Important Forest Trees And Their Uses
( Originally Published 1922 )
Of our native trees, the white pine is one of the best and most valuable. It is a tall straight tree that grows to a height of 100 to 150 feet. It produces wood that is light in weight and easy to work because it is so soft. At ,one time there were extensive pine forests in the northeastern states. Many of the trees were very large, and occasionally one may still see pine stumps that are 5 to 6 feet in diameter. White pine made fine lumber for houses and other buildings and this timber was among the first to be exhausted in the country.
Spruce trees have long furnished the bulk of the woodpulp used in making our supplies of paper. These trees live in the colder climates of the northern states. They like to grow in low, wet localities close to lakes or rivers. The spruces generally do not grow higher than 75-100 feet. The wood is soft like pine and even whiter in color. The aboriginal Indians used the roots of the spruce trees as thread, twine and rope.
The cedar trees, which are landmarks in many of our northern states, yield light, soft, durable wood that is useful in making poles, fence posts, lead pencils and cedar chests. The wood of the red cedar gives off a peculiar odor which is said to keep moths away from clothes stored in cedar chests, but it is the close construction of the chest which keeps them out. These trees are be-coming scarce in all parts of the country. Cedars generally are small trees that grow slowly and live a long time. The outside wood is white and the heartwood is red or yellow. Cedar posts last a long time and are excellent for use in farm fences.
Chestnut blight, which destroys entire forests of chestnut timber, is gradually exhausting our supplies of this wood. Chestnut timber has long been used for railroad ties, fence posts and in the manufacture of cheap furniture. The wood is soft and brown in color. The bark and wood are treated at special plants in such a way that an extract which is valuable for tanning leather is obtained. Chestnut trees are upstanding, straight trees that tower 80 to 100 feet above the ground. The extinction of our chestnut forests threatens as no effectual control measures for checking the chestnut blight disease over large areas has yet been discovered.
The yellow poplar or tulip poplar furnishes timber for the manufacture of furniture, paper, the interior of railroad cars and automobiles. The dugouts of the early settlers and Indians were hewed out of poplar logs. These boats were stronger than those made of canoe birch. Poplar wood is yellow in color and soft in texture. The poplar is the largest broad-leaf tree in this country and the trees are of great size and height. Some specimens found in the mountains of the South have been over 200 feet high and 8 to 10 feet in diameter, while poplars 125 to 150 feet high are quite common.
Among our most useful and valuable trees are the white oak, and its close kin, the red oak, which produce a brown-colored, hard wood of remark-able durability. The white oak is the monarch of the forest, as it lives very long and is larger and stronger than the majority of its associates. The timber is used for railroad ties, furniture, and in general construction work where tough, durable lumber is needed. Many of our wooden ships have been built of oak. The white oaks often grow as high as 100 feet and attain massive dimensions. The seeds of the white oaks are light brown acorns, which are highly relished by birds and animals. Many southern farmers range their hogs in white oak forests so that the porkers can live on the acorn crop.
Beech wood is strong and tough and is used in making boxes and barrels and casks for the shipment of butter, sugar and other foods. It makes axles and shafts for water-wheels that will last for many years. The shoes worn by Dutch children are generally made of beech. The wood is red in color. The beech tree is of medium size growing to a height of about 75 feet above the ground. There is only one common variety of beech tree in this country.
Hickory trees are very popular because they produce sweet, edible nuts. The hickory wood is exceedingly strong and tough. and is used wherever stout material is needed. For the spokes, wheels and bodies of buggies and wagons, for agricultural implements, for automobile wheels and for handles, hickory is unexcelled. The shafts of golf clubs as well as some types of base-ball bats are made of hickory. Most hickory trees are easy to identify on account of their shaggy bark. The nuts of the hickory, which ripen in the autumn, are sweet, delicious and much in demand.
Our native elm tree is stately, reaching a height of 100 feet and a diameter of 5 to 6 feet or more. It is one of our best shade trees. Elm wood is light brown in color and very heavy and strong. It is the best available wood for making wagon wheel hubs. and is also used largely for baskets and barrels. The rims of bicycle wheels generally are made of elm.
The canoe birch is a tree which was treasured by the early Indians because it yielded bark for making canoes. Birch wood is used in making shoe lasts and pegs because of its strength and light weight, and the millions of spools on which cotton is wound are made of birch wood. School desks and church furniture, also, are made of birch. The orange-colored inner bark of the birch tree is so fine and delicate that the early settlers could use it as they would paper. No matter whether birch wood is green or dry, it will burn readily. The birch was the most useful tree of the forest to the Indians. Its bark was used not only. for making their canoes, but also for building their wigwams.
They even dried and ground the inner bark into a flour which they used as a food.
The northern sugar maple is another tree which is a favorite in all sections where it is grown. This tree yields a hard wood that is the best and toughest timber grown in some localities. The trees grow to heights of 75 to 100 feet and attain girths of 5 to 9 feet. Maple lumber is stout and heavy. It makes fine flooring and is used in skating rinks and for bowling alleys. Many pianos are made of maple. Wooden dishes and rolling pins are usually made from maple wood. During the spring of the year when the sap is flowing, the average mature maple tree will yield from fifteen to twenty gallons of sap in a period of three to four weeks. This sap is afterwards boiled down to maple syrup and sugar.
Hemlock trees, despite the fact that they rank among the most beautiful trees of the forest, produce lumber which is suitable only for rough building operations. The wood is brown and soft and will not last long when exposed to the weather. It cracks and splits easily because it is so brittle. Hemlock is now of considerable importance as pulpwood for making paper. For many years, a material important for tanning leather has been extracted in large amounts from the bark of hemlock trees.
One of the most pleasing uses to which the balsam fir is put is as Christmas trees. Some-times it is used in making paper pulp. The balsam fir seldom grows higher than 50 feet or thicker than 12 inches. The leaves of this tree have a very sweet odor and are in demand at Christmas time. Foresters and woodsmen often use balsam boughs to make their beds and pillows when camping in the woods.
Our native supplies of hardwoods and soft-woods are used for general building purposes, for farm repairs, for railroad ties, in the furniture and veneer industry, in the handle industry, and in the vehicle and agricultural implement industries. On the average each American farmer uses about 2,000 board feet of lumber each year. New farm building decreased in the several years following the World War, due to the high price of lumber and labor. As a result of this lack of necessary building, millions of dollars worth of farm machinery stood out in the weather. Livestock lacked stables in some sections. Very little building was done in that period in two hundred and fifty prosperous agricultural counties in thirty two different states.
The railroads consume about 15 per cent. of our total lumber cut. They use between 100,000,000 and 125,000,000 railroad ties a year. It used to be that most of the cross-ties were of white oak cut close to the places where they were used. Now Douglas fir, southern pine and other woods are being used largely throughout the Middle Western and Eastern States. The supply of white oak ties is small and the prices are high. Some years ago, when white oak was abundant, the railroads that now are using other cross-ties would not have even considered such material for use in their roadbeds. The fact that other ties are now being used emphasizes the fact that we are short on oak timber in the sections where this hardwood formerly was common.
The furniture industry uses hardwoods of superior grade and quality. The factories of this industry have moved from region to region as the supply of hardwoods became depleted. Originally, these factories were located in the Northeastern States. Then, as the supplies of hardwood timber in those sections gave out, they moved westward. They remained near the Corn Belt until the virgin hardwood forests of the Middle West were practically exhausted. The furniture industry is now largely dependent on what hardwoods are left in the remote sections of the Southern Appalachians and the lower Mississippi Valley. When these limited supplies are used up, there will be very little more old-growth timber in the country for them to use.
The furniture, veneer, handle, vehicle, auto-mobile and agricultural implement industries all are in competition for hardwood timber. The furniture industry uses 1,250,000,000 feet of high-grade hardwood lumber annually. Production of timber of this type for furniture has decreased as much as 50 per cent. during the past few years. It is now difficult for the furniture factories and veneer plants to secure enough raw materials. Facilities for drying the green lumber artificially are few. It used to be that the hardwood lumber was seasoned for six to nine months be-fore being sold. Furniture dealers now have to buy the material green from the sawmills. Competition has become so keen that buyers pay high prices. They must have the material to keep their plants running and to supply their trade.
The veneer industry provides furniture manufacturers, musical instrument factories, box makers and the automobile industry with high-grade material. The industry uses annually 780,000,000 board feet of first quality hardwood cut from virgin stands of timber. Red gum and white oak are the hardwoods most in demand. In the Lake States, a branch of the veneer industry which uses maple, birch and basswood is located. Oak formerly was the most important wood used. Now red gum has replaced the oak, as the supplies of the latter timber have dwindled. At present there is less than one fourth of a normal supply of veneer timber in sight. Even the supplies in the farmers' wood-lands are being depleted. The industry is now largely dependent on the timber of the southern Mississippi Valley. The veneer industry requires best-grade material. Clear logs are demanded that are at least 16 inches in diameter at the small end. It is getting harder every year to secure such logs. Like the furniture industry, the veneer mills lack adequate supplies of good timber.
No satisfactory substitutes for the hickory and ash used in the handle industry have yet been found. About the only stocks of these timbers now left are in the Southern States. Even in those parts the supplies are getting short and it is necessary to cut timber in the more remote sections distant from the railroad. The ash short-age is even more serious than that of hickory timber. The supplies of ash in the Middle West States north of the Ohio River are practically exhausted. The demand for ash and hickory handles is larger even than before the World War. The entire world depends on the United States for handles made from these woods. Handle dealers are now willing to pay high prices for ash and hickory timber. Some of them prepared for the shortage by buying tracts of hardwood timber. When these reserves are cut over, these dealers will be in the same position as the rest of the trade.
Ash and hickory are in demand also by. the vehicle and agricultural implement industries. They also use considerable oak and compete with the furniture industry to secure what they need of this timber. Most of these plants are located in the Middle West but they draw their timber chiefly from the South. Hickory is a necessary wood to the vehicle industry for use in spokes and wheels. The factories exert every effort to secure adequate supplies of timber from the farm woodlands, sawmills and logging camps. The automobile industry now uses considerable hickory in the wheels and spokes of motor cars.
Most of the stock used by the vehicle industry is purchased green. Neither the lumber nor vehicle industry is equipped with enough kilns for curing this green material. The losses in working and manufacturing are heavy, running as high as 40 per cent. Many substitutes for ash, oak and hickory have been tried but they have failed to prove satisfactory. On account of the shortage and the high prices of hickory, vehicle factories are using steel in place of hickory wherever possible. Steel is more expensive but it can always be secured in quantity when needed. Furthermore, it is durable and very strong.
Thus we see that our resources of useful soft woods and hard woods have both been so diminished that prompt reforestation of these species is an urgent necessity.