Conifers are extremely important economically as sources of lumber and other wood products, and are also widely planted as ornamental trees and shrubs. The most important sources of softwood lumber in the world are
trees in the pine family, especially species of pine, spruce, larch, and Douglas-fir, which are widely used for dimensional timber for building construction and boat building, and for general construction uses such as utility poles, doors, and cabinetry. These woods are also widely used for plywood and veneer and as sources of wood pulp for paper and cardboard and other modified wood products, such as charcoal. Southern yellow pines, such as slash pine and loblolly pine, are widely grown in their native southeastern United States as sources of lumber and pulp, while the Monterey pine from coastal California is now widely planted as a commercial timber tree in the Southern Hemisphere. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is a particularly important timber species in the northwestern United States and Canada. Several species of pines are tapped or cut and steam-distilled for stem resins, which are used as commercial sources of turpentine, tar oils, rosin, and pitch. Wood of the Norway spruce and white spruce has also been prized for constructing musical instruments such as violins, and the light, strong wood of Sitka spruce has been used for aircraft construction. The attractive reddish-colored wood from species of the cypress family, such as the sequoia, is quite weather- and decay-resistant and is highly prized for building construction,
decks, fences, and other outdoor uses. Wood of the western red cedar (Thuja plicata) has been heavily used for weather-resistant roof shingles. Fragrant wood from junipers has natural insect-repellent properties and is used for moth-resistant cedar closets or chests. Wood of juniper and incense cedar has been commonly used to make pencils.
Many species of conifers are grown as ornamentals, and a wide variety of cultivated shrub forms have been selected for garden use from members of the yew and cypress families, including several species of yew, juniper, cypress, and golden cypress (Chamaecyparis). Conifers from a number of genera are prized as ornamental trees, of which some particularly attractive examples are the blue spruce (Picea pungens), the Himalayan cedar (Cedrus de-odara), and the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). Several species of firs and pines are commercially grown and cut as Christmas trees, and young plants of the subtropical Norfolk Island pine are grown for indoor use as living Christmas trees. Several species of pines from Eurasia and North America are highly esteemed as sources of oil-rich edible seeds (pignoli or pine nuts). Cones of Juniperus communis (juniper berries) are used as flavorings in cooking and provide the aromatic flavoring of gin, whose name is derived through the Dutch jenever from the name of juniper. Recently, bark and leaves of several species of yews have become important as the source of taxol and related alkaloids, which disrupt the process of cell division and are used in the treatment of several types of cancer. see also Coniferous Forest; Evolution of Plants; Forestry; Gymnosperms; Sequoia; Trees; Wood Products.
Robert A. Price
Dallimore, W., A. Bruce Jackson, and S. G. Harrison. A Handbook of Coniferae and Ginkgoaceae, 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967.
Judd, Walter S., Christopher S. Campbell, Elizabeth A. Kellogg, and Peter F. Stevens. Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer, 1999.
Richardson, David M., ed. Ecology and Biogeography of Pinus. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Rushforth, Keith D. Conifers. London: Christopher Helm, 1987.
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