a wood is classified as hardwood or softwood has nothing to do with the wood's density. In fact, some of the least-dense woods (such as Poplar and Bassalt) are classified as hardwoods.

The classification comes from the molecular structure of the wood/tree. Hardwoods have pores and vessel elements that transport water. In contrast, Softwoods have only two types of cells -- transverse ray cells and longetudinal wood fibers (tracheids). Water is transported via the tracheids only in softwoods.

Further differentiation is seen in the reproductive structure of the two. All trees produce seeds. The composition of the seeds, however, is different. Harwood trees are angiosperms - plants that produce seeds with a hard covering or shell. (apple tree, oak tree).

Softwoods are gymnosperms and allow seeds to fall to the ground "as is", or with no covering. (conifer trees). Therefore it is accurate to say that all evergreens are softwoods, while all diciduous trees are hardwoods.

 

Here's a quick comparison chart that outlines several more differences:

Hardwood
Softwood
     
Types of Trees:
oak, mahogony, teak, elm, poplar, maple pine, spruce, cedar, fir, douglas-fir, larch
   
Properties:
higher density (not all is higher), broader leaves, seeds encased by shell, mostly diciduous less dense, less durable, needle leaves, evergreen
   
Leaf Differences:
shed leaves annually have needles that don't shed annually
   
Growth Rate:
slower growth rate faster rate of growth
   
Uses:
trimmings and furniture but less frequently than softwood building (rough-in and finish), trimmings, and furniture
   
Cost:
typically more expensive (some hardwoods are nearly extinct) less expensive
   
Regional Location:
throughout the world Northern Hemisphere
   

Paper Everywhere!

Random foliage

Nearly four billion trees are cut down throughout the world each year to create paper.  This comprises about 35% of all harvested trees.

Each person in the United States uses about 749 pounds of paper per year.

For more information about paper consumption and alternate sources, please read this article from Ecology.Com - Paper Chase.

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