Relative to crop plants, the domestication of forest trees is still in its infancy. For example, the domestication of many crop plants was initiated some 10 000 years ago in the so-called ‘Fertile Crescent’ of the Middle East. By contrast, the domestication of forest trees for the purposes of producing more fibre began in earnest in the last half century. The application of biotechnology to forest trees offers a great potential to hasten the pace of tree improvement for desirable end uses. This review outlines some of the progress that has been made in the application of biotechnology to forest trees, and considers the prospects for biotechnologically based tree improvement in the future.