Softwood Tree Information: Learn About Softwood Characteristics

softwood tree
softwood tree
(Image credit: SyYates)

Some trees are softwood, some are hardwood. Is the wood of softwood trees really less dense and tough than hardwood trees? Not necessarily. In fact, a few hardwood trees have softer wood than softwoods. So exactly what are softwood trees? What is hardwood? Read on to learn about softwood characteristics as well as other softwood tree information.

What are Softwood Trees?

Softwood tree lumber is regularly used to build houses and boats, decks, and stairwells. That means that softwood characteristics of trees do not include weakness. Rather, the classification of trees into softwood and hardwood is premised on a biological distinction. Softwood tree information tells us that softwoods, also called gymnosperms, are needle-bearing trees, or conifers. Softwood tree species, including pines, cedar, and cypress, are usually evergreens. That means that they do not lose their needles in fall and go dormant for the winter. So, what is hardwood as a tree category? Hardwood trees, also called angiosperms, have broad leaves. They usually grow flowers and fruits and go through a period of dormancy in winter. Most hardwoods drop their leaves in autumn and regrow them the following spring. A few, like magnolia, are evergreen. Common hardwood trees include oaks, birch, poplar, and maples.

Softwood Tree Information

The botanical distinction between hardwood and softwood is reflected to some degree in the anatomy of the wood. Softwood tree species generally have softer wood than hardwood varieties. Conifer wood contains only a few different cell types. The wood of hardwood trees has more cell types and less air spaces. Hardness can be said to be a function of the wood’s density, and hardwood trees are generally denser than softwood trees. On the other hand, there are many exceptions to this rule. For example, Southern pines are classified as softwoods and have softwood characteristics. However, they are denser than yellow poplar, which is a hardwood. For a dramatic example of a soft hardwood, think of balsa wood. It is so soft and light that it is used to construct model airplanes. However, it comes from a hardwood tree.

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.