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Hardwood floors are a highly desirable choice for flooring installation. Having hardwood floors increases a home’s overall value, not to mention it provides a classic style which can enhance practically any household. Yet as we walk across our beautiful birch or marvelous maple floors, we might not always ask ourselves how all of this came to be. As Kansas City’s hardwood floor specialists, JRK is here to answer all of your questions about where hardwood lumber comes from.

Before diving into the origins of hardwood flooring, it’s important to know what constitutes something as “hardwood.” Having background knowledge on what hardwood is will help develop understanding on where it is found. Read on to find some vital information about hardwood lumber.

Hardwood vs. Softwood

It’s pretty fascinating to think about how every tree you see was once a tiny seed! How trees reproduce is actually what determines a tree as hardwood or softwood. It is these two categories that refer to the two major types of wood used in construction and carpentry.

Softwood trees are gymnosperms, which means they they form cones as a means of reproduction. These cones contain pollen, which is then picked up by the wind to be distributed for repopulation. Many common examples of gymnosperms are conifers, such as pine trees and fir trees. Softwoods grow at a faster rate than hardwoods, making them not only converted into lumber faster, but less expensive as well.

Hardwood trees are generally derived from deciduous trees, meaning they lose their leaves annually. Unlike softwoods, they are classified as angiosperms, which means their seeds leave the tree with a covering of sorts. Some examples of fruit produced by deciduous trees are acorns, apples, pears, hazelnuts, and more. Deciduous trees, such as maple or oak, take longer to grow, and their wood is denser as a result.

Where Are Hardwood Trees Found?

There’s a unique window of opportunity where trees can grow, and the conditions have to be just right. If you’ve ever been at sea level and have also spent time in the mountains, you know that the trees start to look different. The state of Arizona is a classic example, where driving just two hours north from Phoenix means going from saguaro cacti to pine trees! This is because of the different types of timberlines that exist throughout the world (and many can be found in the United States).

Using Arizona as an example once more, visitors to the southern region are likely to encounter the desert timberline (more colloquially know as the tree line). Trees cannot grow at this point due to extremely dry soil, and desert timberlines are commonly found at elevations lower than 5,000 ft. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the alpine timberline, where the elevation is too high and the climate too cold for tree growth. The best conditions for a hardwood tree are found right in the middle – where the elevation is not too low or high, and the soil is not too dry, this is where hardwood trees can grow.

Types of Hardwoods and Where to Find Them

Understanding where hardwoods originate from and the general range in which they can thrive is essential to gaining knowledge on where specific varieties of hardwoods can be located. Below is a list of some of the most common hardwood trees found in North America, and where they’re found.

  • Ash: Almost the entire eastern half of the United States have conditions for ash trees to be found. The range extends around 500 miles west of the Mississippi River, and the only exceptions for finding ash trees exist in southern Florida and Louisiana. Due to an invasive species of insect (the emerald ash borer) attacking ash trees, ash has become less used in recent years.
  • Birch: While there are many varieties of birch trees, most birches thrive in cooler climates, as well as places with a good amount of moisture. The northern regions of the United States are a prime spot to find this beautiful tree, which can live up to 40-50 years old!
  • Elm: Elms can be found natively in nearly every state in the US. With a Janka hardness rating of 830, it ranks lower in comparison with some other North American hardwoods.
  • Cherry: We often think of cherry trees for their gorgeous spring blossoms, but they have an incredible durability as well. They are a commonly-used hardwood found primarily on the eastern coast, and provide a wonderfully rich color. However, certain parts of the cherry tree (such as the leaves, bark, and seeds) produce a chemical that is toxic when ingested by humans and animals alike. That being said, installing the wood itself for flooring does not pose a threat.
  • Maple: It turns out maples are great not just for helping provide us with syrup, but also for their hardwood qualities. Certain maple varieties have a hardness rating in the 1400s, about 200 points higher than the standard rating on the Janka scale. This indicates not only their denseness, but also implies using maple for hardwood flooring will be more costly (as maples are of a very high quality).

    The sugar maple, as one example, is found along the northern half of the eastern coast (from Maine to Pennsylvania, stopping just past the Maryland border), swooping down towards Kentucky and stopping just slightly past the Mississippi River.
  • Oak: Oak trees love colder climates, and are native to the northern hemisphere. They exist as another standard in hardwood flooring, and have a solid Janka rating. While commonly found in North America, oaks extend their range to Asia, and even some tropical regions!

Why Do So Many Hardwoods Come From the United States?

The United States is a leading exporter in lumber, and the USDA reports that export production has consistently increased over the past several years. In 2014, the US exported nearly $10 billion dollars worth of forest products. What is it about the United States that makes for such prime lumber production?

One of the biggest factors is the size of the country. The US is the third largest country in the world (based on area), meaning there is simply more space to be designated for lumber. Many countries in Europe, for example, are not only smaller, but are fairly population-dense, which means the available land is appropriated for other purposes. Secondly, the US is incredibly diverse in its ecosystems. Several states are larger than certain countries, and within these states can exist many different biomes. This increases the possibility for hardwood trees growing in fairly massive amounts of land. As a result, the proximity to hardwoods has historically resulted in the popularity and usage of hardwood flooring throughout the United States.

Hardwoods and other lumber contribute greatly to the nation’s economy by being used in housing, both locally and around the world. Builders and realtors agree that hardwood flooring increases your home’s value, serving as a great asset to you and your family. Even if your home does not currently have hardwood flooring, it is never too late to renovate! Contact us at JRK Flooring to get a free estimate, and check out our portfolio to gain some amazing hardwood flooring inspiration. From refinishing, replacing, installing, and more, JRK is here for you (and your floor)!