Around the world, it's tough as nails

In Ontario, New England, and the northern Great Lake states, there's a firewood so tough that it stalls hydraulic log splitters. Yet, it's worth the herculean effort necessary to build up a pile because it burns well through a cold winter's night. Ironwood, as it's called, has such complete combustion it leaves little ash.

Ironwood grows in Texas, too—and in Australia, Brazil, Ceylon, England, India, and other parts of the world as well. Wherever the wood appears, it attains legendary stature, taking claim to the titles of hardest and heaviest.

Despite the wood's reknown, however, ironwood isn't a specific species. Rather, it's the colloquial term for a state or region's toughest wood. All told, there are 80 distinct species around the world known as ironwood.

In Texas, for instance, it's honey mesquite. The ironwood found in the northern U.S., Canada, and Europe is actually hophornbeam. Florida has horsetail casuarina as its ironwood. In Australia, it's Queensland red ironwood; in Ceylon, gangsaw. Brazil touts pau ferro and quebracho. So, wherever you live, you'll never be wrong equating the toughest wood you know with iron, you just won't be technically correct.

By the way, whatever the exact scientific term for the different species, trees for the different species, trees designated as ironwood frequently become homemade tool handles, mallets, fence posts, levers, and definitely warming fuel.

Illustration: Jim Stevenson