Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Evan from Church Point, AR. Evan Wonders, “What's the difference between softwood and hardwood?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Evan!
Do you pay much attention to the floors that you walk on? Close your eyes and take a mental walk through the rooms of your house, as well as your school. What kinds of floors do you walk on at home and at school?
Are they carpeted? Are they covered in tile or linoleum? Maybe some of them are wood? Even though we don't often think about the floors that we walk on, they come in a wide variety of different materials with different properties.
Hardwood floors, for example, are very popular, because of their natural beauty and the fact that they're easy to clean. Can you think of a place where you've walked on hardwood floors? What kind of wood were they made from?
The term "hardwood" might seem kind of strange to you. After all, isn't all wood hard? Is there even such a thing as "softwood"? Indeed, there is such a thing as softwood, and today's Wonder of the Day will take a look at how it differs from hardwood.
Given their names, it might seem obvious that hardwoods and softwoods differ in how hard they are. Of course, like many things in the scientific world, the answer is a bit more complicated than it would appear to be.
Rather than being distinguished by their hardness, end use, or appearance, hardwoods and softwoods are classified based upon how they reproduce. While all trees reproduce by producing seeds, they do so in different ways.
Hardwoods are angiosperms, which are deciduous trees that produce seeds with some sort of covering. In some cases, this might take the form of a fruit, such as an apple. In other cases, it might take the form of a hard shell, such as that of an acorn. Examples of common hardwoods include maple, oak, elm, mahogany, and sycamore.
Softwoods, on the other hand, are gymnosperms, which are usually evergreen trees that produce uncovered seeds that travel on the wind or simply fall to the ground. Common examples of softwoods include pine, redwood, fir, and cedar.
Hardwoods generally grow more slowly than softwoods, which usually makes them denser and thus harder than softwoods. This isn't always the case, though. For example, balsa is considered a hardwood, even though it's one of the lightest, softest, and least dense woods available.
Despite the difference in terminology, both hardwoods and softwoods are used in all sorts of building applications. For example, maple and elm are common hardwoods used for flooring. Redwood is a softwood often used for outdoor decking because of its natural resistance to insects.