Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood Trees

Hardwood Versus Softwood Tree Species and Wood

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The Hardwood Tree and Its Wood

A hardwood tree is often, but not necessarily, a harder and denser wood than a softwood. The term comes from old logging camp "rules of thumb" where woods were sometimes named by their resistance to sawing.

A great example of an exception to the rule is balsa wood which comes from a South American tree species grown in the tropical rainforest. Balsa is one of the lightest, least dense woods there is but it is considered a hardwood.

It is imported into North America to make hundreds of products.

Hardwood and softwood differences actually have to do with plant reproduction. All trees reproduce by producing seeds, but seed structures vary. Hardwood trees are flowering plants called angiosperms, plants that produce seeds with some sort of covering. This might be a fruit, such as an apple, or a hard shell, such as an acorn or hickory nut.

The leaves of hardwoods are usually broad-leaved, not needled, are deciduous and drop their leaves annually in the Fall.

Hardwoods have pores of different sizes and shapes which allow water and nutrients to move from the roots to the leaves to ensure tree growth. These same pores incidentally create a wood grain pattern which increases the wood's density and workability.

Hardwoods are used in the manufacture of products needing to be sturdy and long-lasting including furniture, flooring, decking and quality veneers.

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The Great Hardwood Forest...

The Softwood Tree and Its Wood

Softwoods, on the other hand, are gymnosperms (conifers) with "naked" seed. These plants have seeds that fall to the ground with no covering and depend on "bare" soil created by disturbance and fire. Pines, firs and spruces, which grow seeds in cones, fall into this category.

In conifers, seeds are released into the wind once they mature. This spreads the plant's seed over a wide area which gives an early advantage over many hardwood species.

Softwoods do not have pores but have linear tubes called tracheids that provide nutrients for growth. These tracheids do the same thing as hardwood pores - transport water and produce sap that protects from pest invasion and provides the essential elements for tree growth.

Softwood trees or conifers are a less expensive wood to harvest, manufacture and market and essential to commercial North American forestry.  They are used to produce dimension lumber for construction, pulpwood for paper, particleboard, plywood and fiberboard.

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Note: Typically, angiosperms lose their leaves during cold weather while gymnosperms trees keep their leaves all year round (but a completed total drop at least every two years . So, with the above discussion, there is some support to say evergreens are softwoods and deciduous trees are hardwoods.