Wood species | Slang | Terminology | Poplar

Last week Rob wondered what unusual names you’ve heard of or use yourself for certain species of wood. Several of you have these to share. – Editor

“How about ‘Bois D’Arc’ (“Texas” Bo’Dark) or the ‘horse apple tree’ versus Osage orange.” – Ned Moore

“Growing up in northern Michigan and my dad in the pulp wood industry, ‘popple’ was a very common name spoken.” – Gary Mast

“I lived in northern Illinois growing up, and my dad always called elms by that name (piss elm). I asked him why, and he said that if you burned it in an iron stove, it smelled like a dog or cat had peed on the stove. The streets in town were once a green tunnel of elm leaves, all gone today. Sad. I’m 83, so I saw it. Here in Colorado, some call aspen ‘quakies’ from the way that the leaves move as the wind blows through the trees.” – Lowell Taylor

“I use a lot of green ash that has a large dark heartwood center and much rougher bark compared to white ash with a small amount of dark heartwood and a lot of light-colored wood. I’ve also heard it called ‘swamp ash.’ Local saw mill calls it ‘mountain ash.’” – Dale Smith

“We live in the largest cedar brake here in the hill country of Texas, surrounded by miles and miles of what we locally call ‘cedar’ but have been told are actually ‘ashe-juniper.’ Smells good when we mill them on my sawmill, but we rarely get a straight board, kind of like the mesquite you picked up down here recently. Also, the trees we know as Spanish oak are actually a version of red oak. Slow growers but really hard wood to work with … I’m curing a few trees out now to try and produce some surface-embellished (carved) canes … I have a series of four in mind to fit each major season.” – Ralph M. Hausman

“As a botany professor (retired), I thought I’d comment on just the true poplars (Populus species). As you’ve already pointed out, there is some confusion about what is and is not a poplar. Here’s my input. Aspen is called poplar because it is Populus tremuloides, also called quaking and trembling aspen. It’s just one of several species in the genus. Others are: cottonwood (P. deltoides), Eastern cottonwood (P. trichocarpa), black cottonwood (P. alba), white poplar, native of Europe (P. angustifolia) and willow cottonwood, plus a few others. The leaves of some Populus species have a flattened petiole (leaf stalk) that accounts for the ‘quaking/trembling’ of the leaves.” – Jack Stanford

“In northwest Pennsylvania, we call butternut ‘poor man’s walnut.’” – Bob Durst

“I’ve lived in South Carolina since 1987. In my early years here, I attended quite a few estate auctions. When selling a piece of wooden furniture, if the owner or auctioneer couldn’t identify the type of wood, the auctioneer would announce to the bidders that ‘This item is made of genuine treewood.’ The ‘i’ in genuine was always pronounced as a long ‘i.’ Fun.” – John Yane

“Here in drought-plagued Oklahoma, cedar is referred to as ‘the plague.’ That stuff goes up like a Roman candle when it catches fire, and there are a LOT of them. I have 40 acres and probably 200 ‘plague’ trees that need to be culled.” – RileyG

“In the north woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan there is a scrub tree that is commonly called ironwood. Yes, some towns have even been named after it. I think it only grows to about 6 to 8 inches in diameter and I’m not sure how tall it gets … maybe 20 feet? I was used in the 19th century to make peavys, pike poles, wagon tongues and anything that had to wear like iron. If anyone knows, what is the formal Latin name for ironwood and are there other commonly used names for the same tree? I know it is deciduous, but I’d like to know what it looks like when fully grown and in leaf.” – Sam Karam

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