Pine trees are conifers, with narrow needles for leaves and seeds that grow in cones. In addition to being plentiful in the United States and Canada, the trees are fast-growing and can be harvested after only about 40 years, compared to twice that long for an average hardwood.

Southern Yellow Pine: A True SoftiePine trees are commonly divided into two main groups: white pines, which are also known as the soft pines, and yellow pines, a.k.a. the hard pines. Despite being designated as either hard or soft pines, all pines are actually softwoods.

Southern yellow pine is a name used to describe 10 species of conifers, all of them basically indistinguishable when sawn. Most southern pine lumber grows in the southern and south Atlantic states, with the greatest production from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Wood Handbook — Wood as an Engineering Material explains the commercial classification and appearance of the four principal species of southern yellow pine: “Lumber from any one or from any mixture of two or more of these species is classified as southern pine by the grading standards of the industry. The wood of the various southern pines is quite similar in appearance. The sapwood is yellowish white and heartwood reddish brown. The sapwood is usually wide in second growth stands. Heartwood begins to form when the tree is about 20 years old.”

The Peoples’ Wood

Southern yellow pine has no shortage of important uses — it is used extensively in construction, interior trim, outdoor decking, flooring, plywood and furniture. Early uses included shipbuilding, railroad construction and bridge construction. Pine’s by-products, such as turpentine, resin, pitch and tar, are almost as important and widely used as the wood itself. While pine is highly regarded by consumers, it is not usually considered a premier cabinet wood on the order of such domestics as cherry and walnut. Still, pine’s use in furniture has been constant since Colonial days and has been enjoying a recent increase in popularity due partly to its abundance and relative low cost. Pine is currently a popular choice for armoires, bedroom and dining room furniture, occasional pieces, desks and cabinetry.

Read about other species at Wood of the Month archives.

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