Mahogany is one of the most popular varieties of hardwood, used in creating furniture, musical instruments, boats, and other items. In this DecorDezine article, we will look at the types of mahogany wood that are derived from various species of trees, and find out what differentiates one from the other.
Since the 1950s, the amount of mahogany trees that have been cut down have increased to such an extent that in a few years, the only mahogany trees left in the world will be found in plantations. Taking steps towards conserving these trees, and purchasing only legally sourced lumber will go a long way in saving these beautiful species for the future generations.
Mahogany trees are primarily found in areas with tropical climates, such as America, Africa, Philippines, etc., with each area producing a different species with varying characteristics. They are ideal for building a number of items, such as ships, furniture, etc., due to which these trees have been felled in large numbers for hundreds of years, making them endangered across the globe, and even extinct at a few locations.
Mahogany actually refers to four different species of hardwood trees, three of which are primarily found in the Americas, while one is found in Africa. There are also many other species of trees that are sold as false mahoganies to increase their value. Let us study each of these wood types in a little more detail.
Types of Mahogany Wood
Found primarily in Central America and Mexico, the Honduras mahogany (Swietenia humilis) is a very popular mahogany species that has a very vibrant color and grain pattern. This makes it a very good choice for creating furniture and wood carvings. The wood also has a high dimensional stability and quality of resonance. Therefore, it is widely used in the manufacture of musical and scientific instruments. Nowadays, finding a fully grown specimen of this tree type is quite rare. Hence, the Honduras mahogany is now a protected but endangered species.
Also known as Spanish mahogany, true mahogany, etc., the Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahogani) is a species that has been exploited by European settlers since the 15th century. The beautiful, deep red color of this hardwood species and its high resistance to rot, made it very popular for constructing ships and furniture. The lumber trade exploited this mahogany species so badly that the mahogany forests of Cuba disappeared completely. Today, only a small number of trees exist near Florida and parts of Central America, and trees of commercial sizes are exceedingly rare.
Today, most mahogany lumber in America is derived from big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) trees. Although the wood from this tree is lighter than the other species of mahogany, it is equally strong and rot resistant, increasing its commercial value for creating, doors and windows, which is accentuated even more by staining and finishing. Originally, the wood of this tree was exported from Peru, Brazil, and Bolivia to the U.S. However, during the past decade, restrictions in logging mahogany trees in Brazil and Bolivia has led to immense pressure on the Peruvian mahogany forests. Over half the mahoganies in Peru have now disappeared.
Also known as the Khaya mahogany (Khaya ivorensis), this mahogany species is native to the rainforest regions of Africa, majority of which is found in Ghana and Cameroon. Although known by most people as a true mahogany, it is a distant cousin to its American counterparts. The lumber from these trees are lighter in color than the American mahoganies. This tree is known for is unique patterns which show the rays of the trees, apart from the annual rings. However, these trees have a coarse, interlocking grain pattern that looks and feels heavier than American mahoganies. Therefore, these trees are not as commercially valuable.
The high demand and the scarcity of true mahogany lumber has created a market for false mahoganies. These trees provide lumber that look and feel similar to mahogany, and they are often named as such. Let us discuss a few of these species below.
This tree is a softwood variety that appears similar to mahogany. Its reddish brown wood may have streaks of gum in the grain. It is widely found across south America and some parts of Ghana and Ivory Coast. Due to its high resistance to termites and rot, it is popular for creating both indoor and outdoor furnishings.
Found in many regions across Africa, this dark reddish brown wood is a cheaper alternative to true mahoganies. It is very similar in appearance and feel to other mahoganies, making it very popular in the furniture trade.
This is another popular alternative to genuine mahoganies. It is well-known for its beautiful dark brown color, which usually appears with tight flecks, that give the wood a sparkling appearance. It is used widely in manufacturing musical instruments and furnishings.
This tree is primarily grown in the Philippines, and is similar to mahogany wood in texture and grain patterns. So, it is marketed in the U.S. as Philippine mahogany, and is sold as a cheaper alternative to genuine mahogany.
East Indian Mahogany
Also known as Chittagong wood or white cedar, this tree is native to countries in Southeast Asia. It has a beautiful dark brown shade and is used for building furniture and in construction purposes, such as planks, beams, etc.
This tree is also called andiroba or crabwood. It has wood varieties that range from light to dark brown. It is used in the manufacture of musical instruments, as tonewoods. Other mahoganies include New Zealand mahogany, rose mahogany, brown mahogany, mountain mahogany, etc.
If the present rate of cutting these mahogany species continues unabated, after a few decades, only plantation-bred mahogany hybrids will be available for use. These hybrids have different grain patterns and lack the appeal that the originals possess, reducing its value. To prevent this, many alternative materials are being used wherever the use of mahoganies is not absolutely essential.