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What is the difference between a hardwood and softwood?


Autumn Ash in Street Median

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Photo by Steve Nix, Licensed to About.com Longleaf Pine

Longleaf Pine is a Conifer

Kim Nix What is the difference between a hardwood and softwood?

Question: What is the difference between a hardwood and softwood?

Answer: 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.

Review the Hardwoods...
The Great Hardwood Forest...

A great example of an exception to the rule is balsa wood. Balsa is one of the lightest, least dense woods there is, but it is considered a hardwood.

Hardwood and softwood differences actually have to do with plant reproduction. All trees reproduce by producing seeds, but seed structures vary. Hardwood trees are 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.

Softwoods, on the other hand, are gymnosperms (conifers) with "naked" seed. These plants have seeds that fall to the ground with no covering. 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.

Review the Softwoods...
The Great Coniferous Forest...

Typically, angiosperms lose their leaves during cold weather while gymnosperms trees keep their leaves all year round. So, with the above discussion, there is some support to say evergreens are softwoods and deciduous trees are hardwoods.

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