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Products Harvested From Trees

Raw Materials from Trees that Feed, Cloth and Shelter Us


Modern technology continues to improve and develop more and more ways to utilize products made from trees. One obvious fact is the ever-growing demand for timber products used in the form of sawn or chipped wood is increasing - but also for products from trees that don't demand their total harvest. The good news is, when trees in a forest (or in a cultured or cultivated plantation) are managed as a sustainable resource, they will provide us with forest products forever.

Solid and processed wood products provide citizens of all nations with the building material and paper necessary to sustain continued growth for healthy economies. There is a secondary benefit of the production of extracted chemicals that are used in thousands of industrial and household items including rayon in clothing and synthetic rubber. All solid wood products used worldwide could never be listed here but there are major groups that contribute to the overwhelming consumption of whole trees. The most important solid and processed wood products come in the form of lumber, dimension building boards, ply and composite wood, utility poles and paper pulp.

Let's not forget these interesting wood products not usually mentioned as a wood product: Western aspen matchsticks where one million can be made from just one Western aspen; wooden chopping blocks that have their own mild antibacterial properties; ice cream sticks, chop sticks, wood handles, railroad ties, bridge and dock pilings, barrel staves, baseball bats and the list has and is continually growing as new technology is discovered and developed.

There is also a classification of products called non-timber forest products or NTFPs. These products always come from and as a result of forests but are not necessarily collected or made from a tree. Learn more about NTFPs by following the link as this report is about tree products exclusively.

Not often thought of as something we eat or drink, trees furnish some of the most valuable and delicious foods and drink known to man. A short list of these consumables would include most of the husk-covered nuts like walnut and pecan, and many pome-fruited trees like apples and persimmon. Other trees with nuts (or beans) include coffee, nutmeg, Brazil nuts, carob and a dried flower bud called clove. I have to also include trees with flavorful innerbark which includes cinnamon, frankincense (used mainly as an aromatic) and sassafras.

The edible tree oils should never be forgotten and come mainly in the form of olive and palm oil. Olive oil comes in many grades and subtle flavors and can be compared to wine as one of the most scrutinized liquids in the culinary arts. The olive is a seed encapsulated into a fleshy drupe and grows on the olive tree or Olea europaea and now grows throughout the world in regions with a Mediterranean climate. West African palm oil comes from the palm oil tree (Elaeis guineensis) is also widely used for margarine, candles and soap. Palm oil is a product of the pressed palm oil fruit (not coconut).

Cork is a major but under-appreciated wood product, used worldwide and is the major component of many products including corkboards, wine corks, floor tiles, fishing floats and buoys, insulation and baseball cores. Quercus suber is an oak tree with the common name cork oak and a native of southwest Europe and northwest Africa. It's bark is harvested every 9 to 12 years without harming the crop tree!

Trees also have a future place in the production of a necessary energy source - wood alcohol. Although not a major component of alcohol used for fuel, wood is abundant and the technology has already been developed to forge ahead and compete with corn-based alcohol. Called methanol, wood alcohol's potential drawbacks when using high concentrations as fuel is the corrosivity to some metals, particularly to aluminium (as is corn ethanol). New technology has an edge in overcoming this problem. It is a bulky material that takes extensive facilities to handle and prepare for fermentation but research is improving this situation.

I can only offer a broad-brushed picture of the most basic, notable and interesting uses for trees in this report. For in-depth information about all timber and forest products, visit the USFS Forest Product Laboratory.

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