An apparently rather straightforward word, woodland is in fact a richly ambiguous landscape term that is used both as an overarching term for all wooded lands (forests, timberlands, plantations, even orchards) and to indicate a subcategory of forest—a subcategory itself quite ambiguous, but perhaps most simply described as sparsely wooded land with an open canopy in which the crowns of trees do not touch. (The full extent of the variations of the term woodland may be enjoyed in the numerous pages devoted to the term in a report generated by a United Nations conference convened to “harmonize forest-related terms.”) Attempting to distinguish woodlands from forests, forest professionals use several gauges, including crown cover, projective foliage, and the richness of life on the floor. Very generally, a woodland is not less than ten acres, with a vibrant carpet of herbs, grasses, mosses, ferns, and shrubs, and a canopy of between ten to thirty percent projective foliage cover. (An open forest has thirty to seventy percent; a closed forest more than seventy percent.) Woodlands can be broadleaf or coniferous, and are further identified by the dominant tree species. Taken together, the spacing of trees and the principal type of tree determine the amount of sunlight that penetrates the canopy; which in turn influences the richness of plant, animal, and insect life within a particular woodland. Thousands of American places are named after woodlands. Some, like The Woodlands in Houston and Woodland Pond Park in Bend, Oregon, refer to actual wooded surroundings. Many more places— including schools, churches, subdivisions, cemeteries, shopping malls, and whole towns—are given the name Woodland for a sylvan quality more longed for than real.

Emily Hiestand