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The Natural History Of Mahogany Essay

936 words - 4 pages

The Natural History of Mahogany

Swietenia macrophylla and S. humilis are referred to as Mahogany, a tropical evergreen or deciduous tree that can attain heights of 150 feet. Mahogany is a member of the Meliaceae, which includes other trees with notable wood for cabinet making. Swietenia macrophylla is world renowned for its beautifully grained, hard, red-brown wood. It has been harvested since 1500 A.D. for its wood, with large branches being in higher demand than the trunk. This is due to the closeness of the grain in the branch's wood. Mahogany is used for furniture, fixtures, musical instruments, millwork, cars, ships, boats, caskets, airplanes, foundry patterns, veneer, and plywood ...view middle of the document...

The leaf is often without a terminal leaflet. The bark has vertical scales, giving it the appearance of Silver Maple or White Oak bark. The flowers are imperfect, with greater numbers of male than female flowers. Each flower is small, yellow-white, and borne in a panicle at the end of the dry season. The fruits of the Mahogany will ripen during January-March in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. They are 4 to 6 inch woody capsules which contain up to 40 wind-dispersed seeds, similar to those of an Ash tree. The seeds contain an astringent chemical which significantly lowers the number of animals which feed on them.

Attempts to create plantations of Mahogany have mostly failed because an insect known as the Mahogany Shootborer, Hypsipyla grandella, destroys the terminal shoots of the seedlings. According to the lumber industry, this leads to trees with excessive branching and poor form.

Swietenia mahagoni and S. macrophylla are used in landscaping as shade trees in tropical and subtropical climates. In southern Florida and Hawaii, Mahogany is planted both inland and along the sea, where it is able to withstand some salt spray from the ocean.

The history of the term Mahogany raises a taxonomic controversy. When the Yoruba tribe was brought from Nigeria to Jamaica as slaves, they recognized a tree in Jamaica just like one back home. The American mahogany, S. mahogani, looked identical to the African Mahogany, Khaya sengalensis. For this reason the Yorubas referred to American Mahogany as they did African Mahogany, M'Oganwo. Over time the term was changed to M'Ogani by the Yorubas. Americans spelled it how they heard it, and thus M'Ogami became Mahogany. The controversy is that the Yorubas believed African and American Mahogany to be the same tree, but French botanist Adrien de Jussieu (1830)...

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