Hardwood vs Softwood

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Hardwood vs Softwood

A botanic distinction for trees that has nothing to do with hardness of the wood. Some hardwoods are softer (lower density) than some softwoods. Balsa is an example of a very soft, low-density hardwood. Some softwoods are harder (higher density) than some hardwoods. The softwoods Douglas-fir and the southern pine group are harder (higher density) than some of the softer (lower density) hardwoods such as aspen and basswood.


The wood usually has vessels and therefore is often referred to as porous. Broad-leaved trees and shrubs in the botanical group called angiosperms. They produce flowers in the accepted sense, and seeds are produced in a protected ovary (fruit or nut). Foliage is usually broad leaved, veined, and usually deciduous in a temperate climate. Some North American exceptions are the live oaks (Quercus virginiana and others), holly (Ilex spp), and some magnolias (Magnolia spp) which are evergreen. The Australian she-oaks (Casuarina spp) planted in North America have segmented leaves that have the general appearance of needles, and are often called by the common name Australian Pine in North America although they are not pines or even softwoods. And they’re not oaks either.

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The wood lacks vessels, and therefore is often referred to as non-porous. Coniferous trees in the botanical group called gymnosperms. Trees do not have flowers in the commonly accepted sense. They produce naked seeds (not enclosed in an ovary) usually on the scale of cone or similar structure. Most are evergreen, with needle-like, linear, or scale-like foliage. Common exceptions are the larches (Larix spp) and baldcypress (Taxodium spp) which drop their needles. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) which is native to Asia but is a common ornamental and street tree in North America, has broad leaves, and seeds are in a protective “fruit” more like a hardwood, but it is a softwood tree species.

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