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The Best Species for Coppice Forestry

It seems almost miraculous: you cut a tree down to its stump, and a couple years later it has grown several meters high once again. Like that mythical dragon who grows two heads for every one you cut off, there are dozens of different species of trees who have an incredible ability to regrow after severe cutting.

Coppice forestry, the practice of cutting certain species of trees down to their stump to harvest for firewood or wood for other purposes and then allowing these stumps to send up new growth has been practiced for thousands of years. Henry VIII, the king of England in the mid-1500´s, issued a statute that required woodsmen to fence in patches of woodland that had recently been cut down. This fence would prevent wild animals from feeding on the young shoots of the new growth of the recently cut trees until they had grown sufficiently strong.

The Possibilities of Coppice Forestry

While coppice forestry has mainly been used a sustainable form of woodland management that allows forests to naturally recover, there are several uses for coppice forestry practices. In the Mayan areas of Guatemala, several farmers practice a rotational planting system based on coppice forestry. Several endemic species of nitrogen fixing trees that regrow when cut down to their stump are planted throughout the cardamom plantations. Cardamom is the main cash crop destined for export. After close to a decade of production, however, the cardamom is removed, the quickly growing trees are cut down, and annual crops of corn, beans, yucca, and squash are planted for 2 to 3 years. Once the shade trees have grown sufficiently high to make annual crops unfeasible, cardamom is once again planted to begin the cycle once again.

This rotational crop cycle allows small farmers to maintain sufficient subsistence production for their own food needs while also maintaining a cash crop that brings in a healthy profit. At the same time, the continuous stand of nitrogen fixing coppice trees aids in the maintenance of the long term fertility of the lands. The soil that is depleted of nutrients after a couple seasons of annual crops quickly regains its vitality and resilience after close to a decade of leaf fall under the quickly growing forest.

In other parts of the world, coppice forestry allows farmers and woodsmen to develop and market unique wood products for niche markets. One small farmer I know harvests small shoots of black locust from his coppice forestry management system. Since the shoots of black locust generally grow straight from the stump, he harvests several of these small shoots, dries them, and sells them to a local hardware store as replacement handles for shovels, hoes, and other garden equipment.

Lastly, coppice forestry practices also offer an abundant source of organic matter for small farmers. On my own farm, we have planted several species of trees that respond well to coppice forestry practices throughout our farm. In many areas, where we don´t want excessive growth to shade out the orchards or other crops, we heavily prune these trees to maintain them about bush size. The cuttings from these trees are passed through a small wood chipper offering us an abundant source of mulch to encourage microbial and fungal growth at the base of our orchard trees.

The Best Species for Coppice Forestry

While there are dozens of different species that respond well to coppicing or pollarding (cutting the trees higher up on the trunk to allow for regrowth), the best species for you will depend on the climate and the specific conditions where you are located. Below we look at a few of the best tree species for coppice forestry practices.

Alder: The alder species is a quickly growing, nitrogen-fixing tree that offers quality wood for fuel. When interspaced throughout orchards, alder trees offer an abundant source of nitrogen to the system. Several species of alder can also be maintained as thick bushes to not shade out other crops. The coppiced wood that is harvested from alder trees makes for a great fuel source.

Black Locust: Another nitrogen fixing tree species, black locust is some of the hardest wood available which is excellent as a fuel source. The abundant flowers on black locust also attract several pollinating insects onto your land.

Elderberry: This is one of the few tree species that is both a food source and a good candidate for coppice forestry practices. The small berry clusters of the elderberry are extremely high in nutrients and vitamins and are known to strengthen the immune system. The wood is relatively soft and can easily be passed through a wood chipper for an abundant source of mulch.

Willow: Willow trees are known for their quick growth, especially in wet areas and along streams and rivers. When coppiced, willow branches can be used for artisan basket weaving or also as a source of mulch.

Chestnut: Chestnut trees have long been coppiced throughout the world. The wood is of high quality while also providing an edible nut.

Other tree species that adapt well to coppicing or pollarding include ash, elm, oaks, and several others. With the right management, coppice forestry can offer several different functions to your overall land design.

Tobias Roberts

After working in the development industry for over a decade, Tobias decided it was time to stop advising Central American farmers how to do things if he didn´t have a piece of land to live coherently with what he taught. Together with his family he runs a small agro-forestry farm, tourism cooperative, and natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador.


  1. Dont forget icecream beans (Inga). Edible fruit and seeds, excellent fodder and mulch, nitrogen fixing and phosphorus accumulating and they respond well to pollarding.

    1. Yes, fantastic in the American tropics, where it is often planted in cofffee plantations to provide seasonal shade for coffee production. Upper branches are severely cut back in flowering season to provide full sun to the coffee. The branches grow back during the growing season, providing the partial shade that coffee plants thrive on later in the season. The trimmings provide excellent firewood; it’s easy to split and burns hot.

  2. Probably would have been useful to put “temperate” in the title, there is a whole bunch of legume trees that are very useful in semiarid, and tropical settings !

  3. It will be nice to have a similar article but with tropical or subtropical trees. As Shane said before, Inga is one of them.

  4. I’m putting in a word for species local to the area. If I were setting up a sustainable fuelwood forestry farm I’d be checking out what coppices well in the locality. In New England (New South Wales) a local species of stringy bark Eucalypt (E. laevopinea) was fantastic. Casuarina such as C. cunninghamiana respond well too.

    1. can anyone tell me which, between willow and mulberry, has more advantages and produces more biomass?

      I’m trying to make a small hillside area productive, used for about thirty years as a chicken coop by my parents. the land has some fruit trees including a mulberry tree planted about thirty years ago, and a willow tree that is somewhat in the shade and is more or less the same age. In recent days I took branches from the willow and started to plant them in rows with the intention of making them gradually become small walls to raise small terraces, as well as use them for chop and drop in order to start improving the soil to make us a fod forest. I chose willow because the soil is very clayey and in winter with the rain it becomes a marshy sponge in some places, it is also one of the trees with the fastest growth and can be pruned aggressively. When my uncle asked me what I was doing, at my explanation he said “you can plant mulberries!”, But I didn’t think they could be used for those purposes. However, being receptive to the suggestions, noting how large the mulberry has become and how difficult it is to eradicate being attracted by the possibility of making fruit and jam tarts (as well as letting my loving and chubby maids feast on wings), I I am looking for information, discovering that mulberry lends itself well to coppicing, provides a lot of biomass and, in addition to the excellent fruits, the leaves are also protein and suitable for animal and human consumption.

      So I was wondering if there is any comparative study on the speed of growth of willow compared to mulberry and which of the two has more advantages. While the willow tree I consider it a temporary plant, to be used only to improve the soil, build elevations and take advantage of the stagnant water that is created, the mulberries could leave them permanently to use the fruits and it attracts me much more.

      1. How are you mulberry plans going? I’m looking to establish a mixed coppice system in SW England, and very interested in a mulberry, alder, hazel, willow mix. Thx Freddie

  5. Very interesting info. Thanks. 2 comments though. Firstly;If you coppice chestnut you don’t get no nuts! (You do get fencing poles, good firewood, bean poles, slats, building materials.) Secondly; It is traditional not to burn elder wood, and the gypsies say it’s harmful to do so. Can’t remember why but I’m sure there’s a good reason.

    1. The problem you are referring to may be cyanide poisoning. I believe there are a number of woody plants where this is a possibility.

    2. I have heard that when elder burns it produces poisonous chemicals, hence the folklore about not bringing it into the house or burning it

    3. Anna Powell,
      Respectfully, please refrain from using the slang “gypsy” to describe an ethnic group. It’s a racial slur imposed on the Roma people by Europeans. You may not have known, but it’s a hurtful word. Here’s a good article on the matter, if you’re open to learning more.

      Thanks for the excellent post on Coppice Agroforestry! I’ll be citing a piece of this for an essay on regenerative agriculture.

  6. Hi…thanks for the article. My apple and fig trees do the same thing. I also cut branches of certain trees and replant them straight to the ground to create dedicated coppicing areas. I also go to my local forest and coppice certain places to allow for more light in, which in turn boosts the biodiversity and creates movement…

  7. I’m late to this conversation, but I wonder if anyone knows about camphor trees and coppicing? Currently, I prefer to not have the continued growth on a camphor stump, but I wonder if the growth has any use?

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