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What are Hardwood Trees?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated May 16, 2024
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Hardwood trees are found in many locations around the world. Hardwood trees typically produce denser wood than softwood trees and are often sought out for furniture making, construction and to make musical instruments, such as clarinets. Hardwoods that grow mainly in the tropics include lauan, ebony, teak and mahogany. Popular European and American hardwood trees are maple, oak, cherry, beech and ash. Some specialty hardwood evergreen trees that grow in Europe include the holm oak, holly and boxwood varieties.

Most hardwood trees are deciduous, meaning that they have large, broad leaves that fall off during the fall or autumn seasons. The trees are normally dormant during the winter and the leaves develop again in the spring and summer. Evergreen hardwood tree varieties, those that maintain the same leaves year round, are typically found in certain sub tropic and tropic locales. Most conifer (cone-bearing) or evergreen trees fall into the softwood category.

Trees classified as hardwood do not always produce wood that is harder than softwood. Both categories have strains that have such wide ranges in density that they often overlap in classification. For instance, balsa is a hardwood that is generally softer than most softwood. Conversely, the yew tree, a small, bush-like tree in the conifer family, is one of the hardest softwood tree species. However, the hardest hardwood trees are significantly harder than any softwood types, and there are about 100 times as many hardwood tree classes as softwood ones.

The lumber produced from hardwood trees is most often used in building construction, furniture building, musical instrument production and flooring. Its beauty and durability are generally preferred over other woods but its cost is often prohibitive for large projects. A number of products advertised as hardwood are actually constructed of hardwood veneers bonded to less expensive materials such as fiberboard or plywood.

Though often preferred over softwoods, hardwoods cannot be as easily interchanged in manufacturing or construction. Each variety has its own fiber and growth pattern, grain consistency, density and pore size. These aspects greatly affect certain hardwood tree lumber flexibility. In furniture making particularly, flexibility is important when attaching legs to chair seats, a process only certain types of hardwood can withstand without splitting.

One reason the lumber of some hardwood trees is costly is that some varieties have been over planted and over harvested. Growers of some species of mahogany and teak have had their tree crops greatly diminished by government restrictions aimed at saving these varieties from extinction. Other hardwood tree species have recently been focused on by environmentalist organizations to prevent threats to their survival.

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Discussion Comments
By FirstViolin — On Nov 16, 2010

What would you say the best tips are for identifying hardwood trees? I grew up around a lot of shrubs and trees with fruit, so I'm not very up on my hardwood tree identification.

I like to go on nature hikes and try to pick out the different kinds of trees as I go, so I try to take my "Hardwood Trees of North America" guide with me and identify the hardwood trees by their pictures, but it's still a little tricky.

Are there any tree enthusiasts out there that have any good tips for me? Right now I can't tell the difference between a hardwood maple tree and a hardwood ash!

Do you have any good tips?

By galen84basc — On Nov 16, 2010

Great article! I referenced this a lot as a starting off point for preparing for my class on the hardwood trees of North America.

I am a fourth grade teacher, and its kind of hard to make trees interesting, but this article really helped me to do that.

I never realized just how many different things there were to know about trees, or that so many hardwood trees were endangered.

The only possible suggestion I would make is to include some pictures of hardwood trees, if possible -- although I know this is primarily a text-based site.

Anyway, the information was great, really very helpful.

Thanks so much.

By closerfan12 — On Nov 16, 2010

What are some of the fastest growing hardwood trees? I have been thinking about planting some more hardwoods in my backyard (right now all I've got are a bunch of pines), but I'd really rather not be looking at hardwood tree seedlings for years, if you know what I'm saying.

I have contacted some hardwood tree farming associations that have trees for sale, but I tend to get different answers with each place, so I'm really not sure what to think.

Do you have any information on this, or could you recommend me some types of hardwood trees to try?

Thanks!

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