What causes Bird’s Eye Maple

Today it seems like we are just a google search away from the answer to anything. This is simply not true. Even seemingly ordinary things can perplex scientists for years. Take Bird’s Eye wood grain for example. It’s a type of wood grain that has been found in only a few tree species including White Ash, Cuban Mahogany, American Beech, Black Walnut, Huon Pine, Yellow Birch, and Hard Maple. However Bird’s eye grain forms most commonly in Maple that grows in the great lakes area of North America but also appears in the Rocky Mountains. Interestingly, Huon Pine Bird’s eye is found only in Tasmania.

Researchers still do not know the exact cause of this phenomenon that happens in only 1% of the tree species’ population. Researchers can only hypothesize that the mix of conditions like soil, climate, genetic mutation, fungus, or insects is the cause. The leading hypothesis is that the bird’s eye formations are caused when the tree attempts to produce new shoots to capture more sunlight—but poor growing conditions force the tree to abort the new growth which leaves small “knots” in their place. These small “knots” are what gives the wood its nickname.

At one point Bird’s eye figure was considered firewood because the woodworking machinery was not advanced enough to cut the grain smoothly. This produced chipped and rough products that were undesirable. Old bird’s eye maple furniture is rare because it would take a skilled craftsman to work the wood without chipping or leaving a rough grain. Now with our advances in woodworking machinery we can cut the wood smoothly, showing its beautiful grain. Bird’s eye maple has become a prized and expensive wood because of its rarity and beauty.

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