Swietenia mahagoni
Swietenia mahagoni, commonly known as the West Indies Mahogany, is a species of Swietenia
Swietenia is a genus of trees in the chinaberry family, Meliaceae. It occurs natively in the Neotropics, from southern Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America south to Bolivia...

native to southern Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, USA, The Bahamas
The Bahamas
The Bahamas , officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is a nation consisting of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets . It is located in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba and Hispaniola , northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and southeast of the United States...

, Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

, Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

, and Hispaniola
Hispaniola is a major island in the Caribbean, containing the two sovereign states of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The island is located between the islands of Cuba to the west and Puerto Rico to the east, within the hurricane belt...

. It is the species from which the original mahogany
The name mahogany is used when referring to numerous varieties of dark-colored hardwood. It is a native American word originally used for the wood of the species Swietenia mahagoni, known as West Indian or Cuban mahogany....

 wood was produced.

Swietenia mahagoni is listed as "Threatened" in the Preservation of Native Flora of Florida Act. Its blossom is the national flower of the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a nation on the island of La Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands that are shared by two countries...



The earliest recorded use of S. mahagoni was in the year 1514. That date was carved into a rough-hewn cross placed at the beginning of the Catedral de Santa María la Menor
Catedral de Santa María la Menor
The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo is dedicated to St. Mary of the Incarnation. It is the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1512 and completed in 1540...

 in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo, known officially as Santo Domingo de Guzmán, is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic. Its metropolitan population was 2,084,852 in 2003, and estimated at 3,294,385 in 2010. The city is located on the Caribbean Sea, at the mouth of the Ozama River...

, Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a nation on the island of La Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands that are shared by two countries...

. The cathedral was richly ornamented with carved S. mahagoni woodwork that was still in almost perfect condition after more than 400 years in the tropics. Completed about 1540, it is the oldest church in the West Indies. Santo Domingo is the oldest European-founded city in the Western Hemisphere. Bartholomew Columbus, a brother of Christopher Columbus, founded it in 1496. Other records refer to the use of mahogany between 1521 and 1540 when Spanish explorers employed the wood for making canoe
A canoe or Canadian canoe is a small narrow boat, typically human-powered, though it may also be powered by sails or small electric or gas motors. Canoes are usually pointed at both bow and stern and are normally open on top, but can be decked over A canoe (North American English) or Canadian...

s and for ship repair work in the West Indies. The next major recorded use was in 1597 regarding repairs for Sir Walter Raleigh's ships in the West Indies. Its first use in Spain and England was for ship building and during the eighteenth century it was the chief wood employed in Europe for that purpose. Mark Catesby
Mark Catesby
Mark Catesby was an English naturalist. Between 1731 and 1743 Catesby published his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, the first published account of the flora and fauna of North America...

's Natural History describes mahogany's excellence in that regard. "[Mahogany] has Properties for that Use excelling Oak, and all other Wood, viz. Durableness, resisting Gunshots, and burying the Shot without Splintering." Clayton Dissinger Mell's monograph expanded use in ship construction. "It is particularly suited for planking, waterways, bulwarks, rails, skylights and companions, bitts, gangway ladders, and other deck work. With the later employment of iron, steel and teak in shipbuilding, mahogany became far more important as a furniture wood, though it is still preferred to any other wood for the framework of small sailing vessels. Large sailing vessels with mahogany framework were sold for enormous prices and manufactured into fine furniture."

The Spanish explorers were quick to appreciate West Indies Mahogany's splendid properties and its early importation and use in cabinetwork is attested by the 16th Century date of some fine Spanish Renaissance
Spanish Renaissance
The Spanish Renaissance refers to a movement in Spain, emerging from the Italian Renaissance in Italy during the 14th century, that spread to Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries...

 remains. Queen Elizabeth
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 is said to have been interested in some mahogany brought by Sir Walter Raleigh after his return from Trinidad
Trinidad is the larger and more populous of the two major islands and numerous landforms which make up the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the southernmost island in the Caribbean and lies just off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. With an area of it is also the fifth largest in...

 in 1595. As far as mahogany use in furniture making, no headway was made in England against the domestic oak and walnut until the 18th Century. The first use of S. mahagoni in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 for cabinet work was in 1724. Mahogany is the essential ingredient of the great 18th Century School, which Macquoid calls the Age of Mahogany. Not only the United Kingdom, but France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 have used the wood more or less continuously since that time. The Empire Period
Napoleonic Era
The Napoleonic Era is a period in the history of France and Europe. It is generally classified as including the fourth and final stage of the French Revolution, the first being the National Assembly, the second being the Legislative Assembly, and the third being the Directory...

 featured it extensively; The Federal Period (1780-1830) in American work is essentially a mahogany style. Mell's paper of 1917 reminds us of the extensive use in his time but some of those uses have diminished. Then, mahogany was much used for the interior finish of railroad parlor cars, public buildings, hotels, and dwellings and for ofice fixtures. It also was used extensively for pianofortes, for astronomical and surveying instruments and for the cases of all sorts of delicate apparatus, such as scales, microscopes, and microtomes. The tonewood value of S. mahagoni is reflected in the employment of mahogany for modern musical instruments. It is sometimes utilized in the tops of some guitars as well as the back, sides and neck. It is not uncommon in older mandolins. It is also used for some kinds of electrical guitars such as the Les Paul Custom, Deluxe and Studio models. Three-ply laminations of mahogany, poplar
Populus is a genus of 25–35 species of deciduous flowering plants in the family Salicaceae, native to most of the Northern Hemisphere. English names variously applied to different species include poplar , aspen, and cottonwood....

 and mahogany are found in top of the line drum shells. Mahogany is used for the wooden bars of marimba
The marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family. It consists of a set of wooden keys or bars with resonators. The bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. The keys are arranged as those of a piano, with the accidentals raised vertically and overlapping the natural keys ...


Before the American revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, botanists from Europe explored and described the flora of the Carolinas and Florida. Forty-two years before naturalist and illustrator John James Audubon was born, Volume Two of Mark Catesby's folio sized natural history was published. Catesby's hand-colored plate, 25 cm horizontal and 35 cm vertical (ca. 10x14 inches), of the mahogany tree, along with a description in English and French (not Latin as many might expect), was the basis for Linnaeus using his new binomial nomenclature to name it. Linnaeus' description was published in 1758 as Cedrela mahagoni. Two years later Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin reclassifed it and placed the West Indies Mahagony Tree into his newly created genus, Swietenia. His classification still stands. However, 1758 was more than 200 years after mahogany was well-known to the lumber and woodworking trades.


Swietenia mahagoni is a medium-sized semi-evergreen
In botany, an evergreen plant is a plant that has leaves in all seasons. This contrasts with deciduous plants, which completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season.There are many different kinds of evergreen plants, both trees and shrubs...

A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...

 growing to 30 – tall. The leaves
A leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, as defined in botanical terms, and in particular in plant morphology. Foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of plants....

 are pinnate, 12 – long, with four to eight leaflet
A leaflet in botany is a part of a compound leaf. A leaflet may resemble an entire leaf, but it is not borne on a stem as a leaf is, but rather on a vein of the whole leaf. Compound leaves are common in many plant families...

s, each leaflet 5 – long and 2 – broad; there is no terminal leaflet. The flower
A flower, sometimes known as a bloom or blossom, is the reproductive structure found in flowering plants . The biological function of a flower is to effect reproduction, usually by providing a mechanism for the union of sperm with eggs...

s are small, produced in panicle
A panicle is a compound raceme, a loose, much-branched indeterminate inflorescence with pedicellate flowers attached along the secondary branches; in other words, a branched cluster of flowers in which the branches are racemes....

s. The fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

 is a woody capsule
Capsule (fruit)
In botany a capsule is a type of simple, dry fruit produced by many species of flowering plants. A capsule is a structure composed of two or more carpels that in most cases is dehiscent, i.e. at maturity, it splits apart to release the seeds within. A few capsules are indehiscent, for example...

 5 – long and 3 – broad, containing numerous winged seed
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...


The bark in younger specimens is smooth and grayish, becoming darker and furrowed with age. In the U.S. mahoganies are semi-deciduous
Semi-deciduous is a botanical term which refers to plants that lose part of their foliage, also Semi-deciduous plants can mean, that plants can lose their foliage for a very short period, when old leaves fall off and new foliage growth is starting. This phenomenon occurs in tropical and...

, losing all or most of their leaves over winter or shedding at the flush of new growth in spring. New leaves emerge blood red to pinkish, quickly becoming a bright, light green and darkening as they mature.

In the Florida Keys and south Florida, the species grows at the northern extent of its range, with individuals reaching 10 – tall.

Cultivation and uses

Supplies have now become very rare due to over-harvesting, and most mahogany marketed now comes from other related species, often with faster growth but lower wood quality.

It is also grown as an ornamental tree in subtropical and tropical regions.

U.S. Federal Experimental Forest

Since 1954 the United States government has owned and maintained a 147 acre observation plot of secondary growth S. mahagoni at Estate Thomas on St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. It is managed jointly by the International Institute of Tropical Forestry with an adjoining privately owned tree farm at Estate Bellevue
Bellevue, Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands
Bellevue is a settlement on the island of Saint Croix in the United States Virgin Islands. It is a western suburb of Christiansted. The geographic area is 140 acres of which the majority are forested. Of the 140 acres half 70 acres belong to the Bond family which since 1956 has owned a federally...

 which belongs to the testamentary estate of Dr. Richard Marshall Bond a biologist who supervised the establishment of the federal tree farm at Estate Thomas.

Legal Protection

West Indies Mahogany is native to southern Florida; therefore an umbrella of state, federal and international conservation laws cover it. The other two species of Swietenia are also tonewoods used in the making of musical instruments. In addition to furniture and other woodwork, boxes and cases for mechanisms and similar valuables have a long history of being made of Swietenia.

The US Lacey Act of 1900: One of the provisions of the Lacey Act is that it requires a documented chain of possession for anything sold in USA. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists S. mahagoni in Appendix II (only saw-logs, sawn wood and veneers). The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies S. mahagoni as Endangered
Endangered species
An endangered species is a population of organisms which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters...

. S. mahagoni is also listed as "Threatened" in the Preservation of Native Flora of Florida Act.

External links

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