Hardwood Information: Recognizing Hardwood Tree Characteristics

Single Hardwood Tree
hardwood tree
(Image credit: filmfoto)

What are hardwood trees? If you’ve ever bumped your head on a tree, you’ll argue that all trees have hard wood. Hardwood is a term biolog to group together trees with certain similar characteristics. If you want information about hardwood tree characteristics, as well as a hardwood vs. softwood discussion, read on.

What are Hardwood Trees?

The term “hardwood tree” is a botanical grouping of trees with similar characteristics. Hardwood tree characteristics apply to many of the tree species in this country. The trees have broad leaves rather than needle-like leaves. They produce a fruit or nut, and often go dormant in the winter. 

America's forests contain hundreds of different hardwood tree species. In fact, about 40 percent of American trees are in the hardwood category. A few well-known hardwood species are oak, maple, and cherry, but many more trees share hardwood tree characteristics. Other types of hardwood trees in American forests include:

Biologists contract hardwood trees with softwood trees. So, what is a softwood tree? Softwoods are conifers, trees with needle-like leaves that bear their seeds in cones. Softwood lumber is often used in building. In the U.S., you’ll find that common softwoods include:

Hardwood vs. Softwood

A few simple tests help you differentiate hardwood from softwood trees. Hardwood information specifies that hardwood trees are deciduous. This means that the leaves fall off in autumn and the tree remains leafless through springtime.

 On the other hand, softwood conifers do not pass the winter with bare branches. Although sometimes old needles fall off, the softwood tree branches are always covered with needles. According to hardwood information, almost all hardwoods are flowering trees and shrubs. 

The wood of these trees contains cells that conduct water, as well as tightly packed, thick fiber cells. Softwood trees only have water-conducting cells. They do not have the dense wood fiber cells.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.