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How does the study of Forest Genetics improve tree species?

Forest genetics is the study of hereditary variation in trees. Like all living organisms genes control the traits that trees exhibit. Pines, oaks, maples, etc. have unique compliments of genes that define the species. The individual tree that grows in the forest is a product of its genes and the environment in which it lives. Just as genetics can be used to improve the milk production of dairy cattle, the hunting ability of dogs, or the grain production of a corn variety, genetics can be used to improve the characteristics of trees.

Tree improvement is the application of forest genetics to field practice. Tree improvement work is accomplished by testing wild tree selections and determining which will grow best when planted on certain sites or in specific geographic locations.

Tree improvement is a long-term endeavor because trees are long-lived organisms, and breeding programs rely on seed production that often comes in later stages of tree life. Various techniques have been developed, however, to cause some tree species to produce seed earlier. These include grafting and cultural practices like root pruning.

Many landowners in the southern U.S. have heard and use the expression "Super Pine" for pine seedlings that have been produced by a tree improvement program. These trees are seedlings grown from seed produced by parent trees that have been selected for superior form, growth rate, and other characteristics. These "superior seedlings" may be from forest industry or state agency tree programs. "Improved seedlings" have become much more available in the last decade, and these seedlings are being widely planted because on average, they grow 10% faster (or more) than "woods run" (average wild stock) seedlings.

Tree improvement programs and forest genetics research have been conducted throughout the world since about the 1950s. Generally, tree improvement programs for the conifer species were begun earlier because of their economic value and the fact they are more frequently planted. Scots pine, Norway spruce, Loblolly pine, European Larch, Eastern White pine, White spruce, Red spruce, and Douglas-fir are good examples. Tree improvement projects with broadleaf tree species have also been underway for at least 20 years. Some of the "hardwood" tree species in tree improvement programs around the world include black walnut, sugar maple, birches (black, yellow, and paper), European black alder, white ash, poplars, willows, northern red oak, and eucalyptus.

The most widely available improved tree seedlings to Mississippi landowners are "improved" pine, principally Loblolly pine. These trees can be purchased from the Mississippi Forestry Commission or forest industry nurseries such as Weyerhaeuser or International Paper Co. Landowners purchasing seedlings should be sure to match the seed source of the seedlings with the planting locality.

For more information on forest genetics and tree improvement check the following references:

  • An Introduction to Forest Genetics by Jonathan W. Wright. 1976. Academic Press, Inc., New York 463 p.
  • Geographic Variation in Forest Trees by E. Kristian Morgenstern. 1996. UBC Press Vancouver, B.C. 209 p.
  • A Guide to Southern Pine Seed Sources by Clark W. Lantz and John Kraus. 1987. Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Asheville, N.C. Gen. Tech Rep. SE-43. 34 pp.

The U.S. Forest Service Seedling Nursery and Tree Improvement web site is a good source of current information and links on forest tree improvement and seedling production.

A Handy List of Forest Tree Nurseries

Sources of Seedlings Contact
Mississippi Forestry Commission Local County Forester
International Paper Company 1-888-888-7158
International Forest Seed Company 1-800-633-4506
Weyerhaeuser Company 1-800-635-0162
McMillan Bloedel 1-800-433-3587
Boston Nursery 1-318-259-9484
Containerized Longleaf Pine Contact
Dixie Green 1-800-526-6121 or Email
International Forest Seed Company 1-800-633-4506
Southern Seed Company, Inc. 1-706-778-4542
Meek's Farm 1-912-469-3417
Mobley Greenhouse 1-800-345-5783
Hardwood Seedlings Contact
Mississippi Forestry Commission Local County Forester
Louisiana Forest Seed Company 1-318-443-5026
Delta View Nursery 1-800-748-9018
Bearcreek Nursery Inc. (601) 898-8071
Yazoo Hardwood Nursery (662) 748-2652 or Email
Circle "C" Ranch Tree Farm (318) 647-3518
Hardwood Seedlings LLP (225) 635-4789 or Email
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 Forestry year-end harvest values from 1940 through 2017, 1940 = $27.3 million, 1950 = $117.5 million, 1960 = $66.8 million, 1970 = $122.6 million, 1980 = $525.5 million, 1990 = $737.5 million, 2000 = $1.3 billion, 2010 = $1 billion, 2017 = $1.4 billion
Filed Under: Forestry, Forestry Impacts, Marketing, Timber Prices, Forest Pests, Timber Harvest December 19, 2017

RAYMOND, Miss. -- Despite a slow housing market and other lingering effects of the recession, Mississippi’s forests remain the state’s second most valuable agricultural commodity for 2017.

John Auel, an assistant Extension professor of forestry at Mississippi State University, estimates the value of forest products is $1.4 billion, which is a decrease of 8.6 percent from 2016. However, 2017 numbers are almost 40 percent higher than they were in 2009, when the industry experienced its lowest valued harvest of the 2007-2009 recession.

A row of Christmas trees stands at a Jackson, Mississippi, Christmas tree farm.
Filed Under: Christmas Trees November 10, 2017

RAYMOND, Miss. -- After two years of drought, Mississippi Christmas tree growers welcomed the extra rain in 2017.

“In a few low-lying areas, excessive rain in May and June waterlogged the soil and killed some trees, but this was not widespread,” said Stephen Dicke, a forestry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “We will always take more rain over less rain.”

Man examining a pine tree for evidence of beetles
Filed Under: Trees, Forest Management, Forest Pests September 7, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi is having a breakout of tiny beetles that use pheromones to gather sufficient numbers of reinforcements to overwhelm healthy trees.

Current Mississippi Forestry Commission flyovers indicate nearly 5,000 separate Southern pine bark beetle outbreaks across the state. Outbreaks can range from just a few trees to more than an acre of infested and dying pines.

Outbreaks are especially bad on national forestland, but homeowners and private landowners are also experiencing the problem.

The tiny redbay ambrosia beetle was first found in the U.S. in 2002. It carries a fungus that is devastating to any tree or shrub species in the laurel family. (Photo by Mississippi Entomological Museum/Joe A. MacGown)
Filed Under: Forestry, Forest Pests June 26, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- It may have taken only one beetle and the fungus it carried to kill one-third of the nation’s redbay trees, according to scientists at Mississippi State University and the University of Florida.

Laurel wilt is a devastating disease of any tree or shrub species in the laurel family. The redbay ambrosia beetle, introduced from Asia into Georgia in 2002, carries the deadly fungus.

Filed Under: Natural Resources, Forest Economics, Forest Management, Timber Harvest April 13, 2017

RAYMOND, Miss. -- New landowners can learn about managing timberland for profit during a five-part short course in May.

Forestland as an Investment will be offered May 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 at the Mississippi State University Extension Service office in Forrest County. It starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m. each night. The Extension office is located at 952 Sullivan Drive in Hattiesburg.


Friday, May 25, 2018 - 2:00am
Friday, April 13, 2018 - 2:00am
Friday, March 23, 2018 - 2:00am
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 9:00am

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Agroforestry, Christmas trees, GIS, forest soils, pine silviculture