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State Forests Harbor Diversified Species
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many Mississippians don't see the forests for the pines. Pine trees are not the state's only timber resource, just the most noticeable.
As Mississippians drive along state highways and see acre after acre of planted pines, some wonder if the state is losing its hardwoods. However, the majority of trees growing in Mississippi are oaks, hickories and other hardwoods.
Dr. Bob Daniels, extension forestry specialist at Mississippi State University, said there is no danger of hardwoods diminishing in Mississippi. In fact, they are in strong demand.
"Mississippi is not losing its hardwoods, but the hardwood forests are changing. More hardwoods are being harvested, and regeneration is making the hardwood forests younger than they have previously been in our state," Daniels said.
There is a good market for hardwood trees, and people with standing hardwoods on their land should not have any trouble selling the timber.
"All of the tree species in Mississippi are in strong demand, but their relative values are different," Daniels said.
Although many wood products, such as furniture, are made from hardwoods, the majority of trees being planted to sell are pines. Pines are planted because cut pine trees don't re-sprout -- hardwoods do.
Still, 52 percent of the state's forest acres consist of hardwoods and include 35 commercial species. About 30 percent of state forests are planted strictly in pines, and about 17 percent are made up of a mixture of hardwood and softwood species.
"Hardwoods are used for many purposes depending on the specific type and quality of the wood. In addition to furniture, some uses include flooring, lumber and chips for paper," Daniels said.
The forestry specialist said pines are more popular than hardwoods because of economical and biological reasons.
"Pines give landowners a quicker harvest because they generally grow faster than hardwoods. On average, they are more valuable to tree farmers, claiming about 70 percent of the forest harvest in Mississippi each year," Daniels said.
An example of the differences in average prices was seen recently. The average price of standing pine sawtimber was about $437 per thousand board feet in January in central Mississippi compared to an average price of $254 per thousand board feet of oak sawtimber. Mixed hardwood sawtimber had an average price of $161 per thousand board feet in January.
"The standing price of pine sawtimber is about two to two and a half times the average value of most hardwood sawtimber," Daniels said.
One reason hardwoods generally do not bring as much is because of the emphasis on clear wood in hardwood markets. Since many hardwood trees are used to make furniture and other decorative items, clear wood is desirable and any natural defect, such as knots, decreases the value.
Pines, on the other hand, are used for products where small visual defects are not as important. Strength is important. They are used primarily for structural purposes, and visual defects like knots are often hidden from view.
Pines also are easier to care for than hardwood trees. There are only four pine species that are widely grown in Mississippi so the management requirements are not as varied as they are for hardwoods.
"Compared to the many diverse hardwood species that grow in the state, including elm, hickory, sweet gum, ash, and red and white oaks, the similar species of pines are more easily managed," Daniels said.
"Pine stands are also easier to thin economically," he said. Though pines seem to be the top tree in the timber industry, Daniels said hardwoods are increasingly being used. The average price of hardwood sawtimber has increased steadily over the past 15 years, and the average value for quality hardwood sawtimber is expected to continue rising each year.