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What causes the "birds'-eye maple" pattern in wood?

COUNTRYSIDE: During a recent visit to the Queen Mary which is docked and on display in Long Island, California, we noticed the beautiful birds'-eye maple veneer in the elevators. The World Book says it is a mystery why some maple trees develop this wood. Does anyone know what causes birds'-eye maple?

We currently own approximately 20 acres of hillside located in southern Illinois and would like some advice on how to turn this into a forestry project to create such beautiful wood.--George & Susan H., Missouri

Maple trees grow in many areas, including the Great Lake States, Appalachians, northwest United States, and Canada. The official tree of several states including Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and New York, Sugar maple grows to a height of 70 to 120 feet, with a diameter of about 24 to 36 inches.

The figure in a birds'-eye maple log resembles somewhat the figure in a burl. It contains a small eye like that of a burl, but it is more distinct. In a burl, the eye is surrounded by a series of clusters, but in birds'-eye maple each eye stands out separately.

There has long been a discussion as to what causes the birds'-eye figure in maple. The accepted belief today is that it is caused by a stunted growth. It is found in trees where the growth has been the slowest--always on the north-east slopes of hills and in trees that have been hemmed in on all sides in the forest, where the tree has had little light and air.

Careful studies made over a period of many years in marking trees have shown that when a tree that had been among a large number of trees has been left to stand alone after the clearing away of the other trees, and when, after 20 years or more, this tree was cut down and brought into the veneer mill and manufactured, it would yield plain veneer for the number of years it was left out in the open, but had developed the birds'-eye figure during the years it lacked space and sunshine.

The wood is heavy, hard, strong, close-grained, and stiff with a uniform texture. Because of these qualities, it's excellent for furniture applications. Sources:

* woods/25.html

* www.exotichardwoods-north
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Title Annotation:The wood shed
Author:Missouri, George; Missouri, Susan H.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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