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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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News

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.

Recent drought conditions have not kept Swedenburg’s Christmas Tree Farm in Columbus, Mississippi, from having a solid production year. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kevin Hudson)
Filed Under: Christmas Trees November 11, 2016

SAUCIER, Miss. -- Larry Haley has no problem selling his Christmas trees each November.

In fact, he has to set a limit on how many he can spare and stop once he reaches that number to maintain a steady inventory. His target this year is about 300 choose-and-cut trees before Thanksgiving.

"A couple of years ago, I got in trouble because I sold too many in one season and almost depleted the next year's stock," he said. "Last year, we started holding fields back for a season so that doesn’t happen again."

Expect to pay anywhere from $7 to $10 per foot for a choose-and-cut Christmas tree this year. (File photo by MSU Extension/Kat Lawrence)
Filed Under: Christmas Trees November 13, 2015

SAUCIER, Miss. -- Christmas tree growers in Mississippi expect a 7 percent increase in sales this year, but unfavorable spring and fall weather may hurt future supplies.

Stephen Dicke, a forestry professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said growers successfully controlled insect and disease problems this year. However, a wet spring followed by a dry summer and early fall caused some growers to lose up to half of their 1-year-old trees.

Ben Carr of Ackerman, left, helps his brother Pete, cousin Max Hudson of Louisville and sister Carrie move their grandfather's Christmas tree to the edge of his yard for wildlife cover on Jan. 7, 2015. (Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Kevin Hudson)
Filed Under: Christmas Trees January 9, 2015

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- According to the National Christmas Tree Association, American consumers purchase nearly 30 million real trees annually from one of more than 15,000 Christmas tree farms. Real-tree enthusiasts cite three main reasons for their yearly choice: tradition, fresh pine scent and appearance.

Selecting a real tree is also an environmentally friendly choice. Real Christmas trees are 100 percent biodegradable and can be recycled in a variety of ways.

The National Christmas Tree Association offers these little-known facts about real trees:

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