Mahogany Wood Explained
Mahogany is a straight-grained, reddish-brown timber of three tropical hardwood species of the genus Swietenia, indigenous to the Americas and part of the pantropical chinaberry family, Meliaceae.
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 members of the genus Swietenia 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 (African mahogany) and Entandrophragma (sapele mahogany); 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 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.”
The specific gravity of mahogany is 0.55.