Some of the most valuable hardwood trees in the world are found in Indiana, say researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
Due to demand for their use in fine furniture, oak, walnut, and cherry trees that have taken 100 years to reach maturity are being felled in minutes. And they are being used faster than lumber companies can replace them.
Purdue researchers are studying the trees' genetic makeup to learn more about the traits responsible for growth rate, straightness, and the ratio of sapwood to heartwood. Once trees with the best traits are identified, researchers clone them, and eventually the improved varieties are sold to nurseries. Some of the new stock can grow twice as fast as trees in the wild, according to Charles Michler, director of Purdue's Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center, quoted in Purdue News.
What makes Indiana's old-growth forests important is that they hold keys to the past, when glaciers rumbled through a large portion of the Midwest more than 10,000 years ago.
"Glaciers obliterated trees in the northern two-thirds of the state. The vast hardwood forest that greeted pioneers did not exist after the glacier retreated," Jeanne Romero-Severson told the Purdue News, but the forest was re-formed by acorns and seeds that had been hidden by animals and birds. The result is red oaks in southern Indiana with a different genetic makeup than those in the north.
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