All those fancy Latin terms that scientists come up with can seem daunting, but guess what? They are actually pretty useful, once you understand their roots (no pun intended). Learning all the different scientific classifications is not impossible, so hopefully you have not already skipped ahead or clicked away.
Here is why any woodworker should know how to classify tress. Number one, there is usually a difference between the name commonly used for a kind of tree and the lumber that is harvested from that tree. Secondly, most of the trees have incorrect common names. Take yellow poplar, for example. In some places, it is also known as tuliptree or tulip poplar, or whitewood, tulipwood, and hickory poplar. Go to another region and it will be referred to as white poplar, popple, or just poplar. Knowing the scientific classification, which is Liriodendron tulipfera by the way, could help circumvent the likelihood of you getting the wrong type of wood for your project.
Each classification refers to something the plant does or one of its physical features, giving any serious woodworker a good reason to become familiar. When it comes to living organisms, we will just focus on the plant kingdom. Of that very general kingdom, we can further specify by examining spermatophytes, which are all plants that have seeds. From there, it is broken into two more groups – gymnosperms and angiosperms – both of which have trees in their family. Gymnosperms have naked seeds and produce softwoods, while angiosperms have covered seeds and produced, you guessed it, hardwoods. These two can be broken down even further into orders, families, genus, and species.
If you need a softwood, you might want to turn to a conifer. All conifers are considered softwoods and are the plants with cones! These gymnosperms are soft, but not too light or heavy, making them strong enough for building purposes, but also easy to work with by hand. This is why you see mostly softwoods used for building projects. If you're considering an angiosperm for your next project, or a hardwood, you could choose from a deciduous, (meaning they are not evergreen like conifers and drop their leaves in the autumn) dendritic, or a deliquesent wood, which has notably more branches jetting from the main stem.