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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Groups of trees by any other name...

I asked you several months back--probably when the massive maple debate was going on between Julie Helms and Raymond Alexander Kukkee!-- what the difference was between a wood and a forest. Well, since then I've thought of and found a few other tree terms which baffled me. Okay, not so much baffled, but they did get me thinking. Why, for instance, do some people use them interchangeably when they have, in fact, subtle difference to each? Could be they just don't know them and I thought I might not either until I read up on them.. and I found I knew more than I thought I did. That happens a lot with me, oddly enough.

Here is what I found:

Wood/woods: Trees growing close together on a large piece of land.

Forest: A large tract of land on which many trees grow.

Copse/coppice: A thicket of small trees or bushes; a small wood.

Grove: A grouping of trees, usually of the same variety, with no undergrowth.

I don't know about you, but I found these terms and especially their definitions to be entirely too similar to even count and I checked several dictionaries. They were all the same! It became apparent to me, whoever wrote those definitions never set foot in any of those places...they may not even know the difference between a Catalpa and a Willow. Oh, the horror!

So, I decided to come up with my own much more precise definitions. What makes me think I can do better than expert dictionary makers? Well, I've actually been to the woods. I've walked through forests. I've gone into massive groves of all sorts and I know a copse when I see one.

This is what I know from experience and from more reliable sources than a silly dictionary.


Depending on which side of the pond you reside, you may or may not say wood in the plural form. For me it depends on the mood, but either way, the woods is a lovely place for a leisurely stroll any time of the year but especially during the growing season. Why? Because of the endless surprises awaiting the curious hiker.

What does a wood consist of? Trees, of course, all sorts. The woods generally has a great variety of vegetation. Tiny mushrooms growing on rotting logs, lichens, mosses, ferns, woodland flowers, vines and shrubs plus trees in all shapes and varying in age from sapling to ancient towering trees. In general, woods tend to be relatively younger, which is to say, less than one-three hundred years old. The land on which woods stand may at one point in the past have been plowed under for farmland or clean-cut for the lumber and left to rejuvenate at its leisure. Woods are relatively small, just a few hundred acres.


Forests, throughout history, have had a bad reputation. Goldie-Locks wandered through the forest until she came upon a family of bears who didn't much like her for breaking into their home and vandalizing it. Little Red Riding Hood took a short cut through the forest to get to Grandma's house and met up with the big bad wolf. Hansel and Gretel became hopelessly lost in the forest and they met a witch, none too nice one, too. Lions, tigers and bears...wait, that's just on the way to Oz, so perhaps it doesn't really count. Werewolves, centaurs, giant spiders and...wait, that's in the forbidden forest at Hogwarts. That doesn't count either or does it?

Okay, you get the point. Forests are scary...or rather, they are said to be so. But why? Well, they tend to be rather dense, dark and eerie and extremely large tracts of land--like hundreds of thousands of acres big! Hence why it is so easy to get hopelessly lost in the forest, never to be seen again. Trees, usually of one or very few varieties, grow rather close together in forests. Those so-called old-growth forests, which is rather redundant--all forests consist of mostly old growth, after all-- are excessively dark and foreboding due to the dense canopy.

In the oldest forests--redwood and evergreen forests come to mind-- you'll see very little undergrowth. The sun doesn't get much of a chance to get through the virtually impenetrable canopy and so the forest floor is relatively bare except for extremely shade tolerant--and acidic loving plants in the case of evergreens-- plants, spindly saplings, broken branches and a thick layer of a lovely spongy mulch consisting of fallen needles or leaves from centuries past.

The same, however, does not go for rain forests, which are famous for the diversity within them. Rain forests should actually be called rain woods, but that just doesn't have a nice ring to it, I supposee. More aptly, they should be called jungles, but jungles are tropical in nature and not all rain forests are in the tropics.


This term may not be as well know to the average non-tree enthusiast, but that doesn't mean you ought not know it. A copse of trees refers to a small grouping of trees, much smaller than woods. Trees which have a tendency to grow in clumps are also called a copse. So, in essence, copse means clump of trees. A copse could be made up of a single variety of tree or a few kinds mixed in with some small undergrowth of bushes and perhaps flowers or vining plants. A copse would be what you'd call a group of trees on the edge of a property, not big enough to be rightly called a wood, but bigger than an average garden.


Coppice is usually grouped together with a copse, but they aren't exactly the same. Sometimes a coppiced tree is mistakenly called a copse because if it's a large grouping of coppiced trees it then becomes a copse. Actually, only one tree can be needed to create a copse-like area. One tree with an ever-expanding root system, always increasing in size--width wise anyway-- could eventually be big enough to take a over a sizable area. As these are generally smaller stature trees, some are confused with tall growing shrubs, native brush and/or wild brambles, but it's not really the same thing.

Coppicing of trees is a common practice in some regions where they wish to quickly harvest trees for several purposes. You can take some trees--Birch, Catalpa, Hazel and Yoshino Cherries are ready candidates for this-- and make them grow in a clump. To do this the main truck is cut down just a few inches above the roots, keeping the roots intact. The roots will be alive still and from them will grow several smaller trunks. This makes a coppiced tree, one which grows more so like a shrub. The deer around my yard do the coppicing of trees for me--blast them all!


Oh, but there are many kinds of groves. Citrus, Mango, bamboo, Pecan, Almond and other agricultural producing trees are grouped into groves. Grove, as you may have guessed, is simply a farm of one type of tree growing in regular rows and spaced uniformly. People mistakenly call one type of tree growing wild en mass as being a grove, but this would actually be a wood. I've been to these untamed groves and they are never growing in uniformly spaced rows nor are they alone. In the wild there is usually a vast variety of vegetation growing around and among trees. Groves, therefore, are man-made grouping of trees not found naturally occurring.

Now that I am no longer confused about all these tree grouping terms, I'm quite satisfied. Let's hope it helps you out too, or did I do all this for naught?


  1. hi Glory, great job, you did just fine. That is quite a satisfactory explanation of the different types of tree populations one may find outside your door, in the back field, or in the wilds. The term 'bush' is also used for wild, large forest areas, even though there are certainly millions of bushes and trees in the 'bush' area.
    Coppicing is used where repetitive harvesting of maintained wild forests are cared for, ie. to keep the Queen's estate forest neat and trimmed. Coppicing can be used to encourage clumping of trees ie. paper birch, ash trees, maples etc. specifically for landscaping and the coppice replacement growth will grow full-sized. Four or 6 trees grow around the trunk where one stood, -and they are faster-growing than planting new trees because of the already-established root system! I enjoyed your wandering through nature as usual, a nice break from winter! ":))

  2. A stand of trees is another term


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