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Mahogany Tree

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 4 months ago
Large Leaved Mahogany-Next to be Extinct?

Description and Rationale


There are many various species of Mahogany.  The Honduras Mahogany tree is only one name used to describe any tree in the category Swietenia macrophylla, though its location is not limited to Honduras.  It is an extremely valuable resource which has become largely endangered due to logging, much like its predecessors which are now commercially extinct.  It is used in furniture, wood carvings, and even high quality instruments such as guitars and drums.


The Honduras Mahogany tree has many different uses and is an especially widely exploited plant in wood projects.  It is a remarkably dense hardwood that is quite valuable in the market.  But due to deforestation and such problems it has become an endangered species in the Philippines. Mahogany does provide income for many people in that it is cut down for lumber and those who craft it to construct products also benefit.


Though the obvious benefits of preserving the Honduras Mahogany tree are getting more lumber and maintaining biodiversity, what other uses can be found?  Possibly could it be found that medicines or other useful goods can be derived from its products?  It is definitely useful as lumber for various wood crafting projects.  What about the bark?  Can its use be extended beyond what is understood now?  


The first steps in this project will be to achieve a greater understanding of the Honduras Mahogany through research of its biology, known uses, location, etc.  Perhaps if there is a worker known of who is involved with the Honduras Mahogany that person may provide some information as well through an interview.


Hopefully through the information gathered and used the Honduras Mahogany will be a tree that is preserved through time and may have further uses than are currently recognized.



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Common Names and Synonyms

One of the primary species of Mahogany located in the Philippines is known as Honduras Mahogany, which is one of the highest qualities of Mahogany.  Other names for Honduras Mahogany are Baywood, genuine or true mahogany, large-leafed mahogany, Caoba in Latin America, and Acajou in French speaking countries.



Kingdom:  Plantae....................................Plants

Phylum:    Tracheophyta...........................Vascular plants

Class:       Magnoliopsida.........................Dicotyledones

Order:       Sapindales..............................Rue family, Mahogany family, Soapberry family

Family:      Meliaceae................................Mahogany family

Genus:      Swietenia Jacq........................Mahogany

Species:    Swietenia macrophylla King......Large Leaved Mahogany


In the family of Mahoganies there are many different species and varieties of either true mahogany or simply named Mahogany because of similarities in appearance or workability, though often the quality is less.  One such group is known as Philippine Mahogany, which is similar in appearance, but a lesser quality wood.  Also, because Mahogany is in such demand as a cabinet and furniture wood, alternative species are often explored to become the primary source of Mahogany such as African Mahogany.  These alternatives are all true Mahogany.




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Morphology and Physical Description


Honduras Mahogany can reach up to forty meters in height, and slightly under one meter in diameter.  Its leaves are paripinnate (meaning they are even pinnate), opposite, and anywhere from thirty-fifty cm long. The flowers that grow on it are yellowish white.  


There is one main trunk with the branches spreading to form a canopy at the top.


At a young age the bark is grey, and smooth, but when it grows older it becomes ridged, and turns to a dark brown color.


Both the grain pattern and color are variable in the mahogany.  When it is freshly cut the color may be brighter red, or yellow, though with exposure and aging it deepens and becomes darker.  The grain patterns may be anywhere from straight to curly, and doesn’t always follow one pattern.


Its fruit is dehiscent (meaning that it splits open when mature, and ready to release the seeds), with usually five lobes, smooth, and about twenty centimeters long.  When it splits open it contains an average of fifty seeds.




Getting Food

Like all other plants, the Honduras Mahogany utilizes the complex process of Photosynthesis to manufacture its food.  In short, it uses the solar energy it is receiving to utilize other nutrients, water, and gases in the process of producing raw ‘fuel’.


Usually Honduras Mahogany is found in dry forests, with medium fertile soils.  The typical rainfall it requires is from one thousand and five hundred to three thousand millimeters, with an average temp of around thirty degrees Celsius.  It requires high amounts of light constantly.  


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Because most Mahogany trees are grown and maintained on plantations, their reproduction is generally controlled by the people who are in charge.  However, in the wild the process is fairly typical pollination with a unique seed design.


The flowers on Mahogany tree are unisexual and the tree is monoecious (meaning that there are both male and female flowers on the plant).  Flowers are approximately 10 millimeters and Primary pollinators for the tree are believed to be moths and bees.


The fruit on Mahogany trees each contain multiple seeds equipped with wing- like structures with which they fly a distance of up to eighty meters when they fall from the tree.  This way they can spread and reproduce very quickly.  The seeds also contain food reserves which allow them to germinate quickly and grow for a short period of time with relatively little sunlight for photosynthesis.



Environmental Factors

Hypsiphyla grandella is an organism, like a worm, that bores into trees, specifically young mahogany.  The danger is present until they are about two or three years old, when they are no longer vulnerable.  Thus it is difficult for them to survive in the wild with these damaging creatures destroying them, which is why it is found difficult to reintroduce them into the wild.


Some of the diseases that affect Mahoganies include: Botryodiplodia theobromae (stem rot),

Corticium koleroga (thread blight), Fusarium spp. (damping-off fungus), and Rhizoctonia solani (damping-off fungus)


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Origin and Distribution

The Honduras Mahogany, as its name suggests, is native to Honduras, as well as other Latin American countries such as Venezuela.  Both Americans and the Spanish promoted its distribution when they occupied the Philippines.  It is grown in most areas of Central and South America, as well as having been distributed to many Asian and European countries.  Honduras Mahogany, though, can also be found in North America, grown mainly by farmers, as deforestation has severely limited its growth in the wild.


Importance to People

Mahogany is a medium dense, highly prized hard wood, with dependable ease of workability, and has an attractive appearance when polished. Because of these qualities people have overused this wood in areas of furniture, cabinet making and ship building.  It is tremendously popular for woodworking and found in moderate to expensive priced products, including instruments, furniture, and boat building.


Medicines have been derived from the bark of the tree, as well as from oil extracted from the seeds. There is even a product from the tree being researched to offer a link for understanding colon cancer.


The bark also provides chemicals that can be used as a tanning agent in leather and cloth due to high tannin content.



Survivability and Endangered Status

Because Mahogany is such an exotic wood it has been overused and now must be protected, though it is not quite at the point of being endangered.  Due to deforestation, the variation in the gene- pool has decreased and with it the quality of true mahogany.


Since it is such a useful, exotic tree, and it reproduces quickly and offers soil protection, it has been used in reforestation projects.  It has proven to be adept at competing for land, though they are not usually found in groups larger than eight trees.  It has nearly come to be thought of as an invasive species however, due to its remarkable reproducing qualities with the winged seeds, which allow it to spread rapidly.



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Potential Solutions

Big leaf Mahogany, found to now be the most commonly used form of true mahogany, is a valuable resource in the Philippines.  It provides both an income to loggers as well as pleasing workability and beautiful products for woodcrafters.  However, due to excessive deforestation, this satisfying tree has been brought to an endangered level and is quickly declining in numbers.  Its predecessors in the market were brought nearly to extinction, which is why this became the replacement.  Similar danger now threatens the Big-leaf Mahogany.  Where more abundant growth is the most likely solution to protecting the Big leaf Mahogany, there are other solutions that may explore this same goal.  A few of these possible solutions will be discussed below, along with the main advantages and disadvantages of each.


Possibility 1



Bok bok is a small bug that acts quite similarly to termites, attacking Mahogany, as well as many other woods.  It eats through the wood, rivets it with holes and, if not treated soon enough, renders it worthless and destroys its quality.  In a discussion with Mr. Nelson, who enjoys studying many various plants during free time, I learned that, as a means of protecting its quality from the bok bok, bamboo can be soaked in salt water.  He seemed to believe that a similar treatment would prevent this bug from attacking Mahogany wood as well.  If this method is researched and shared with others it may be valuable in reducing lumber requirements.




1. As less Mahogany wood is ruined consumers may find that the wood can be used in more projects, as well as not needing to buy new wood to supply that which was previously lost.  With less wood being bought loggers will not find as much of a need to cut down Mahogany wood.


2. Salt water may be a cheap treatment for large quantities of wood, and would be readily available to nearly anyone who knows the technique.




1. It is not certain that this treatment would work for Mahogany, as it was intended for use in Bamboo and air pockets in the wood may allow the bugs to stay alive for some time inside.


2. Time restrictions will not allow thorough research, which may require several weeks, to determine the exact process used.  This is a method not commonly employed for mahogany trees, and may only be known in small researching plantations or organizations.


3. It is possible that, through corrosion or other factors, soaking the wood in salt water may lessen the quality of the wood.  This would require further research which, time would restrain.

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Possibility 2



Although many farms do engage in the process of farming Mahogany, it would significantly boost the marketing availability and reduce its endangered status if common Filipino people understood how to grow Mahogany.  If a thorough explanation was offered of how to grow the plant, and the benefits were made clear, perhaps some of the locals would be interested in aiding the reforestation process.  Also, this mahogany would be able to be used for normal endeavors such as lumber and woodcraft.




1. Through the undertaking of personally growing Mahogany, some Filipinos would have the opportunity of securing an income through marketing the lumber after it has matured.  There are many people who would gladly pay a reasonable price to secure some high quality wood such as mahogany, and they wouldn’t have to contribute to deforestation in doing so.


2. Personally growing trees in a yard or other open area would be cheap and reasonable as the only requirement would be occasional watering in dry seasons and maintaining fair soil, which is also easy.  Even using dead leaves and food scraps is an efficient method to introduce organic material and nutrients into the soil.  


3. The method would still be personally accounted for and I would be able to plant a series of Mahogany trees (with permission of the landowners) perhaps on the Faith campus or in open areas of Brookside.




1. Although many adult Filipinos are able to speak English, there are limits in successful communication.  With the combined accent and often a limited education it may be difficult to properly explain methods so that they would gain a sufficient knowledge.  This may result in a lack of inspiration to grow their own Mahogany trees.


2. Because of time limits and other demands in daily life it would be difficult to obtain a coverage of very many people.  If only a few people grew their own trees there would not be a significant impact.  However, there are two viable options to overcome this: either speak to a large group of people or request those who are spoken to, to tell others.


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Possibility 3



Frequent barren spots mar the overall potential appearance of lush vegetation throughout the valley golf area.  In many places there is damage done from fires, or other human provoked reduction of foliage.  As the mahogany tree is a species that spreads quickly and efficiently due to its winged seeds, it would serve as an excellent agent of reforestation in this area.  Using seeds accumulated from other mahogany trees it is hoped that a significant area of the hillside could be replanted, and effectively mature into healthy trees.  Means of fertilizing the soil with compost and other fertilization techniques would be employed to ensure successful results.



During the action step six mahogany seeds were planted in locations within, at most, one hundred feet of each other, in places that seemed most likely to result in successful growth.  The following is the entire process that was followed during the sowing of Mahogany seeds:


Step 1: A location was determined where plant life was sparse; all that was to be seen for a couple hundred feet was small shrubs and grasses.


Step 2: Using a shovel, the ground was broken up into decently fine particles of dirt and rocks were removed from the area.  Then this soil was dug out and set on the side.


Step 3: Compost made from worm castings was poured into the hole and mixed with the dirt: approximately 150% of soil as the compost.


Step 4: A mahogany seed was placed in the hole and covered with about 3-4 centimeters of soil.


Step 5: Several small holes were dug in a ring around the Mahogany seed in which groups of mongo beans were planted, also with use of the compost.


These seeds were left unwatered so that they will remain dormant until rainy season, at which time they will germinate and grow.



1. The hillside would have high chances for a successful reintroduction plan, due to the efficient seed dispersal technique used in Mahogany trees.  Successful maturing of these trees would aid in preserving healthy soil and promote the establishment of further shrubbery and plant life.


2. Replanting the area is a cheap endeavor, as the seeds are free and very little expenses will be otherwise required to ensure the healthiest opportunity for growth of trees.  It is likely for them to thrive on the hillside as their growth requires strong light and moist soils, both of which are abundant at this location.


3. As one of God’s very first commandments, taking care of our environment and preserving its health is a major responsibility.  Through planting a number of trees along the hillside, care will be extended in preserving the environment for life to remain, and maintaining the initial beauty that was intended.  It will also serve to aid in the preservation of Mahogany trees.




1. As the growth period is quite extended there will be a significant amount of time before any effect is noticeable from the presence of a group of trees.  A tree can take over fifteen years to mature.  However, in this case even in the early stages their presence may promote other growth as well by offering shade and soil protection.


2. Due to the lack of any plant life in these areas of the hillside the soil is expected to be poor in nutrients and organic material.  This will require compensation from proper initiation of soil preservation techniques.  Great care will be necessary to ensure the richest possible habitat for Mahogany trees to grow in.


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“Big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla).” Arkive. 2003-2007. 4 May 2007. <http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/plants_and_algae/Swietenia_macrophylla/more_info.html>


“Clues to Colon Cancer May be in Bark of Mahogany Tree.” NewsTarget.com 2004, 2005. 5 May 2007. <http://www.newstarget.com/019965.html>



OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA.” National Reports. 2001. 4 May 2007.



“Country report on forest invasive species in the Philippines.” FAO Corporate Document Repository. 2005. 4 May 2007. <http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/ae944e/ae944e09.htm>


"Mahogany." Britannica Student Encyclopedia. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 12 Apr. 2007 <http://www.britannica.com/ebi/article-9275619>


“Mahogany- Biology of Mahogany, Uses of Mahogany, Some Related Species.” Science Encyclopedia. 2007.  4 May 2007. <http://science.jrank.org/pages/4093/Mahogany.html>


Nelson, Dr. Scott. Personal Interview. 4 May, 2007.


“Seed Leaflet.” Danida Forest Seed Centre. 2000. 5 May 2007. <www.dfsc.dk/pdf/Seedleaflets/Swietenia%20macrophylla_int.pdf>


“Swietenia Macrophylla.” World Agroforestry Centre. 2007. 4 May 2007



“Timber: Mahogany.” Friends of the Earth 2002. 4 May 2007. <http://www.foe.org.uk/resource/briefings/timber_mahogany.html>


“Tree Factsheet.” Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group. (No Date Given).  5 May 2007. <http://webdocs.dow.wur.nl/internet/fem/uk/trees/swimacf.pdf>


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