Wood Taxonomy

Hardwoods

The term hardwood is a general term for flowering trees (Angiosperms) that usually have broad leaves that are shed (deciduous) and produce fruits. The term originated as a description of the hardness of the wood, although there are some soft hardwoods like Balsa (Ochroma spp.).

Ash (Fraxinus spp./Oleaceae) is composed of 40 to 70 species, with 21 in Central and North America and 50 species in Eurasia. All species look alike microscopically. The commercial ashes are, to my knowledge:

 Eastern North America  Europe
 Common Name  Scientific Name   Common Name  Scientific Name
 Black Ash  Fraxinus nigra  Common Ash  Fraxinus excelsior
 Blue Ash  Fraxinus quadrangulata     Flowering Ash  Fraxinus ornus
 Green Ash   Fraxinus pennsylvanica   Flowering Ash  Fraxinus angustifolia
 Pumpkin Ash   Fraxinus profunda
 White Ash  Fraxinus americana

Basswood (Tilia spp./Tiliaceae), also known as Lime in England and Europe, consists of 30 to 35 species native to Eurasia(30) and North America(4). All species look alike microscopically. American Basswood (Tilia americana) currently grows in the northeast US from Minnesota to Maine and from the Virginia Appalachians to southwest Missouri. The European Linden (Tilia europaea) is native to Russia, Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands and England. A favorite wood for carvings, such as those by Grinling Gibbons. Basswood is also used as a secondary wood in furniture, as a ground for inlay and japanning work. It is currently used for veneer, plywood, trunk panels,valise panels, core stock, slack cooperage, excelsior, boxes and crates, woodenware, novelties, shade and map rollers and piano keys.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Basswood T. americana Broad-Leaved Lime T. platyphyllos
Carolina Basswood T. caroliniana European Lime T. vulgaris
Silver Lime T. tomentosa
Samll-Leaved Lime T. cordata

Beech (Fagus spp./Fagaceae) contains 8 species that grow in Asia (4), Europe (F. sylvatica) and North America (F. grandifolia). All species look alike microscopically.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Beech F. grandifolia Beech F. sylvatica

Birch (Betula spp./Betulaceae) is composed of 30 to 50 species growing in Asia (12), North America (4) and Europe (4). All species look alike microscopically. The common commercial species are to my knowledge:
Eastern North AmericaEuropeCommon NameScientific NameCommon NameScientific NameGray BirchB. populifoliaHairy BirchB. pubescensPaper BirchB. papyriferaSilver BirchB. pendulaRiver BirchB. nigra  Sweet BirchB. lenta  Yellow BirchB. alleghaniensis

Burls, also known as burrs, are abnormal bulges produced by nearly all kinds of trees. The grain, or orientation of cells, is extremely irregular, making microscopic identification difficult. The figure produced in burls is often beautiful, and they have traditionally been made into bowls or turned objects. Hinckley1 mentions ash burl several times used as veneer.

1Hinckley, F.L. 1960. Directory of historic cabinet woods. Bonanza Books, New York.

Cedrela (Cedrela spp./Meliaceae). The Genus Cedrela contains about 8 species native to tropical America (Mexico to Argentina). The main commercial species is C. odorata, known as Spanish cedar or cedro. There is a closely related species from the Old World (Asia) now known as toon or Australian red cedar (Toona spp.), formerly known as Cedrela toona. All species of Cedrela look alike microscopically. Cedrela wood appears occasionally in colonial furniture but is the premier wood for carved Santos from Central and South America.

Cherry (Prunus spp./Rosaceae). The genus Prunus contains between 200-400 species distributed in most parts of the world, especially the northern temperate regions (North America, Asia and Europe/Mediterranean). This genus includes cherries, plums, peaches, almonds and apricots. All species look alike microscopically, however, woods in this genus with a reddish cast (light or dark red) with a light ray fleck are assumed to be cherry. The three main commercial species are, to my knowledge:

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Black Cherry P. serotina Bird Cherry P. padus
Wild Cherry P. avium

Chestnut (Castanea spp./Fagaceae) contains 7 to 12 species distributed in North America (4) and Europe (1). Chestnut (Castanea sativa) was introduced into England by the Romans probably as food for domestic animals. North American trees were virtually wiped out by the fungus Endothia parasitica. Species hybridize with each other. All species look alike microscopically.

                Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Chestnut C. dentata Sweet Chestnut C. sativa

Elm (Ulmus spp./Ulmaceae) contains 18 to 45 species native to Asia(11), Europe and Mediterranean region(6), South & Central America(7) and North America(7). There are species on both sides of the Atlantic that look alike microscopically.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Elm U. americana English Elm U. procera
Rock Elm U. thomasii Fluttering Elm U. laevis
Slippery Elm U. rubra Smoothed-Leaved Elm U. minor
Winged Elm U. alata Wych Elm U. glabra

                Fruitwoods are composed of Apple (Malus spp.) & Pear (Pyrus spp.).

                Apple (Malus spp./Rosaceae) consists of at least 30 species that occur on both sides of the Atlantic. Can be confused with the other fruitwood Pear, also in the Rose Family (Rosaceae). The common apple was introduced into North America by the colonial English and had quickly escaped cultivation, spreading across southern Canada and the continental United States.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Southern Crab Apple M. angustifolia Common Apple M. sylvestris
Sweet Crab Apple M. coronaria    Old Name (Pyrus malus)

                Pear (Pyrus spp./Rosaceae) consists of at least 20 species native to Eurasia and the Mediterranean. Like the apple, the Common Pear was introduced into North America by the colonial English and had quickly escaped cultivation, spreading across southern Canada and the continental United States.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Almond-Leaved Pear P. amygdaliformis
Common Pear P. communis
Wild Pear P. pyraster
???? P. nivalis
???? P. eleagrifolia

                Red Gum or Sweet Gum (Liquidambar/Hammelidaceae) contains 3 to 4 species that grow in North America (1) and Central America, southwest Asia, eastern China and Taiwan. All species look alike microscopically.

Hackberry (Celtis spp./Ulmaceae) contains about 60 species, mostly tropical, but at least 4 temperate species, with the wood being used for charcoal, fence posts and fuel and the bark for a yellow dye. The European species (C. australis) is widely planted in the Mediterranean region for its timber. The fruits of this species were the lotus referred to in Homer’s Odyssey.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Georgia Hackberry C. tenuifolia Nettle Tree C. australis
Hackberry C. occidentalis
Sugarberry C. laevigata

Hazel (Corylus spp./Corylaceae) is comprised of about 10 northern temperate species, with 3 in Eurasia. The fruits are known as Hazels or Filberts.

Eastern North America Eurasia
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Hazel C. americana Hazel C. avellana
Turkish Hazel C. colurna
Filbert C. maxima

Hickory (Carya spp./Juglandaceae) is composed of at least 16 species native to Asia (4), Central America (4) and North America (11). The European species became extinct during the Ice Age. This genus can be split into the True Hickory Group and the Pecan Group based on microanatomy. See Taras, M.A. and B.F. Kukachka. 1970. Forest Products Journal 20(4): 58-59.

Holly (Ilex spp./Aquifoliaceae) is composed of about 400 species with a cosmopolitan distribution, especially the temperate and tropical regions of Asia and the Americas. All species look alike microscopically.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Holly I. opaca Holly I. aquifolium
Carolina Holly I. ambigua
Common Winterberry I. verticillata
Sarvis Holly I. amelanchier

Hornbeam (Carpinus spp. & Ostrya spp./Betulaceae) contains about 45 northern temperate species. Also known as Ironwood.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Hornbeam C. caroliniana Hornbeam Carpinus. betulus
Eastern Hophornbeam O. virginiana Hop-Hornbeam Ostrya carpinifolia

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus spp./Hippocastanaceae) contains about 13 species, which grow in the United States [6], Mexico [1] and Eurasia [6]. Species cannot be separated based on microanatomy. The name aesculus is a Latin name of a European oak or other mast-bearing tree.

Laburnum (Laburnum spp./Leguminosae) is comprised of about 31 species, 3 of which are native to south central and south eastern Europe. The dark, hard wood is used as an ebony substitute in inlays and musical instruments.

Lacewood (family Proteaceae) consists of about 75 genera and 1350 species of evergreen shrubs and trees, most of which are native to Australia and South Africa. The main timber genera include Banksia Grevillea, Knightia, Orites & Panopsis.

Locust, Black (Robinia spp./Leguminosae) is composed of about 10 species native to eastern North America and Mexico. The genus Robinia is dedicated to Jean Robin (1550-1629) and his son Vespasian Robin (1579-1662), herbalists to kings of France and first to cultivate locust in Europe.

Magnolia (Magnolia spp./Magnoliaceae) consists of 30 to 80 species from Asia (50), West Indies (8), Central/South America (10) and North America (8). Species separations are possible for the following based on microscopic characters from D. Christensen at Forest Products Lab:

Eastern North America Europe
Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name Common Name
M. grandiflora Southern Magnolia M. soulangeana Grossblumigen Magnolie
M. virginiana Sweetbay
M. tripetala Umbrella Magnolia
M. fraseri Fraser Magnolia

Mahogany, African (Khaya spp./Meliaceae) is composed of about 7 species of tropical origin in Africa and Madagascar. It is commonly used as a substitute for True Mahogany (Swietenia spp.) in European/English furniture.

                Mahogany, True (Swietenia spp./Meliaceae) is named after von Swieten, a Dutch physician and Baron. The genus Swietenia contains 2 to 5 species native to southern Florida, Central and South America. Jacquin described the genus in 1760. During the late 17th Century and early 18th Century it appears in records as mohogony, mohogany, muhagnee, mehogeny, mehogenny, mahogoni, mahoginy, and finally (by 1724) as mahogany. In France it is called Acajou.

The use of True Mahogany dates to the 16th Century, when it was thought to be a type of “cedar”. Cortez used it in construction of ships, while Sir Walter Raleigh used it to repair his vessels. Philip II of Spain, in 1563, used it in construction of doors, windows, bookshelves and desks in the Escorial Palace, and it was used in England in Nottingham Castle in 1680 for wainscoting and flooring, as was the Trinity College Chapel in 1692. By 1724 it appeared in inventories of the Duchess of Buckingham (a bureau) and George I (2 desert tables, 2 clothes chests and 1 dinner table). The Prime Minister (Houghton Hall, 1740) used mahogany for paneling, staircases, doors and window frames. Mahogany wood from Jamaica was first advertised in the London Gazette in 1702. It was commonly used in furniture in England from 1715 onwards, mostly as tables. The tables were gate-legged, with either straight legs with clubfeet or plain cabriole legs. Tables were made with large tops because of the huge logs of Mahogany used.

The first Mahogany imported into England was from Jamaica, followed by wood from Cuba (early 18th C.). By the late 18th C., wood came from Honduras, where trees that grew near the coast could be harvested cheaply. The wood was also imported to London in the early 18th C. from Carolina, Jamaica, New Providence, New York, Virginia and Maryland. In the 17th & 18th C’s Honduran Mahogany made its way to England via Jamaica. It was called Jamaican Mahogany to avoid the 1725 duty of 8 Pounds per ton. At this time a black market of “Mahogany Runners” was established. By 1774 the “Jamaican” Mahogany imported to the colonies was 10,000 feet, compared to 500,000 feet imported to England.

Trees were cut 4-5 feet above the ground, leaving the “stump wood” for harvest later, when supplies were scarce and the wood expensive. This lower wood was of beautiful figure (quilted, tortoise-shell or plum pudding) with black spots through it (probably small roots). This wood is most dense and is quite lustrous. [Constantine, 1975; Latham, 1957]

All species look alike microscopically. The two commercial species are S. macrophylla or Honduran Mahogany and S. mahogani or Cuban/West Indies Mahogany.

These two species can sometimes be separated by specific gravity. The specific gravity for S. macrophylla is from 0.35 to 0.65 grams per cubic centimeter, while for S. mahogani is from 0.35 to 0.85. [Record & Hess, 1943] This means that if the sample has a specific gravity above 0.65 g/cc that it is most likely Cuban/West Indies Mahogany. Also, If a sample is very dark red-brown or with a purplish tinge, is dense and has white deposits in the vessels (catechols) it is most likely “Cuban” Mahogany (Swietenia mahogani ).

                Maple (Acer spp./Aceraceae) contains 70 to 120 species with 16 species in Asia, 8 in North America and 6 in the Europe/Mediterranean region. The Maples can be separated into two groups based on their microscopic anatomy (ray width), the Soft Maple Group and the Hard Maple Group. Species within each group look alike microscopically. The commercial species are to my knowledge:

                Hard Maple Group

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Black Maple A. nigrum Norway Maple A. platanoides
Sugar Maple A. saccharum Sycamore* A. pseudoplatanus

* Acer pseudoplatanus is known as “Sycamore” in England. Not to be confused with the American “Sycamore”, Platanus spp., known as Plane Tree in England.

                Soft Maple Group

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Red Maple
A. rubrum
Field Maple
A. campestre
Silver Maple A. saccharinum

The wood of Hard Maple is hard and heavy and the color of the wood can range from white to reddish brown. It has a fine, uniform texture that turns well and is resistant to shock and abrasion. The grain can be straight, curly, wavy or bird’s eye. The wood of Soft Maples resembles Hard Maple except that it is not so hard and heavy or strong.

Maple is used for lumber, distillation, veneer, cross ties, pulp, flooring, furniture, boxes, crates, shoe lasts, handles, woodenware, novelties, car parts, spools, bobbins, musical instruments, piano frames, bowling pins billiard cues, Indian clubs, dumbbells, butcher’s blocks, churns, chopping bowls, breadboards, cant hook handles, croquet mallets, croquet balls, turnery, plywood.

With respect to furniture: (C. Europe, Gothic), solid, veneer, bandings, inlays; Violin backs & sides; Cabinetry (17th/18thC England), Seating(NY, NJ, PA & some southern states); Curly & Knurlwood veneers(Ipswich MA); Bird’s-eye(L18thC); Secondary Wood(Salem, Boston , etc..)

                Other European Maples include:

Common Name Scientific Name
Balkan Maple A. hyrcanum
Balkan Maple A. granatense
Cretan Maple A. sempervirens (orientale)
Greek Maple A. heldreichii
Italian Maple A. obtusatum
Italian Maple A. opalus
Montpellier Maple A. monspessulanum
Tatarian Maple A. tataricum

Mulberry (Morus spp./Moraceae) contains 10 species that grow in North America (2), Central and South America (4) and from Africa to Asia (5). All species look alike microscopically. The only native species that I know of are Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) and Texas Mulberry (Morus microphylla).

Oak (Quercus spp./Fagaceae) contains 275 to 500 species and can be separated into three groups based on their microanatomy; the Live or Evergreen Oak Group, the Red Oak Group and the White Oak Group. Species within each group look alike microscopically. For each group there are species on both sides of the Atlantic.

Species of the White Oak Group were used in American and English furniture. To my knowledge, species in the Red Oak Group were not commercial timbers in Europe and England during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Quercus cerris (Turkish Oak), a species in the Red Oak Group, was introduced into England in the late 1730’s from the Mediterranean Region as an ornamental tree. Its appearance in furniture would be astronomically rare. Based on these assumptions, furniture of the 17th and 18th centuries containing wood of the Red Oak Group is most likely American in origin.

Live Oak Group

Live Oak (Q. virginiana/Fagaceae) is native to the southeastern United States. It was commonly used as structural elements (“knees”) in the construction of colonial sailing ships. I is rarely found in colonial furniture.

Oak (Quercus spp./Fagaceae) contains 275 to 500 species and can be separated into three groups based on their microanatomy; the Live or Evergreen Oak Group, the Red Oak Group and the White Oak Group. Species within each group look alike microscopically. For each group there are species on both sides of the Atlantic.

Species of the White Oak Group were used in American and English furniture. To my knowledge, species in the Red Oak Group were not commercial timbers in Europe and England during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Quercus cerris (Turkish Oak), a species in the Red Oak Group, was introduced into England in the late 1730’s from the Mediterranean Region as an ornamental tree. Its appearance in furniture would be astronomically rare. Based on these assumptions, furniture of the 17th and 18th centuries containing wood of the Red Oak Group is most likely American in origin.

                Red Oak Group (Erythrobalanus)

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Black Oak Q. velutina Turkey Oak Q. cerris
Blackjack Oak Q. marilandica
Laurel Oak Q. laurifolia
Northern Red Oak Q. rubra
Pin Oak Q. palustris
Scarlet Oak Q. coccinea
Shumard Oak Q. shumardii
Southern Red Oak Q. falcata
Water Oak Q. nigra
Willow Oak Q. phellos

Oak (Quercus spp./Fagaceae) contains 275 to 500 species and can be separated into three groups based on their microanatomy; the Live or Evergreen Oak Group, the Red Oak Group and the White Oak Group. Species within each group look alike microscopically. For each group there are species on both sides of the Atlantic.

Species of the White Oak Group were used in American and English furniture. To my knowledge, species in the Red Oak Group were not commercial timbers in Europe and England during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Quercus cerris (Turkish Oak), a species in the Red Oak Group, was introduced into England in the late 1730’s from the Mediterranean Region as an ornamental tree. Its appearance in furniture would be astronomically rare. Based on these assumptions, furniture of the 17th and 18th centuries containing wood of the Red Oak Group is most likely American in origin.

                White Oak Group (Leucobalanus)

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Chestnut Oak Q. prinus Algerian Oak Q. canariensis
Chinkapin Oak Q. muehlenbergii Cork Oak Q. suber
Overcup Oak Q. lyrata Downy Oak Q. pubescens
Post Oak Q. stellata Durmast Oak Q. petrea
Swamp Chestnut Oak Q. michauxii Holm Oak Q. ilex
Swamp White Oak Q. bicolor Hungarian Oak Q. frainetta
White Oak Q. alba Pedunculate Oak Q. robur
Portuguese Oak Q. faginea
Pyrenean Oak Q. pyrenaica
Round-Leaved Oak Q. rotundifolia
White Oak Q. polycarpa

Poplar (Populus spp./Salicaceae) is in the Aspen/Cottonwood/Poplar Group. Populus sp. is a genus of 35 species that contains Poplar, Cottonwood and Aspen. Species in this group are native to Eurasia/north Africa (25), Central America (2) and North America (8). All species look alike microscopically.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Balsam Poplar P. balsamifera Aspen P. tremula
Bigtooth Aspen P. grandidentata Balsam Poplar P. gileadensis
Eastern Cottonwood P. deltoides Black Poplar P. nigra
Quaking Aspen P. tremuloides Gray Poplar P. canescens
Swamp Cottonwood P. heterophylla White Poplar P. alba

Rosewoods (Dalbergia/Leguminosae -Papilionoideae) contains about 100 species native to the tropics. Many of the species have beautifully colored heartwood used in furniture in solid or veneer form. Given a large enough sample, some species separations are possible based on microanatomy. The more common species seen in furniture include:

Scientific Name Common Name Country of Origin
D. cearensis Kingwood or Tulipwood Brazil
D. cochinchinensis Trac SE Asia
D. decipularis Sebastiao-de Arruda Bahia
D. granadillo Granadillo Mexico
D. latifolia Indian Rosewood India
D. melanoxylon African Blackwood Africa
D. nigra Brazilian Rosewood Brazil
D. retusa Cocobolo Central America
D. sissoo Sisso India
D. stevensonii Honduras Rosewood Belize

Sabicu or Horseflesh Mahogany (Lysiloma spp./Leguminosae) contains 10 to 30 species that grow in Tropical America from Florida to Bolivia. All species look alike microscopically, but the species that attains a large size is L. latisiliquum. Used in 18th century cabinetry. See collector’s notes in May Antiques, 1989.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum/Lauraceae) is composed of three species native to North America [1], China [1] and Taiwan [1]. The name sassafras is a Native American name used by the Spanish and French in Florida in the middle of the 16th century. In 1577, the use of sassafras by Native Americans was reported and in 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh brought it back to England from the Virginia Colony. In the early 17th century (1602–1603), several ships were dispatched from England to the colonies to collect sassafras roots; the colonists used the wood to build forts. These forays were known as the Great Sassafras Hunts.

Satinwood, West Indies (Zanthoxylum flavum/Rutaceae), also called yellowwood, is native to the West Indies (Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Bermuda & the Bahamas). During the 17th century, it was a major export of the West Indies, especially from Bermuda. In 1612, the Bermuda Company requested that first Governor ship a ton of this wood to London. A black market in yellowwood shortly ensued. Twenty years later, the Governor of Bermuda banned its export and by the middle of the century the trees were almost completely exterminated. It was commonly used in solid form or veneer in Federal period furniture and was popular after 1780 in England. While it was used sparingly in England and Europe as accents ot a piece of furniture, it was used extensively as the main primary wood in pieces from Baltimore and New York (Hinckley, F. Lewis, 1960, Directory of the Historic Cabinet Woods.)

Sycamore (Platanus spp./Platanaceae) also known as Buttonwood or Plane is composed of 5 to 9 species that grow in Eurasia (2) and North America (8). All species look alike microscopically. The common name Sycamore is used in England to designate a species in the Hard Maple Group (Acer pseudoplatanus), whereas Plane or Planetree is used to name the genus Platanus which grows there.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Sycamore P. occidentalis London Plane P. hybrida

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron spp./Magnoliaceae) contains 2 species, the Tulip Poplar of North America (L. tulipifera) and a Chinese species (L. chinensis). Both species look alike microscopically.

Tupelo (Nyssa spp./Nyssaceae), also called Tupelo Gum, Gumwood, Black Gum, Pepperidge, Sour Gum, White Gum or Swamp Gum is composed of 5 species from North America (3) and Eastern Asia (2). The North American species currently grow from eastern Texas north to lower Michigan and east to the Atlantic from central Florida to southern Maine. The wood is generally a pale yellowish color or white to tan, with a fine grain. Various figures, including ribbon-stripe, may be present when the wood is quarter-sawn. According to Hinckley, gumwood can appear in New England as well as southern furniture. The other gumwood is Sweet Gum or Blisted (Liquidambar styraciflua). [Hinckley, F.L.. 1960. Directory of historic cabinet woods. Bonanza Books, New York. 186 pp.]

Walnut/Butternut Group (Juglans spp./Juglandaceae) contains 20 species that grow in South America (5), Eurasia (5) and North America (11). Tropical Walnuts, American Black Walnut and English/European/Persian Walnut and the Butternuts can separated from each other based on microanatomy. (See Miller, R. 1976. Botanical Gazette 137(4): 368-377.)

Eastern North America Europe/Middle East
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
American Black Walnut Juglans nigra Common Walnut Juglans regia
Butternut Juglans cinerea

                Willow (Salix spp./Salicaceae) is composed of 170 to 400 species native to Eurasia(60), South America(1), Central America(19) and North America(87). All species look alike microscopically.

 

 

 

 

Softwoods

The term softwood is a general term for trees that produce cones (Gymnosperms), usually have narrow, needle-shaped leaves and are evergreen. The term originated as a description of the hardness of the wood, although there are some hard softwoods like Heart Pine (Yellow Pine Group, Pinus spp.).

Araucariaceae (Agathis spp. and Araucaria spp.). This family contains two genera with 31 species and is represented, commercially, by three species: Brazilian Araucaria or Parana Pine (Araucaria angustifolia), native to Brazil; Klinki Pine (Araucaria klinkii) of Borneo; and Almaciga or Sakar (Agathis philippinensis) of the Philippine Islands.

Botanically, the genus Agathis contains 13 species, native to an area from the Philippine Island to New Zealand. The trees are noted for their exudates (resins) called copals.

Similarly, the genus Araucaria comprises 18 species, native to the southwest Pacific (especially New Caledonia), southern Brazil to Chile. The genus includes Norfolk Island Pine, Monkey Puzzle Tree and Bunya-bunya Pine.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium spp./Taxodiaceae) contains only two species, both of which are native to North America, Baldcypress or Pondcypress (T. distichum) and Montezuma Baldcypress (T. mucronatum). Both Species look alike microscopically.

Cedara, Atlantic White (Chamaecyparis thyoides (L.) B.S.P. Cupressaceae) The genus Chamaecyparis is composed of 6 or 7 species, with 4 in Japan/Formosa and 3 in North America. The North American species are:

Scientific Name Common Name
C. lawsoniana Port Orford Cedar
C. nootkatensis Alaska Cedar
C. thyoides Atlantic White Cedar

                        aIdentification and separation of North American species possible based on micro-anatomy (Kukachka, B.F. 1960. Identification of coniferous woods. Tappi 43(11):887-896).

Redcedar/Juniper (Juniperus spp./Cupressaceae) consists of 35 to 50 species distributed in North America (10), Africa (2), Asia (6) and Europe (6). All species look alike microscopically.

Eastern North America Europe/Middle East
Eastern Redcedar J. virginiana Common Juniper J. communis
Southern Redcedar J. silicicola Grecian Juniper J. excelsa
Stinking Juniper J. foetidissima
Syrian Juniper J. drupacea

Cedar, Northern White (Thuja occidentalis L./Cupressaceae) is composed of about 6 species, world wide, native to North America (2) and Asia (4). This genus also contains Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata Donn.), native to the western US. The wood of all species in this genus looks alike microscopically. The word thuja comes from the Greek thuia, an aromatic wood (probably a juniper).

Cedar, True (Cedrus spp./Pinaceae) contains 4 species listed below, native to North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

.Common Name

Scientific Name

Native To

Atlas Cedar C. atlantica North Africa
Cyprus Cedar C. brevifolia Cyprus
Cedar of Lebanon C. libani Asia Minor
Deodor C. deodora Himalaya

Cypress (Cupressus spp./Cupressaceae) is composed of about 13 species native to the Northern Hemisphere (2 are European). None are native to the Eastern United States.

Western North America Eurasia
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Arizona Cypress
C. arizonica
Italian Cypress C. sempervirens
Californian Cypress C. goveniana Himalayan Cypress C. torulosa
Mexican Cypress C. lusitanica
Monterey Cypress C. macrocarpa

 

                Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii/ Pinaceae) contains about species native to eastern Asia and western North America. The North American species is P. menziesii, or Douglas –Fir.

                Fir (Abies spp./Pinaceae) contains 33 to 40 species that grow in Central and North America (14), North Africa (2), Europe (1) and Eurasia (25). All species look alike microscopically, although the western American species and the European species (with colored ray contents and crystals) can sometimes be separated from those of eastern America.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Balsam Fir A. balsamea Caucasian Fir A. nordmanniana
Greek Fir A. cephalonica
Silver Fir A. alba
Spanish Fir A. pinsapo

Larch (Larix spp./Pinaceae) contains about 10 species, native to North America (3) and Eurasia (7). The wood of all species looks alike microscopically. Larix is the classical name of Larix deciduas Mill., or European Larch.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Tamarack L. laricina Dahurian Larch L. gmelinii
European Larch L. decidua

Pine (Pinus spp./Pinaceae) is composed of at least 93 species world-wide and can be separated into three groups based on their micro-anatomy; the Red Pine Group, the White Pine Group and the Yellow or Hard Pine Group.

The Red Pine Group contains about 18 species that grow in Asia (10), Europe/Mediterranean (5), Central America (1) and North America (1). To my knowledge, there are two commercial species, Red Pine (P. resinosa) from North America and Scot’s Pine, Scotch Pine or Deal (P. sylvestris) from Eurasia. All species in this group look alike microscopically.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Red Pine P. resinosa Black Pinesa P. nigra
Dwarf Mountain Pine P. mugo
Scots Pine P. sylvestris

aThe Black Pines include: Austrian Pine (P. nigra ssp. nigra), Crimean Pine (P. nigra ssp. pallasiana), Corsican Pine (P. nigra ssp. laricio), Dalmatian Pine (P. nigra ssp. dalmatica), and Pyrenean Pine (P. nigra ssp. salzmannii).

With respect to frames of pictures and looking glasses, Heckscher (American Furniture in the Met… Late Colonial Period: The Queen Anne & Chippendale Styles) states that Spruce and Red Pine Group (Scotch Pine, Pinus sylvestris) indicate English origin. Samples for this study were microscopically analyzed. It has been my experience that, with respect to high-style furniture (Queen Anne and Chippendale), the species is most likely P. sylvestris, because P. resinosa was not available to craftsmen in the colonies. Assuming that the distribution of P. resinosa is approximately the same as today, it would have been far inland, in hostile territory. It may, however, turn up in Canadian furniture.

Pine (Pinus spp./Pinaceae) is composed of at least 93 species worldwide and can be separated into three groups based on their microanatomy; the Red Pine Group, the White Pine Group and the Yellow or Hard Pine Group.

The White Pine Group contains 19 species that grow in Asia (10), Europe(2), Central America(1) and North America(6).All species in this group look alike microscopically. However, Assuming the object is pre-19th Century, neglecting importation of timbers (ship masts, crates, etc.), and assuming the wood in question is of commercial importance (grows in large areas), all species in this group can be eliminated except Pinus strobus which is native to the northeast USA & Canada.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Eastern White Pine P. strobus Arolla Pine P. cembra
Macedonian Pine P. peuce

Pine (Pinus spp./Pinaceae) is composed of at least 93 species worldwide and can be separated into three groups based on their microanatomy; the Red Pine Group, the White Pine Group and the Yellow or Hard Pine Group.

The Yellow or Hard Pine Group contains 43 species that grow in Asia (2), Europe(3), Central America(18) and North America(20).All species in this group look alike microscopically. Some people mistakenly name this group “Southern Pine”. While most North American species are more or less southern in distribution, several species currently grow above the Mason-Dixon Line including Shortleaf Pine (P. echinata), Table-Mountain Pine (P. pungens), Pitch Pine (P. rigida), Jack Pine (P. banksiana), and Virginia Pine (P. virginiana). Pitch Pine currently extends well up into the Hudson and Connecticut River Valleys.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Jack Pine P. banksiana Canary Island Pine P. canariensis
Loblolly Pine P. taeda Maritime Pine P. pinaster = (P. maritima)
Longleaf Pine P. palustris
Pitch Pine P. rigida
Pond Pine P. serotina
Shortleaf Pine P. echinata
Slash Pine P. elliottii
Spruce Pine P. glabra
Virginia Pine P. virginiana

The “Parrya” Pine Group contains about 5 species native to Europe.

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Aleppo Pine P. halepensis
Calabrian Pine P. brutia
Balkan Pine P. heldreichii
Bosnian Pine P. leucodermis
Stone Pine P. pinea

Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens (D. Don) Endl./Taxodiaceae) is represented by one species (S. sempervirens). A related tree, the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is also called redwood, big tree or giant redwood. The word sequoia was selected to honor Sequoyah (also spelled Sequoia), or George Guess (1770?-1843), Native American inventor of the Cherokee alphabet. The name was unexplained by its author, an Austrian linguist and botanist. The name sempervirens means evergreen. The wood of Sequoia is anatomically distinct from other softwoods. Other common names include: Amerikansk sekvoja, California cedar, California redwood, Californische redwood, coast redwood, corla, giant-of-the-forest, Humboldt redwood, ledwood, Mexican cherry, palo colorado, pin rouge d’ambrique, pin rouge d’Amerique, pino rosso d’america, sequoia de California, sequoia roja, sequoia rossa, sequoia toujours vert, sequoie, vavona, vavona burr. Redwood is native to the Pacific Coast region from extreme southwestern Oregon (Curry County) south to central California (Monterey County). Redwood trees reach heights of 200 to 300 feet (60.96 to 91.44 m), with diameters of 6 to 12 feet (1.83 to 3.66 m). The record is 376 feet (114.60 m) tall, with a 20-foot (6.10 m) diameter and an age of 2,200 years, and represents the world’s tallest tree. The sapwood of redwood is narrow and white, while the heartwood varies from a light cherry to a dark mahogany. The heartwood has no characteristic odor or taste. The wood has exceptionally straight grain, coarse texture, high dimensional stability and is resistant to warping. The wood is moderately strong in bending, strong in endwise compression, stiff and moderately low in shock resistance. Typical old-growth redwood is moderately light in weight, moderately strong and stiff, and moderately hard.

Spruce (Picea spp./Pinaceae) contains 30 to 37 species that grow in Asia/Orient/Mediterranean (15), North America (7) and Europe (3). All species look alike microscopically in their basic anatomy. However, Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) from western North America consistently contains crystals in its rays. On rare occasions, when one finds these crystals in colonial furniture, it’s provenance is most likely English or European, as species from eastern North America never have these inclusions. The commercial species are to my knowledge:

Eastern North America Europe
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Black Spruce P. mariana Norway Spruce P. abies
Red Spruce P. rubens Serbian Spruce P. omorika
White Spruce P. glauca

Yew (Taxus spp./Taxaceae) contains about 10 species native North America (2), Central America (1) and Eurasia (6). The wood of all species looks alike microscopically. The word taxus is the classical Latin name, from the Greek taxos.

North America Eurasia
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Pacific Yew T. brevifolia English Yew
T. baccata
Florida Yew T. floridana Chinese Yew T. sumatrana
Japanese Yew T. cuspidata

References Used

Chudnoff, M. 1984. Tropical Timbers of the World. USDA Forest Service, Agriculture Handbook No. 607. Washington, D.C. 464 pp.

Constantine, A. 1975. Know Your Woods. Charles Scribner & Sons. 360 pp..

Elias, T.S. 1980. The Complete Trees of North America. Field Guide and Natural History. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York. 948 pp.

Latham, B. 1957. Timber. Its Development and Distribution. A Historical Survey. George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London.303 pp..

Little, Jr., E.L. 1979. Checklist of United States Trees (Native and Naturalized). USDA Forest Service, Agriculture Handbook No. 541. Washington, D.C. 375 pp.

Mabberley, D.J. 1987. The Plant-book. A Portable Dictionary of Higher Plants. Cambridge University Press, New York. 706 pp.

Polunin, O. 1976. Trees and Bushes of Europe. Oxford University Press, London. 208 pp.

Record, S.J. & R.W. Hess. 1943. Timbers of the New World. Yale University Press.

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