Where is mahogany from?

Mahogany Tree Uses – Information About Mahogany Trees

The mahogany tree (Swietenia mahagnoni) is such a lovely shade tree that it’s too bad it can only grow in USDA zones 10 and 11. That means that if you want to see a mahogany tree in the United States, you’ll need to head to Southern Florida. These attractive, fragrant trees form rounded, symmetrical crowns and make excellent shade trees. For more information about mahogany trees and mahogany tree uses, read on.

Mahogany Tree Information

If you read information about mahogany trees, you’ll find them both interesting and attractive. The mahogany is a large, semi-evergreen tree with a canopy that casts dappled shade. It is a popular landscape tree in Southern Florida.

Mahogany tree facts describe the trees as being very tall. They can grow 200 feet in height with leaves some 20 inches long, but it’s more common to see them growing to 50 feet or less.

Mahogany tree information

suggests that wood is dense, and the tree can hold its own in strong winds. This makes it useful as a street tree, and trees planted in medians form attractive canopies overhead.

Additional Mahogany Tree Facts

Mahogany tree information includes a description of the blossoms. These heat-loving ornamentals produce small, fragrant clusters of flowers. The blossoms are either white or yellow-green and grow in clusters. Both male and female flowers grow on the same tree. You can tell male from female flowers because male stamens are tube-shaped.

The flowers bloom in late spring and early summer. Moths and bees love the flowers and serve to pollinate them. In time, woody fruit capsules grow in and are brown, pear-shaped and five inches long. They are suspended from fuzzy stalks in winter. When they split, they release the winged seeds that propagate the species.

Where Do Mahogany Trees Grow?

Where do mahogany trees grow, gardeners ask. Mahogany trees thrive in very warm climates. They are native to South Florida as well as the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The tree is also nicknamed Cuban mahogany and West Indian mahogany.

They were introduced into Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands over two centuries ago. Mahogany trees continue thriving in those places.

Mahogany tree uses vary from the ornamental to the practical. First and foremost, mahogany trees are used as shade and ornamental trees. They are planted in backyards, parks, on medians and as street trees.

The trees are also raised and felled for their hard, durable wood. It is used to make cabinets and furniture. The species is getting increasingly rare and has been added to Florida’s endangered species list.

Mahogany facts for kids

18th century card table in mahogany, American made18th century armchair, American made

Mahogany is a hard tropical wood from the Americas. It was discovered by Europeans early in the 16th century (~1514). The wood comes from a tree, Swietenia mahagoni. The tree is native to southern Florida and islands in the Caribbean including the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola.

At first, mahogany was used by the Spanish and English to build ships. Mark Catesby’s Natural History explains why:
” has properties for that use excelling oak, and all other wood, viz. durableness, resisting gunshots, and burying the shot without splintering”.

The second use for mahogany was to make furniture. The Spanish were first to do this, but in the 18th and early 19th century it was much used by English workshops. This period is called “Age of Mahogany”. Also much furniture in mahogany was made in France and other European countries.

It has a few special characteristics that make mahogany a helpful wood. It is strong and durable but easy to bend so is especially helpful for carpenters. Mahogany trees, although endangered, grow very tall and are so may be cut into large sheets. Also, mahogany is resistant to stains.

Description

The three species are:

  • Honduran or big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), with a range from Mexico to southern Amazonia in Brazil, the most widespread species of mahogany and the only true mahogany species commercially grown today.Illegal logging of S. macrophylla, and its highly destructive environmental effects, led to the species’ placement in 2003 on Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the first time that a high-volume, high-value tree was listed on Appendix II.
  • West Indian or Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), native to southern Florida and the Caribbean, formerly dominant in the mahogany trade, but not in widespread commercial use since World War II.
  • Swietenia humilis, a small and often twisted mahogany tree limited to seasonally dry forests in Pacific Central America that is of limited commercial utility. Some botanists believe that S. humilis is a mere variant of S. macrophylla.

While the three Swietenia species are classified officially as “genuine mahogany”, other Meliaceae species with timber uses are classified as “true mahogany.” (Only the Swietenia species can be called “genuine mahogany.”) Some may or may not have the word mahogany in their trade or common name. Some of these true mahoganies include the African genera Khaya and Entandrophragma; New Zealand mahogany or kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile); Chinese mahogany, Toona sinensis; Indonesian mahogany, Toona sureni; Indian mahogany, Toona ciliata; Chinaberry, Melia azedarach; Pink Mahogany (or Bosse), Guarea; Chittagong (also known as Indian Mahogany), Chukrasia velutina; and Crabwood Carapa guianensis. Some members of the genus Shorea (Meranti, Balau, or Lauan) of the family Dipterocarpaceae are also sometimes sold as Philippine mahogany, although the name is more properly applied to another species of Toona, Toona calantas.

Mahogany chair

Mahogany is a commercially important lumber prized for its beauty, durability, and color, and used for paneling and to make furniture, boats, musical instruments and other items. The leading importer of mahogany is the United States, followed by Britain; while the largest exporter today is Peru, which surpassed Brazil after that country banned mahogany exports in 2001. It is estimated that some 80 or 90 percent of Peruvian mahogany exported to the United States is illegally harvested, with the economic cost of illegal logging in Peru placed conservatively at $40–70 million USD annually. It was estimated that in 2000, some 57,000 mahogany trees were harvested to supply the U.S. furniture trade alone.

Mahogany is the national tree of the Dominican Republic and Belize. A mahogany tree with two woodcutters bearing an axe and a paddle also appears on the Belizean national coat of arms, under the national motto, Sub umbra floreo, Latin for “under the shade I flourish.”

Overview

History

The name mahogany was initially associated only with those islands in the West Indies under British control (French colonists used the term acajou, while in the Spanish territories it was called caoba). The origin of the name is uncertain, but it could be a corruption of ‘m’oganwo’, the name used by the Yoruba and Ibo people of West Africa to describe trees of the genus Khaya, which is closely related to Swietenia. When transported to Jamaica as slaves, they gave the same name to the similar trees they saw there. Though this interpretation has been disputed, no one has suggested a more plausible origin. The indigenous Arawak name for the tree is not known. In 1671 the word mahogany appeared in print for the first time, in John Ogilby’s America. Among botanists and naturalists, however, the tree was considered a type of cedar, and in 1759 was classified by Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) as Cedrela mahagoni. The following year it was assigned to a new genus by Nicholas Joseph Jacquin (1727–1817), and named Swietenia mahagoni.

Until the 19th century all of the mahogany was regarded as one species, although varying in quality and character according to soil and climate. In 1836 the German botanist Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini (1797–1848) identified a second species while working on specimens collected on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and named it Swietenia humilis. In 1886 a third species, Swietenia macrophylla, was named by Sir George King (1840–1909) after studying specimens of Honduras mahogany planted in the Botanic Gardens in Calcutta, India. Today, all species of Swietenia grown in their native locations are listed by CITES, and are therefore protected. Both Swietenia mahagoni, and Swietenia macrophylla were introduced into several Asian countries at the time of the restrictions imposed on American mahogany in the late 1990s and both are now successfully grown and harvested in plantations in those countries. The world’s supply of genuine mahogany today comes from these Asian plantations, notably from India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and from Fiji, in Oceania.

Species

Species of Swietenia cross-fertilise readily when they grow in proximity; the hybrid between S. mahagoni and S. macrophylla is widely planted for its timber.

In addition, the U.S. timber trade also markets various other Federal Trade Commission-defined species as mahoganies under a variety of different commercial names, most notably Philippine mahogany, which is actually from the genus Shorea, a dipterocarp. This wood is also called Lauan or Meranti.

History of American mahogany trade

Mahogany loggers in Belize, around 1930

In the 17th century, the buccaneer John Esquemeling recorded the use of mahogany or cedrela on Hispaniola for making canoes: “The Indians make these canoes without the use of any iron instruments, by only burning the trees at the bottom near the root, and afterwards governing the fire with such industry that nothing is burnt more than what they would have…”

The wood first came to the notice of Europeans with the beginning of Spanish colonisation in the Americas. A cross in the Cathedral at Santo Domingo, bearing the date 1514, is said to be mahogany, and Phillip II of Spain apparently used the wood for the interior joinery of the Escorial Palace, begun in 1584. However, caoba, as the Spanish called the wood, was principally reserved for ship building, and it was declared a royal monopoly at Havana in 1622. Hence very little of the mahogany growing in Spanish controlled territory found its way to Europe.

After the French established a colony in Saint Domingue (now Haiti), some mahogany from that island probably found its way to France, where joiners in the port cities of Saint-Malo, Nantes, La Rochelle and Bordeaux used the wood to a limited extent from about 1700. On the English-controlled islands, especially Jamaica and the Bahamas, mahogany was abundant but not exported in any quantity before 1700.

18th century

While the trade in mahogany from the Spanish and French territories in America remained moribund for most of the 18th century, this was not true for those islands under British control. In 1721 the British Parliament removed all import duties from timber imported into Britain from British possessions in the Americas. This immediately stimulated the trade in West Indian timbers including, most importantly, mahogany. Importations of mahogany into England (and excluding those to Scotland, which were recorded separately) reached 525 tons per annum by 1740, 3,688 tons by 1750, and more than 30,000 tons in 1788, the peak year of the 18th century trade.

At the same time, the 1721 Act had the effect of substantially increasing exports of mahogany from the West Indies to the British colonies in North America. Although initially regarded as a joinery wood, mahogany rapidly became the timber of choice for makers of high quality furniture in both the British Isles and the 13 colonies of North America.

Mahogany tree at Kannavam Forest, Kerala

Until the 1760s over 90 per cent of the mahogany imported into Britain came from Jamaica. Some of this was re-exported to continental Europe, but most was used by British furniture makers. Quantities of Jamaican mahogany also went to the North American colonies, but most of the wood used in American furniture came from the Bahamas. This was sometimes called Providence wood, after the main port of the islands, but more often madera or maderah, which was the Bahamian name for mahogany.

In addition to Jamaica and Bahamas, all the British controlled islands exported some mahogany at various times, but the quantities were not large. The most significant third source was Black River and adjacent areas on the Mosquito Coast (now Republic of Honduras), from where quantities of mahogany were shipped from the 1740s onwards. This mahogany was known as ‘Rattan mahogany’, after the island of Ruatan, which was the main offshore entrepot for the British settlers in the area.

At the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), the mahogany trade began to change significantly. During the occupation of Havana by British forces between August 1762 and July 1763, quantities of Cuban or Havanna mahogany were sent to Britain, and after the city was restored to Spain in 1763, Cuba continued to export small quantities, mostly to ports on the north coast of Jamaica, from where it went to Britain. However, this mahogany was regarded as inferior to the Jamaican variety, and the trade remained sporadic until the 19th century.

Another variety new to the market was Hispaniola mahogany, also called ‘Spanish’ and ‘St Domingo’ mahogany. This was the result of the 1766 Free Ports Act, which opened Kingston and other designated Jamaican ports to foreign vessels for the first time. The object was primarily to encourage importations of cotton from French plantations in Saint Domingue, but quantities of high quality mahogany were also shipped. These were then forwarded to Britain, where they entered the market in the late 1760s.

Mahogany fruit in situMahogany fruit and seeds

In terms of quantity, the most significant new addition to the mahogany trade was Honduras mahogany, also called ‘baywood’, after the Bay of Honduras. British settlers had been active in southern Yucatan since the beginning of the 18th century, despite the opposition of the Spanish, who claimed sovereignty over all of Central America.

Their main occupation was cutting logwood, a dyewood in high demand in Europe. The centre of their activity and the primary point of export was Belize. Under Article XVII of the Treaty of Paris (1763), British cutters were for the first time given the right to cut logwood in Yucatan unmolested, within agreed limits. Such was the enthusiasm of the cutters that within a few years the European market was glutted, and the price of logwood collapsed.

However, the price of mahogany was still high after the war, and so the cutters turned to cutting mahogany. The first Honduras mahogany arrived in Kingston, Jamaica, in November 1763, and the first shipments arrived in Britain the following year.

By the 1790s most of the viable stocks of mahogany in Jamaica had been cut, and the market was divided between two principal sources or types of mahogany. Honduras mahogany was relatively cheap, plentiful, but rarely of the best quality. Hispaniola (also called Spanish or Santo Domingo) mahogany was the wood of choice for high quality work.

Data are lacking, but it is likely that the newly independent United States now received a good proportion of its mahogany from Cuba. In the last quarter of the 18th century France began to use mahogany more widely; they had ample supplies of high quality wood from Saint Domingue. The rest of Europe, where the wood was increasingly fashionable, obtained most of their wood from Britain.

Recent history

The French Revolution of 1789 and the wars that followed radically changed the mahogany trade, primarily due to the progressive collapse of the French and Spanish colonial empires, which allowed British traders into areas previously closed to them. Saint Domingue became the independent republic of Haiti, and from 1808, Spanish controlled Santo Domingo and Cuba were both open to British vessels for the first time.

From the 1820s mahogany from all these areas was imported into Europe and North America, with the lion’s share going to Britain. In Central America British loggers moved northwest towards Mexico and south into Guatemala. Other areas of Central America as far south as Panama also began to be exploited.

The most important new development was the beginning of large scale logging in Mexico from the 1860s. Most mahogany was cut in the province of Tabasco and exported from a number of ports on the Gulf of Campeche, from Vera Cruz eastwards to Campeche and Sisal. By the end of the 19th century there was scarcely any part of Central America within reach of the coast untouched by logging, and activity also extended into Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil.

Trade in American mahogany probably reached a peak in the last quarter of the 19th century. Figures are not available for all countries, but Britain alone imported more than 80,000 tons in 1875. This figure was not matched again. From the 1880s, African mahogany (Khaya spp.), a related genus, began to be exported in increasing quantities from West Africa, and by the early 20th century it dominated the market.

In 1907 the total of mahogany from all sources imported into Europe was 159,830 tons, of which 121,743 tons were from West Africa. By this time mahogany from Cuba, Haiti and other West Indian sources had become increasingly difficult to obtain in commercial sizes, and by the late 20th century Central American and even South American mahogany was heading in a similar direction. In 1975 S. humilis was placed on CITES Appendix II followed by S. mahagoni in 1992. The most abundant species, S. macrophylla, was placed on Appendix III in 1995 and moved to Appendix II in 2003.

Uses

Mahogany has a straight, fine, and even grain, and is relatively free of voids and pockets. Its reddish-brown color darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable. Historically, the tree’s girth allowed for wide boards from traditional mahogany species. These properties make it a favorable wood for crafting cabinets and furniture.

Much of the first-quality furniture made in the American colonies from the mid 18th century was made of mahogany, when the wood first became available to American craftsmen. Mahogany is still widely used for fine furniture; however, the rarity of Cuban mahogany and over harvesting of Honduras and Brazilian mahogany has diminished their use.

Mahogany also resists wood rot, making it attractive in boat construction and outdoor decking. It is a tonewood, often used for musical instruments, particularly the backs, sides and necks of acoustic guitars, electric guitar bodies, and drum shells because of its ability to produce a very deep, warm tone compared to other commonly used woods such as maple or birch. Guitars featuring mahogany in their construction include Martin D-18, select Taylor Guitars, Gibson Guitars, Hagström.

Mahogany as an invasive species

In the Philippines, environmentalists are calling for an end to the planting of mahogany because of its negative impact on the environment and wildlife, including possibly causing soil acidification and no net benefit to wildlife.

Images for kids

  • A single seed of mahogany

  • Honduran mahogany

African mahogany – the ‘I don’t know’ tree

Written by: Catherine Browne

The SANBI National Botanical Gardens are full of wonderful stories to be told and fascinating species to see and learn about. Next time you are in one of these beautiful gardens in South Africa, take the time to stop and read the informative interpretation boards or chat to the gardeners.

Strolling around Kirstenbosch, you are likely to come across a very striking large tree next to the otter pond. Here we share some interesting facts about that tree: the African/red mahogany (Khaya anthotheca).

Red mahogany at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town ©Andrew Massyn

– Legend has it that an early botanist visiting Africa many years ago, saw this tree growing in a forest and asked his guide what it was called. The reply being ‘Khaya’ – which in the guide’s language meant ‘I don’t know’. The botanist, none the wiser, diligently wrote this down and the genus was named accordingly.

– The species name anthotheca means flower in a case – although it is the seeds that are found in a hardened wooden case.

– The African mahogany naturally grows at medium to low altitudes in evergreen forests and riverine fringe forests, so the one at Kirstenbosch is actually very far from home!

Young mahogany trees in Kiang West National Park/The Gambia ©Ikiwaner

– The African mahogany is often planted as a decorative shade tree for large gardens and parks. It is fast growing and needs deep fertile soil, as well as ample water in summer and spring.

– The ‘Big Tree’ of the Chirinda Forest in Zimbabwe is a Khaya anthotheca – reaching up to 60m tall.

Big Tree at Chirinda Forest in south-eastern Zimbabwe ©Bart Wursten

– This species is listed as Vulnerable, facing risk of extinction in the wild. It is heavily exploited for timber, particularly in East and West Africa, but some populations are being protected as in some countries log export is banned and/or felling is limited.

African mahogany logs in West Africa

– It is more than just a pretty face. The African mahogany yields one of the most important woods in many parts of Africa. It is hard, works easily and has a handsome grain. It also takes to fine polish, making it popular for furniture, flooring and panelling. It weathers well and is resistant to borers and termites.

African mahogany kitchen cabinets ©j l t

– The bark is bitter and used to treat colds, while the seed oil can be rubbed into the scalp to kill insects like lice.

– The ‘genuine’ mahogany comes from three trees in the genus Swietenia, native to the Americas but now also planted in Asia – also members of the mahogany family. There are 15 more mahogany family trees that yield comparable timber, such as Khaya and Entandophragma from Africa, Toona from India, China, Australia and Indonesia, and Dysoxylum from New Zealand.

Mahogany (Sweitenia sp., Khaya sp.)

Mahogany should be avoided unless it originates from non-old growth logging and is certifed by an organization accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council.
There are numerous species of mahogany and a number of other species of trees called mahogany in trade. Generally, “true” mahoganies are those in the genus Swietenia, the species of which are found throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. However, species from Africa in the genus Khaya are also considered mahoganies as they are distantly related.
There are four species of Sweitenia in Latin America: Caribbean mahogany (Swietenia mahogani), Honduran or Pacific Coast mahogany (Swietenia humilis), bigleaf or big-leafed mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and Venezuelan mahogany (Swietenia candollei). There is much confusion as to their common names, with bigleaf mahogany often being called true mahogany, geniune mahogany, South American mahogany or Honduran mahogany. Local common names include acajou and caoba.
The history of mahogany logging is linked inseparably to the history of colonialism. Prized originally by European furniture makers for its dark color, stability and ability to be scrolled without breaking, mahogany was first targeted shortly after Columbus invaded the New World.
The history of mahogany logging is also a history of deforestation in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The wave of logging that began in the 1500s and has expanded out from the original point of European invasion of the Americas and continues to this day is nearly identical to the expansion of the mahogany frontier.
Swietenia mahogani, known as Caribbean, Cuban or true mahogany, is found from the tip of southern Florida and throughout the West Indies. Swietenia humilis, known as Honduran mahogany, is found on the Pacific coastal region of Central America. Both of these species are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Flaura and Fauna, known as CITES. This means that countries trading in these species need to verify that sources are legal and sustainable and all trade must come with paperwork showing origin.
The majority of the trade in mahogany is currently bigleaf, S. macrophylla. This species is now listed on Appendix II of CITES after decades of lobbying by environmental groups and counter-lobbying by industry groups.


Natural range of bigleaf and Honduran mahogany in Central America.1

Bigleaf ranges from the north of the State of Veracruz to Yucatan in Mexico, along the north Atlantic slope of Central America to Venezuela and Brazil. It also occurs in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia at elevations of up to 4900 feet (1500 m), and on Cape Verde Islands.

Natural range of bigleaf and Honduran mahogany in Central America.2

Bigleaf mahogany is an emergent tree, growing to heights of over 150 feet and diameters of 6 feet. It is a sun-loving tree, rapidly growing in clearing and then reaching heights that take its crown above the canopy.

The US is the largest importer of mahogany by volume and by dollar value. US demand helped to decimate the populations of Caribbean and Honduran mahogany. Later, big-leafed mahogany was targeted, first mostly in Central America. US mahogany imports from around 1900 to 1960 were almost entirely from Belize and Mexico3. Mahogany in these countries has been reduced to third-rotation trees that are still being cut, often illegally, before they even mature.
US imports from 1960 to 2002 were largely from Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. Since Bolivia’s change in forestry law, exports of mahogany have fallen. From 1995 to 1998, U.S. imports from Bolivia decreased by two-thirds, while U.S. imports from Peru surged nearly fourfold4. Further, with Brazil’s recent crackdown on illegal mahogany logging (after decades of calls by environmental organizations) and Bolivia’s shift to mostly certified logging operations, since 2002, Peru has become the largest exporter to the US. Much of the logging there is illegal, as most of it was in Brazil and much of it in Bolivia.
In Peru, mahogany’s range has shrunk by 50%, and, within a decade, a further 28% will be logged out.5
A comprehensive profile of big-leaf mahogany can be found at Global Trees Campaign, http://www.globaltrees.org/reso_tree.asp?id=35.
African Mahogany
Typically Khaya ivorensis, but also other species in the Khaya genus are sold as African mahogany, including K. anthotheca, K. grandifoliola, and K. senegalensis.
Khayas are grand trees, reaching heights of 110 to 140 feet with trunk diameters of as much as 6 feet.
Khayas are found from the Ivory Coast to Gabon and Cabinda, and are primarily found in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria. The largest exporters to the US are Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum) is sometimes sold as African mahogany and ranges through Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire).
These species are heavily targeted by illegal loggers in Africa and as well, many of these countries allow for overlogging that is not sustainable. IUCN lists these species as vulnerable in much of their range, due to overlogging.
As well, logging in Africa is the key factor leading to a massive illegal trade in bushmeat that is devastating populations of endangered wildlife, including chimps, gorillas, pangolins and other animals. Loggers bulldoze new roads into pristine forests and bring along hunters with them to hunt meat for the logging crew. Those hunters kill extra and bring their catch back to the towns and cities using the logging trucks. Entire forests have been denuded of their large wildlife. See “Bushmeat: Logging’s Deadly 2nd Harvest” in our Articles section or download the article as a PDF by clickinghere.
One way to curtail this illegal trade is to reduce the demand for these woods.
Mahoganies are typically used for high-end indoor furniture, outdoor furniture, custom woodworking, foyers, entry doors, window frames, decking, caskets, humidors and craft items. The majority of US imports goes to the furniture industry with Stickley being one of the largest single importers, particularly for their Colonial Williamsburg line. Other companies using mahogany include Henredon, Lane, Drexel Heritage, Ethan Allen, Hickory Chair and many others.
Avoid these companies’ products and let them know why.
1. Based on Lamb, F.B. 1966. Mahogany of Tropical America: its Ecology and Management. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, MI, USA. 220 pp.; from Grogan, J., P. Barreto, A. Veríssimo. 2002. Mahogany in the Brazilian Amazon: Ecology and Perspectives on Management. IMAZON, Belém, Pará, Brazil. 58 pp. (.pdf in english and portuguese at www.imazon.org.br)
2. Ibid.
3. Traffic, Mahogany Matters: The U.S. Market for Big-Leafed Mahogany and Its Implications for the Conservation of the Species, October, 2000, http://www.traffic.org/mahogany/.
4. Ibid.
5. Kometter, R. F., M. Martinez, A. G. Blundell, R. E. Gullison, M. K. Steininger, and R. E. Rice. 2004. Impacts of unsustainable mahogany logging in Bolivia and Peru. Ecology and Society 9(1): 12. URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/art12/

mahogany

  • African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis)
  • African scented mahogany (Entandrophragma cylindricum)
  • American mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)
  • Australian mahogany (Dysoxylum rufum)
  • bastard mahogany (Eucalyptus botryoides or Matayba apetala)
  • birch-leaf mahogany, birch leaf mahogany, birchleaf mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides)
  • black mahogany (Swietenia humilis)
  • blue mahogany (Hibiscus elatus)
  • Brazilian mahogany (Cariniana legalis; Plathymenia foliolosa, Plathymenia reticulata)
  • brown mahogany (Lovoa swynnertonii)
  • Burma mahogany (Pentace burmanica)
  • cedar mahogany (Entandrophragma cylindricum)
  • cherry mahogany (Mimusops leckellii
  • Colombian mahogany (Cariniana pyriformis)
  • Cuban mahogany (Swietinia spp.)
  • desert mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)
  • Dominican mahogany (Swietinia mahogani)
  • dry zone mahogany (Khaya senegalensis)
  • Florida mahogany (Persea borbonia)
  • forest mahogany (Eucalyptus spp,)
  • gaboon mahogany (Aucoumea klaineana)
  • Gambia mahogany (Khaya senegalensis)
  • ground mahogany (Swietenia humilis)
  • Hawaiian mahogany (Acacia koa)
  • Honduras mahogany/Honduran mahogany (Swietenia humilis, Swietenia macrophylla)
  • horseflesh mahogany (Lysiloma sabicu)
  • Indian mahogany (Toona ciliata, Chukrasia velutina)
  • Madeira mahogany (Persea indica)
  • mahogany acid
  • mahogany bean (Seymeria quanzensis)
  • mahogany beebalm (Monarda didyma)
  • mahogany birch (Betula lenta)
  • mahogany browning
  • mahogany glider (Petaurus gracilis)
  • mahogany gum (Eucalyptus spp., esp. Eucalyptus marginata)
  • mahogany Japanese iris (Iris kaempferi)
  • mahogany lily (Lilium maculatum)
  • mahogany peony (Paeonia lactiflora)
  • monarda mahogany (Monarda didyma)
  • mahogany pine (Podocarpus totara)
  • mahogany rot
  • mahogany snapper (Lutanus mahogoni)
  • mahogany soap
  • mahogany tree from (Tlalocohyla loquax)
  • mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus spp.)
  • Natal mahogany (Trichila dregeana, Trichila emetica)
  • Pacific Coast mahogany (Swietenia humilis)
  • Philippine mahogany (Shorea spp., Heritiera javanica, Toona calantas)
  • Philipine red mahogany (Shorea negrosensis)
  • pink mahogany (Guarea cedrata)
  • pod mahogany (Seymeria quanzensis)
  • red mahogany (Eucalyptus resinifera, Khaya anthotheca)
  • Rhodesian mahogany (Guibourtia coleosperma, Afzelia quanzensis)
  • rose mahogany (Dysoxylum fraserianum)
  • rusty mahogany (Dysoxylum rufum)
  • Santos mahogany (Myroxylon balsanum)
  • sapele mahogany (Entandrophragma cylindricum)
  • scented mahogany (Entandrophragma cylindricum)
  • Senegal mahogany (Khaya senegalensis)
  • sipo mahogany (Entandrophragma utile)
  • small-leaved mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)
  • Spanish mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)
  • swamp mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta)
  • Tabasco mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)
  • to be under the mahogany
  • to put one’s legs under some one’s mahogany
  • true mahogany (Swietenia spp., esp. Swietenia mahogani)
  • West Indian mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)
  • white mahogany (Khaya anthotheca)
  • yellow mahogany (Dysoxylum parasiticum

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African Mahogany

Khaya anthotheca is a large deciduous tree capable of growing up to 50m in height often with buttress roots. On older trees the bark is fairly smooth, grey to brown and flakes off in round scales. The leaves are compound and reddish when young, turning green with age. Flowers appear as branched clusters, white and sweetly scented, the fruit is a spherical woody capsule revealing winged seeds.

This tree is native to tropical Africa from Sierra Leone eastwards to Uganda and Tanzania and southwards to Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Within its native range it occurs in riverine, groundwater, lowland and lower montane forests from 0 to 1500m.

This species provides one of the most important timber woods in Africa. The timber is moderately strong and quite light; it is easily worked and polishes well to give attractively coloured finished products. It is an excellent wood for decorative furniture, veneers, panels and plywood. As a result, the species is heavily exploited in East and West Africa for its valuable wood.

The bark and roots of K. anthoteca are also used medicinally to treat colds and coughs.

Regeneration is poor in places where parent trees are scarce and serious genetic erosion is thought to have occurred. Some sub-populations of this species have been protected and log export bans and felling limits have been put in place in various countries.

This species is involved in the BGCI project Enhancing tree conservation and forest restoration in Africa. This project aims to promote the use of indigenous and endangered tree species in forest restoration projects across Africa. The project is undertaking restoration trials involving this species. Further information and results from trials will be communicated in future on the GTC website. Read more about this project on the BGCI website.

Did you know?

The African zebrawood is one of 175 tree species native to Cameroon threatened with extinction.

Mahogany

The wood of mahogany is one of the most outstanding materials for the manufacturing of fine furniture. Mahogany wood is valued because it is durable and can be carved with intricate details. It has a deep, rich color, attractive grain, stains beautifully, and glues solidly onto manufactured products. Mahogany was first imported to Europe in 1724, and it soon became famous because of the gracefully ornate furniture that Chippendale, an English cabinet maker, began to make from the wood.

The most valuable raw product produced from mahogany wood is solid lumber, which can then be manufactured into expensive furniture and cabinets. However, solid mahogany is a very expensive material, and is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. As a result, much mahogany is now used to manufacture a veneer product, in which a core of inferior wood is covered with a thin layer of mahogany. This composite material is glued together, and combines many of the desirable qualities of mahogany, especially its beautiful grain and color, with the cost savings associated with the use of other, relatively inexpensive species of trees.

It’s gotta be the most confusing wood out there. Mahogany comes in many guises, including genuine, sapele, utile, Philippine, Spanish cedar, African and Fiji. In fact, some woods sold as mahogany aren’t even family members. For woodshop buyers, here are some notes that might help clarify the choices.

Genuine mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla): The most popular species actually has many other names, too. These include Honduras, Peruvian, Bolivian, American, South American and bigleaf. The “genuine” title comes from the fact that early cabinetmakers and shipwrights used this species exclusively until it began to get a little scarce, after which those industries both turned to African and Asian substitutes.

Genuine mahogany is among the most workable woods available, in part because of its legendary stability. It has relatively even coloring and grain characteristics within the same board, but the color from tree to tree can vary quite a bit. Boards in a bunk can range from gray to red, so check with the warehouse on color or sift through the rack if possible when buying. Hardness can also be an issue: this species roams in specific gravity from about 0.39 to 0.56, so it can be as soft as poplar or harder than hard maple.

Specific gravity is simply the difference between the weight of a cubic foot of a wood species and the weight of a cubic foot of water (62.38 lbs.) To calculate specific gravity, divide the weight of the wood by 62.38. Genuine mahogany, according to most sources, ranges between 24 and 35 lbs.

That huge variation in both color and hardness lets some suppliers substitute other less valuable species for genuine mahogany. Most notable among these is the relatively bland lauan, which is sold in the U.S. as Philippine mahogany. It is generally a little bit redder than the real thing and, while it is in itself a valuable material, lauan is simply not as attractive.

Genuine mahogany has a long history in both furniture and boatbuilding. It comes from a huge area of Central and South America, ranging from southern Mexico all the way through Brazil. The trees can be immense — up to 150 feet tall and more, with trunk diameters in mature trees at about 6 feet. Because of its stable nature, it can often be found in widths of 12” to 18”, and sometimes even wider. For example, wholesaler J. Gibson McIlvain usually stocks boards up to 35” wide.

Restrictions by the Brazilian and Bolivian governments on harvesting and exporting during the last few years have turned buyers’ attention to Peru, where a large amount of the native growth has been felled. However, this species is still in good supply at fairly reasonable prices. It is becoming less available, in large part because it doesn’t do well as a farmed species. Genuine mahogany grows naturally as individual trees (usually fewer than five trees to the acre). When concentrated on farms where volume is essential to profit (that is, where trees are planted close together), it becomes very susceptible to insect damage.

Speaking of harvesting, one close cousin of genuine mahogany, commonly known as Cuban mahogany, was harvested so heavily during the last 400 years that it is no longer a viable commercial timber and only rarely appears on the market.

Genuine mahogany carves, cuts and turns beautifully and it is a pleasure to finish, although in some applications it does need a little grain filling. It behaves well with stains and dyes, and the rich color gives furniture and cabinetry a luxurious tone.

African mahogany (Khaya ivorensis): This less expensive, but still beautiful, hardwood is found in a natural range that includes the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon in West Africa. If one thinks of Africa as being shaped like the handle of a pistol, these countries are all around the area where the trigger would be. The climate here is tropical and Cameroon is home to some of the wettest places on the planet with annual rainfall in the neighborhood of 400”. For perspective, the wettest spot in the continental U.S. is Aberdeen Reservoir in Washington, with about 130” annually.

All that heat and moisture delivers wood that has very consistent color and grain, with a light pink to deep red range of pigment. The word most commonly used to describe this species is “lustrous,” which dictionaries define as having a sheen, gleam or radiance. These adjectives are usually associated with light and African mahogany does seem to glow when finished, especially as light rakes across a wide surface. The interlocking grain is usually straight, but crotches and other figured areas can be downright dramatic. When working this species, it feels a little heavier and harder than genuine mahogany and its variegated grain can appear as ribbons of light and dark color. There is little aroma and few woodworkers have noted allergies to it, but it does have a reputation for reacting with ferrous (iron-based) metals, so consider your hardware choices carefully. It can leave blackish stains if a reaction takes place.

African mahogany is used in fine furniture and casework, architectural millwork, by luthiers for musical instruments, and also in window and door applications because, like genuine mahogany, it is quite resistant to water damage. In addition to ivorensis, the Khaya genus also includes several other commercially harvested species. Your wholesaler might offer anthotheca, grandifolia or senegalensis options, all of which are correctly described as African mahogany.

Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum): The third most popular option, sapele is a slightly smaller tree with mature diameters at about 4 to 5 feet. It grows right along the equator, from the Congo to Uganda, and also in Ghana and a few other spots in West Africa. Sapele is quite common as a veneer option for architectural millwork because of its dramatic light and dark ribbons when quartersawn. Machine dust from this species can be irritating, causing both skin and breathing problems, so a good dust collection system is a must. Despite that, it’s very popular because it costs only about half the price of genuine mahogany. It’s a relatively soft hardwood, a bit harder than other mahoganies, and it machines well.

Sapele is generally a little darker than other mahogany species, running more to brown than red. Flat-sawn boards are relatively uniform in color and grain, while quartersawn sapele is very distinctly striped. It can distort and move a little more than its cousins, too. The surface at times can be “hairy” because of the interlocked grain, and sanding can often produce better surfacing results than knives. A variant is pomelle sapele, which has a quilted surface that can reflect light in myriad directions, causing it to have exceptional depth and drama.

Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata): This species is a member of the mahogany family and is most definitely neither a softwood nor a cedar. It grows throughout most of South America and especially in a swath from Bolivia to Columbia and west to Peru.

In color and grain, Spanish cedar looks a lot like genuine mahogany, although they smell very different. The former has an aroma that is decidedly similar to fresh-cut cedar, especially when milled. It is used in casework and millwork and often finds a home as a liner for closets and chests because it repels insects. As it is both lightweight and stable, Spanish cedar is a good choice for canoes, small boat hulls, musical instruments and even carving stock. It works well outdoors and is quite reasonably priced. And even though it doesn’t weigh much, it’s fairly strong structurally so it can be used in furniture, especially pieces that reside on decks and patios.

Fiji mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla): There has been a turbulent and somewhat troubled history of harvesting mahogany in Fiji. Much of it seems to involve allegations of both government and corporate corruption, with landowners there claiming that questionable leases were used by the government to harvest not just lumber, but also the landowners’ profits. Last April, U.S. ambassador to Fiji Frankie Reid and representatives from the hardwoods industry attended the launch of Fiji Pure Mahogany, which is intended to ensure “sustainability, legality and the socially responsible use of this new hardwood brand.”

Fiji mahogany looks like a legitimate and sustainable alternative to more expensive native timber from both Africa and South America. There might still be some political issues attached to it that a woodshop might want to research, but for now some eminent U.S. corporations such as Gibson Guitar are already betting on this new brand.

Sipo (Entandrophragma utile): Often called simply utile, this species has been used in Europe for a long time as a mahogany substitute and is gaining popularity in the U.S. It is a relative of African mahogany that looks like a plain and somewhat darker version of sapele. It can be hard to dry in a kiln, but woodworkers like it because it behaves well around blades and that makes it a good choice for doors, windows and moldings. Utile has little bright flecks in it that reflect light.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue.

Botanical Name:

Eucalyptus pellita

Common Name:

    Red Mahogany

AKA:

    Red Stringybark, Daintree Stringybark (Qld), Red Messmate (Qld), Eucalyptus resinifera

Type:

    Hardwood

Appearance

Red Mahogany is a beautiful timber, displaying a range of deep red and pale pink hues. The grain is uniform and somewhat course and can be interlocked, producing a stunning figure.Generally the heartwood is a deep, rich red in colour but it may be lighter in younger material. The timber’s sapwood is paler and clearly distinct from the heartwood. Tight gum veins, gum deposits and pinhole borer discolouration occasionally augment the appearance of the timber and pencil streak is common.

Common Applications

Red Mahogany’s durability, hardness and distinctive colouring make it one of the most versatile of timbers. The engineering applications of Red Mahogany as a sawn and round timber can be seen in wharf and bridge construction, railway sleepers, cross arms, poles, piles, mining timbers. As sawn timber for construction purposes it is used in general house framing, cladding, internal and external flooring, linings, joinery, fencing, landscaping, including use in retaining walls, although it is less ideal for use in contact with the ground.

One of its finest uses is for decorative purposes, in the manufacture of quality indoor and outdoor furniture. It is also prized for turnery. Red Mahogany’s versatility can be seen further in its use in boat building (keel and framing components, planking), coach, vehicle and carriage building, agricultural machinery and in structural plywood.

Common Form

Sawn

Workabiity

For a dense timber that is very hard, Red Mahogany is relatively easy to work and machine with both hand and power tools. It can be satisfactorily dried using conventional air and kiln seasoning.

The heartwood is highly resistant to termites and the softwood susceptible to lyctid borer. The sapwood readily accepts preservative impregnation but penetration of heartwood is negligible using currently available commercial processes.

No difficulty has been experienced when using standard fittings and fastenings. As with most highly dense species, machining and surface preparation should be done immediately before gluing. The species holds both nails and staples well.

Finishing the timbers is possible through a range of methods. The timber accepts paint and stain and is one of the best eucalypts for painting since the wood has good resistance to surface checking. It develops a lovely finish when polished.

Architectural Roof Trusses

Architectural timber roof trusses create strong visual impact. Often used as part of ‘cathedral ceiling’ systems, timber can be specified light or heavy to suit the chosen theme and style. On finish, they can be left natural or may be oiled, stained, painted or highly decorated. Choice is limited only by individual style and design preferences.

External Cladding

The natural appeal, versatility and strength of timber makes it the superior choice for external cladding. Through specification, planning, design and finishing processes, timber cladding not only creates a building of superior strength, acoustic and thermal performance but also creates a place of beauty, style and natural appeal.

Fencing

When it comes to fencing, timber is your natural choice. A material that is durable, strong and reliable it compliments almost every outdoor landscape and environment. Clear specification, detailed installation and appropriate maintenance will see any timber fence provide a natural and lasting property boundary and back drop for years to come.

Flooring

Whether for structural or finished flooring applications, timber offers durability, versatility and adaptability. The warmth, strength and natural beauty of timber flooring has proved enduringly popular in a wide variety of interior settings.

Framing

Since people began building simple shelters, wooden framing has played an important role in shaping structures of many kinds. One of the most popular types of wooden framing is known as lightweight timber construction.

Internal Panelling

Timber paneling creates interiors as warm as they are stylish. Commonly utilising an MDF or plywood substrate, internal timber paneling is natural and versatile and comes as either solid natural timber panels or as sheets of engineered wood products

Retaining Walls (Landscaping)

When it comes to retaining wall, landscape design and construction, timber is the natural choice. A material that is durable, sturdy and reliable, it boasts natural aesthetics that help it blend seamlessly with the outdoors. Careful consideration during the specification and design process will facilitate the creation of a long lasting, durable and eye catching timber retaining wall that will complement its surrounding landscape for years to come.

Shear Walls

Lateral loads such as wind or earthquake on framed timber buildings – either post and beam or stud and joist – need to be resisted and shear walls and diaphragms offer an effective and economical solution.

Structural Timber Posts

Timber poles are utilised in structural construction to provide support for gravity loads and resistance against lateral forces. Not only serving a structural function, timber poles provide many aesthetic benefits, with their use in construction often complementing architectural designs aimed at harmonisation with the natural environment.

Timber Joinery Products

Timber joinery products offer a classic, unique and stylish touch to any interior design.

Timber Mouldings

Mouldings are extremely versatile and durable, enhancing the aesthetics of any interior and functioning as the icing on the cake for designs with a focus on beauty and splendour.

Timber Portal Frames

For buildings that require large spans and column free interiors, timber portal frames provide one of the most aesthetically pleasing solutions. Utilising modern engineering technology, portal frame design transforms timber into a highly effective, efficient and economical structural product. This application guide provides a comprehensive overview of the process of using timber in the specification, fabrication and erection of portal frame structures.

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