MAHOGANY is a kind of wood —the straight-grained , reddish-brown
timber of three tropical hardwood species of the genus _
indigenous to the
Americas , 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
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
Toona ciliata _; Chinaberry, _
Melia azedarach _; Pink
Mahogany (or Bosse), _
Guarea _; Chittagong (also known as Indian
Chukrasia velutina _; and Crabwood _
Carapa guianensis _.
Some members of the genus _
Shorea _ (Meranti, Balau, or Lauan) of the
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
* 1 Overview
* 1.1 Distribution
* 1.2 History
* 2 History of American mahogany trade
* 2.1 18th century
* 2.2 Recent history
* 3 Uses
Mahogany as an invasive species
* 5 References
* 6 External links
The natural distribution of these species within the
geographically distinct. _S. mahagoni_ grows on the West Indian
islands as far north as the Bahamas, the Florida Keys and parts of
Florida; _S. humilis_ grows in the dry regions of the Pacific coast of
Central America from south-western Mexico to Costa Rica; _S.
macrophylla_ grows in Central America from
Yucatan southwards and into
South America, extending as far as Peru, Bolivia and extreme western
Brazil. In the 20th century various botanists attempted to further
define _S. macrophylla_ in South America as a new species, such as _S.
candollei_ Pittier and _S. tessmannii_ Harms., but many authorities
consider these spurious. According to Record and Hess, all of the
mahogany of continental North and South America can be considered as
one botanical species, _
Swietenia macrophylla_ King.
The name mahogany was initially associated only with those islands in
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
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 _
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
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
Indonesia and from
Fiji , in Oceania.
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
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
mahogany was abundant but not exported in any quantity before 1700.
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
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
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
which was the main offshore entrepot for the British settlers in the
At the end of the Seven Years\' War (1756–63), the mahogany trade
began to change significantly. During the occupation of
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
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
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. A single seed of mahogany
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
Belize . Under Article XVII of the Treaty of Paris (1763),
British cutters were for the first time given the right to cut logwood
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Honduras and Brazilian mahogany has diminished their
Mahogany also resists wood rot, making it attractive in boat
construction. 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 .
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.
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