There are 11.4 million hectares of forest in Germany. This corresponds to about one third of the country’s total area. Forests are considered recreational areas, climate protectors, and suppliers of raw materials for a variety of applications. The demand for wood continues unabated: from the paper and pulp industry to furniture production and house construction. Wood is a renewable raw material that also often comes from regional stocks. Thus, this building material is considered ecologically valuable. But what are the characteristics of the different tree species and which wood species are used for what? Get an overview with our little tree lore!
Spruce: the bread tree of the timber industry
When the specialist thinks of timber, the first thing that comes to mind is the coniferous wood spruce. In Europe, it is mostly the common spruce(picea abies), also called the “bread tree of forestry”. No other type of wood is used in this country more frequently and in a more versatile way – it is the useful wood par excellence.
Spruce grows comparatively quickly and often comes from regional stands, which is ecologically sustainable in terms of the transport distances involved. However, their natural habitat is actually the mountains or low mountain ranges. The fact that they now also exist regionally in the plains is the result of forestry cultivation. Without these measures, the spruce would be much rarer in Germany.
Spruces grow around 600 years old and about 40 meters high. The forestry rotation period (time from planting to harvesting) is 80-100 years. Spruce trees contribute to the general biodiversity, as they provide food and habitat for birds and insects. For example, the now rare capercaillie depends on spruce needles for food in winter.
Spruce wood is of medium weight. Weight, strength and elasticity are well balanced in spruce. Spruce wood has a low density and is therefore soft. Spruce wood can be optimally processed and installed. It should be noted that spruce wood in the exterior requires adequate surface treatment (varnish, stain, paint). After all, with frequent dry-moisture alternation, the wood in the untreated state is not particularly resistant to weathering. In contact with the ground it rots quickly.
Spruce wood is very versatile. It is used in the following areas: building construction, roof trusses, roof beams, interior finishing, flooring, stairs, wall cladding (including exterior), (rather inexpensive) furniture, sauna cabins, park and landscape construction, noise barriers, fruit tree poles, production of wood-based materials (plywood and glued wood, chipboard and fiberboard), pallets. On a large scale, spruce wood is also processed in the paper and pulp industry. In addition, it is suitable for use as fuel.
Douglas fir: the Canadian gone native
Latin rather a tongue twister: Pseudotsuga menziesii the coniferous tree Douglas fir originates from North America and was brought to Europe in the 18th century. While in America and Canada they can grow up to 100 meters high and reach an age of 600 years, in this country at the same age they do not grow higher than 50-60 meters.
Douglas fir is popular as a timber and is increasingly traded as a substitute for spruce. The big advantage over spruce is that Douglas fir is more resistant to changing climatic conditions. It tolerates drought and heat, which are playing an increasingly important role in Germany as a result of climate change, much better than spruce. Even the bark beetle, which attacks spruce trees under drought stress, can do little to the Douglas fir. In addition, Douglas fir has better growth characteristics: it produces as much in 80 years as spruce does in 120 years.
Currently, Douglas fir makes up about 3-4% of the local stand of mixed forests. However, the aim is to achieve at least 10% over the next 20 years. However, the Douglas fir is considered to be an invasive tree that inadvertently encroaches even where it is not actually wanted: deciduous forests then begin to turn into Canadian coniferous forests.
Douglas fir is also less valuable from an ecological perspective in terms of biodiversity. For birds and insects tend to avoid it, and it is also not beneficial for many species of fungi and moss. Thus, biodiversity tends to decrease in areas with high Douglas fir populations – in this aspect, spruce, for example, is more ecologically valuable.
Douglas fir has a medium-heavy and harder wood than spruce. Strength and elasticity properties are in good proportion. Outdoors, the surfaces should be treated accordingly, as there is a tendency to rot in contact with the ground. The wood is comparatively resinous, apart from that, good to work with.
It is very suitable for roof constructions, as the wood has better properties than those of spruce and some other species under low moisture load, even in the untreated state. It is also used for window and door construction, floorboards, load-bearing building structures, stairs, parking and landscaping, wall cladding and exterior facades. It is also used in the pulp and paper industry and for plywood. There are actually no areas of application for spruce in which the wood of Douglas fir could not also be used.
Pine: the most widespread conifer in Europe
With its 94 species, pine is one of the most widespread conifers in the entire northern hemisphere. Preferably it grows in the north of Europe. More often than in this country, it is found between Poland and Siberia. It grows up to 45 meters high, although the average height is between 25-35 meters. It can live up to 600 years. In forestry, it is of central importance together with spruce.
The most common species in Germany is the Scots pine (sometimes also called pine or forche), Latin Pinus sylvestris . A special characteristic of the pine is that it grows well even on soils with few nutrients. Thus, it is often found on sandy substrates where other trees have difficulty gaining a foothold. So, if you spot a coniferous tree on a sand dune, it can be assumed that it is a pine tree. This makes it a pioneer tree. On better soils, however, it is often displaced by spruce and beech.
The expert knows that in this tree the quality characteristics of the wood vary greatly from site to site, so there are some site-specific subcategories, e.g. Polish pine, Nordic pine, maritime pine, etc.
As for the degree of hardness, the wood of pine is in the middle range. The wood of pine is of medium weight and has a good ratio between elasticity and strength properties. However, there are some major differences here, which result from the different regions of origin. The wood is easy to work with, the only thing that must be taken into account is the high development of resin. Also, the pine wood tends to crack under the plane. If untreated, it is prone to rot on contact with soil. It is only slightly more durable in this aspect than the wood of spruce. Thus, for outdoor use, surface treatments must be carried out.
Works well as lumber for interior construction: doors, windows, flooring, wall paneling, moldings, shutters, as well as furniture construction. However, the pine wood is also used in construction, for example, in the construction of framework. In addition, pine is also popular for garden furniture and landscaping and gardening in general. Pine wood is also used in earthworks and hydraulic structures as driven piles and in ship and wagon construction. Likewise, the pine is processed into plywood and used in the pulp and paper industry.
Larch: the coniferous tree bare in winter
The species of Central European larch known to us bears the beautiful Latin name Larix decidua. It easily reaches 600 years of age (in isolated cases there are larches estimated at 850 years) and up to 55 meters high. “Hard as a larch…” – there is no proverb that goes in this direction: but there should be one! This is because larch surpasses even oak in terms of hardness and heaviness.
The larch is the only European coniferous tree to lose its needles in winter – it is therefore winter bare. Therefore, yellow colored larches can be found in autumn, which is not observed in any other coniferous tree in the region. The autumn larch forest is a rapturous destination.
The wood of the larch is very heavy and very hard. It is (next to the rarely used yew) the heaviest and hardest coniferous wood that can be found in Germany. It is comparatively resinous, which must be taken into account during processing. In general, it is easy to process, strength and elasticity properties are in good proportion. The wood of the larch is characterized by an exceptionally high durability. However, it has only a medium service life in outdoor use without treatment. Surface treatments are possible without any problems. There is a high resistance to treatment with chemicals.
Mainly, the wood of larch is used in construction and furniture making. It is suitable for interior finishing and as structural timber: stairs, doors, gates, room paneling (e.g. hunting rooms). But it is also used in outdoor applications: Gardening and landscaping, children’s playgrounds, bridge construction. Can also be used underwater as a driven pile similar to the oak. The resin is also used to produce turpentine.
Oak: an old and hard piece of wood
The deciduous tree oak (native: Quercus petraea or Quercus robur) has often been associated with pride in proverbs and songs. The oak owes its excessive serenity, which almost goes in the direction of ignorance of any external stimuli, to its high degree of robustness. No wonder that cities such as Venice or Amsterdam rest to a large extent on a foundation of oak piles – so-called driven piles. This is because the heartwood of oak has an almost unlimited shelf life under water.
Oaks can become exceedingly old: A Bulgarian Pedunculate Oak is said to be 1640 years old, making it the oldest deciduous tree in Europe. In the forests in this country, oak occupies about 11.6% of the forest area, which puts it in second place among the most common deciduous trees, right after the copper beech.
In addition, the oak represents an extraordinary biodiversity of insects. It hosts an above-average number of insect species, indicating the oak’s advanced age in developmental history. A variety of insects co-evolved with the tree over a long period of time and specialized on it.
Oak is a very hard and medium-weight wood that becomes flexible through steaming. It is considered very resistant to weathering in contact with soil and air and can be used outdoors even untreated. The high density and anatomical structures of the wood result in excellent strength properties and high wear resistance. The wood is very easy to work with and the surface can also be treated without any problems. Since oak wood contains tannic acid, nails and screws can rust; in the past, tannic acid was extracted from oak wood for leather production.
Tools, such as the hammer, would be only half as reliable without an oak handle. Especially noble are considered solid wood furniture made of oak. It is also often used as a joinery timber to produce high quality framework, stairs, windows, doors, paneling and parquet flooring. By the way, whiskey, wine, sherry and cognac are also stored in oak barrels. This aroma method is known under the title “barrique”. In addition, oak wood is also used in boat and ship building. Cork is made from the bark of the cork oak(Quercus suber). In the past, tannins were also obtained from the bark.
Beech: the mother of the forest
Beech(Fagus) is found mainly in Europe and exclusively in the northern hemisphere. Beech trees grow up to 45 meters high and up to 600 years old. In this country, one usually encounters the copper beech(Fagus sylvatica). Their crowns are imposing and shield the forest floor from the sun’s rays like a tent canopy. So the hiker, tired in the midday sun, is best to lie down under a beech tree to take a well-protected nap. He may also find some tasty beechnuts there.
The beech tree is nicknamed the “mother of the forest”. Because it loosens the soil with its specific roots, which benefits other plants. It also ensures that the soil around it is always rich in nutrients: the nutrients it transports up from deep soil layers in some cases also end up in its leaves, which in turn fall to the ground, where the nutrients are utilized. Perfect cycles, as they are probably only staged by nature.
In addition, the beech ensures an optimal water balance of the soil: it literally catches the precipitation water with its upper outstretched branches, which can then flow down its particularly smooth trunk to its roots. This also benefits soil organisms and groundwater. In general, beech promotes extensive biodiversity in its environment.
The beech requires less light than the oak. It is characterized by very good growth characteristics and high shade tolerance. That’s why it has the edge in the competition. Without cultivation intervention, Germany’s forests would therefore probably be largely beech forests. Today, about 15% of the local forest area consists of beech – no deciduous tree is more common.
The trunk of the beech protects a very smooth bark, but it is susceptible to sunburn and injury. The wood of beech is very hard and has a high resistance to wear. At the same time, it can be well bent by steaming. It has a homogeneous structure, which makes it particularly suitable for planing, turning, polishing and sawing.
In addition, the special wood structure is conducive to surface treatment, because paint and other treatment agents are well absorbed and spread evenly. The disadvantage is that beech wood in the untreated state is susceptible to fungal attack. In addition, it shrinks in the drying process and swells under the influence of water. It is therefore a wood that “works” strongly, as the expert says.
The wood of beech is very versatile and no other deciduous tree is used more often. For example, it is one of the most popular woods for high-quality and robust furniture construction. The wood is ideal for flooring, as its hardness and toughness make it very resistant to pressure. Also there is a lot of toys made of beech wood. Because of its robustness, it is also used for railroad sleepers. Less valuable beech wood is also processed in the paper and pulp industry. Likewise, there are textile fibers from beech wood. In addition, it is considered a high-quality fuel, because it burns long and evenly.
Linden tree: the mythical figure with high cultural value
The lime tree is the summer tree par excellence, since its flowering comes into full swing only with the height of summer. Then is also the time for the lovely scent of linden, which bewitches people and animals. In addition, the linden tree – Tilia in Latin – is traditionally a place of gathering. In villages, a large linden tree often used to stand in the village square or at the entrance gate, inviting people to linger under its canopy – not only because of its heart-shaped leaves. Among the Germanic tribes, the linden tree was even considered a sacred tree. There are about 40 species of linden trees. In Germany, one encounters primarily the summer linden and the winter linden, more rarely also the silver linden.
The linden tree has been the patron saint of many streets, villages and districts since ancient times. For example, the name “Leipzig” goes back to the linden tree (derivation from the Sorbian Lipsk: linden place). One also thinks of the women’s names Linda, Rosalinde, Gerlinde etc.. – all inspired by the beautiful linden tree.
The fact that in the Middle Ages court was held under the lime tree and justice was pronounced underlines its high social-cultural significance – in this context one speaks of the court lime tree. Peace lime trees, on the other hand, were planted after the pacification of a warlike conflict. At the village’s dance lime tree, on the other hand, people shook a leg and tied the knot for life.
That is probably why the linden tree appears so often in fairy tales, songs, myths and legends. Just think of the Nibelungen saga! There, before bathing in dragon’s blood, a lime leaf falls between Siegfried’s shoulder blades, thus building a crucial backdoor into his immortality.
Linden trees usually do not grow much higher than 35 meters and around 800 years old. However, there are single specimens that are much older: over 1000 years! The village lime tree in Schenklengsfeld (Hesse) is considered by experts to be the oldest tree in Germany – planted in the year of the Lord 760.
The wood of the lime tree is soft and tough. It has good elasticity properties, but at the same time it is not very flexible (for bending by steaming beech and oak are more suitable). It tends to shrink (moisture release below the specific fiber saturation range). The wood dries slowly and tends to crack. Lime wood is only moderately durable and not very resistant to weathering. In addition, it is susceptible to insect and fungal attack.
Steaming and Wood bending
When wood is steamed with hot water vapor, the so-called lignin softens. Lignin acts as a kind of natural glue in wood, binding wood fibers together and providing strength and toughness properties. When it is soft, certain types of wood (e.g. oak, beech) become pliable without breaking. When the lignin cools again, the wood retains the curved shape. With the process of steaming, special designs are possible, especially in furniture construction. The furniture classic for this purpose was created by Michael Thonet in 1859. It is the Viennese coffee house chair made of beech with its wonderfully curved arm and backrests.
The wood of the linden tree is used for sculpture and woodturning. For example, statues of saints are usually made of linden, which is why in the past they also spoke of lignum sacrum, sacred wood. The wood is also used in instrument making, for example in guitars, piano keyboards and harps.
Furthermore, from lime wood is produced: Drawing and drawing boards, toys, wooden slippers, pencils and matches. It is also used as an imitation of walnut. Also known is the linden blossom honey. The lime tree produces a lot of nectar, so beekeepers can expect a high yield. In addition, lime blossom tea is a diaphoretic tea used for colds. In the past, even gunpowder was made from lime wood, and today drawing and filter charcoal.
Birch: the good old maypole
There are about 50 species of birch in Asia, North America and Europe. In this country, the most common is the slope or white birch. The birch(Betula) grows to an average age of about 50 years (although there are specimens that grow a good 100 years older) and 20-30 meters tall.
Birch trees grow exceedingly fast. Allergy sufferers are less fond of birch between March and April, as it has high allergic potential. This is due to the fact that the trees are not pollinated by insects, but exclusively by pollen, and therefore release large amounts of pollen.
Similar to pine, birch is also content with nutrient-poor soils and difficult climates. It is therefore considered a pioneer tree that can cope with very different conditions: from bogs to dunes.
Just imagine: Even the Neanderthals knew how to use the birch. They made pitch from it, in a sense the first glue ever. The birch pitch was used to glue stone wedges and plant fibers. Among all enthusiasts of southern German customs, the birch is popular nowadays as a maypole.
The wood of birch is one of the light and medium hard woods. Elasticity and pliability are given, but also a tendency to tear. It has only low robustness and load-bearing capacity. Machining is well possible, even the surfaces can be treated well. It is not a particularly weather-resistant wood. Rot, fungal decay and insect damage are among the susceptibilities of this wood. However, it has good resistance under water.
From the wood of birch veneers and plywood are made. It is also used in furniture making (chairs, tables, garden furniture), sometimes imitating mahogany. It is made clothespins and coarse brooms. Due to the low load-bearing capacity, it is not considered for building construction. With tied birch twigs are fixed dikes. It is also often used as firewood. The essential oils it contains even allow it to burn well when fresh. In Russian and Finnish saunas, people beat each other’s backs with birch twigs for mutual pleasure.
Cherry: beautiful and delicious
Kerasos – the name “cherry” goes back to this small town located on the Black Sea. In Germany, the bird cherry with the Latin name Prunus avium is best known. From this tree not only comes the sweet cherries, equally appreciated by birds and people, but it is always a real eye-catcher: in spring it is in full bloom, and in autumn – in all its colorful splendor. In summer there are plenty of cherries, and in winter their gnarled, reddish-brown shape inspires many a painter.
A cherry tree grows up to 30 meters high and not very old – no more than 100 years. It is a partial shade plant and does comparatively well with nutrient and water poor soils and has a relatively high heat and drought tolerance. By the way, pollination works with the help of bees, which is why every cherry orchard must be regularly visited by a beekeeper – otherwise the fruit yield will be low.
The wood of the cherry is expensive. It is medium hard and has good elasticity and strength properties. It can be processed well, but is not particularly weather-resistant and susceptible to fungal and insect attack.
Of course, first and foremost is fruit growing. However, sour cherry(Prunus cerasus) is increasingly used here, as it is not quite as popular with predatory birds and is also less sensitive to weather and pests.
Very popular is high-quality furniture made of cherry wood (for example, Biedermeier furniture). It is possible to realize a sophisticated interior decoration (e.g. bedrooms, dining rooms and paneling) with the wood of cherry. High-quality veneers are also readily made from it. Especially beautiful knife handles are made of cherry wood. Furthermore, it is used for the production of flutes, pianos and violins.
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