What Wood Is That?
Study the pores
Hardwoods that grow in the earth's temperate (non-tropical) zone display annual growth rings in their wood's end grain. These growth rings have both an earlywood portion and a latewood portion. The wider earlywood reflects the rapid growth of the early season; the narrower latewood, the slower growth of the later season.
Within the earlywood and latewood portions of the grown ring you'll find pores. It's the size of the pores and how they're distributed in the growth rings that classify a hardwood as either ring-porous, diffuse-porous, or semi-ring-porous.
Ring-porous species show a sharp distinction in the size of the pores of the earlywood when compared to those in the latewood portion of the ring. Ash, elm, hickory, red oak, white oak.
Diffuse-porous species show little difference in pore size no matter where they appear in the growth ring. Basswood, red alder, sugar maple, sycamore, yellow birch, yellow poplar.
Semi-ring-porous trees have a gradual change in pore size across the ring. Black cherry, black walnut, pecan, tanoak.
A few genus trees, such as the hickory (Carya), fall into more than one classification. That's because species within the genus -- in this case the true hickory, notably shagbark, and pecan, also a hickory -- are different in their pore size and growth-ring distribution.
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