Plant World

Plant Diversity

In what ways are gymnosperms economically important?

Gymnosperms account for approximately 75 percent of the world’s timber and a large amount of the wood pulp used to make paper. In North America the white spruce, Picea glauca, is the main source of pulpwood used for newsprint and other paper. Other spruce wood is used to manufacture violins and similar string instruments because the wood produces a desired resonance. The Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, provides more timber than any other North American tree species and produces some of the most desirable lumber in the world. The wood is strong and relatively free of knots. Uses for the wood include house framing, plywood production, structural beams, pulpwood, railroad ties, boxes, and crates. Since most naturally occurring areas of growth have been harvested, the Douglas fir is being grown in managed forests. The wood from the redwood Sequoia sempervirens is used for furniture, fences, posts, some construction, and has various garden uses.

In addition to the wood and paper industry, gymnosperms are important in making resin and turpentine. Resin, the sticky substance in the resin canals of conifers, is a combination of turpentine, a solvent, and a waxy substance called rosin. Turpentine is an excellent paint and varnish solvent but is also used to make deodorants, shaving lotions, medications, and limonene—a lemon flavoring used in the food industry. Resin has many uses; it is used by baseball pitchers to improve their grip on the ball and by batters to improve their grip on the bat; violinists apply resin to their bows to increase friction with the strings; dancers apply resin to their shoes to improve their grip on the stage.


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