By: Teo Spengler
The mahogany tree (Swietenia mahagnoni) is such a lovely shade tree that it’s too bad it can only grow in USDA zones 10 and 11. That means that if you want to see a mahogany tree in the United States, you’ll need to head to Southern Florida. These attractive, fragrant trees form rounded, symmetrical crowns and make excellent shade trees. For more information about mahogany trees and mahogany tree uses, read on.
Mahogany Tree Information
If you read information about mahogany trees, you’ll find them both interesting and attractive. The mahogany is a large, semi-evergreen tree with a canopy that casts dappled shade. It is a popular landscape tree in Southern Florida.
Mahogany tree facts describe the trees as being very tall. They can grow 200 feet (61 m.) in height with leaves some 20 inches (50.8 cm.) long, but it’s more common to see them growing to 50 feet (15.2 m.) or less.
Mahogany tree information suggests that wood is dense, and the tree can hold its own in strong winds. This makes it useful as a street tree, and trees planted in medians form attractive canopies overhead.
Additional Mahogany Tree Facts
Mahogany tree information includes a description of the blossoms. These heat-loving ornamentals produce small, fragrant clusters of flowers. The blossoms are either white or yellow-green and grow in clusters. Both male and female flowers grow on the same tree. You can tell male from female flowers because male stamens are tube-shaped.
The flowers bloom in late spring and early summer. Moths and bees love the flowers and serve to pollinate them. In time, woody fruit capsules grow in and are brown, pear-shaped and five inches (12.7 cm.) long. They are suspended from fuzzy stalks in winter. When they split, they release the winged seeds that propagate the species.
Where Do Mahogany Trees Grow?
“Where do mahogany trees grow?”, gardeners ask. Mahogany trees thrive in very warm climates. They are native to South Florida as well as the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The tree is also nicknamed “Cuban mahogany” and “West Indian mahogany”.
They were introduced into Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands over two centuries ago. Mahogany trees continue thriving in those places.
Mahogany tree uses vary from the ornamental to the practical. First and foremost, mahogany trees are used as shade and ornamental trees. They are planted in backyards, parks, on medians and as street trees.
The trees are also raised and felled for their hard, durable wood. It is used to make cabinets and furniture. The species is getting increasingly rare and has been added to Florida’s endangered species list.
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How Long Does It Take for a Mahogany Tree to Grow?
A mahogany tree by any other name… so much can be said for the various varieties of the mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) tree, all claiming the right to call themselves mahogany, yet all different. The words “real,” “genuine,” and “authentic” have been linked to the exquisite, richly brown, heavy furniture hardwood that usually costs a bundle, but very few can legitimately be called mahogany.
Most domestic mahogany grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10a and 11 and reaches 40 to 60 feet high with an expansive 50-foot canopy. Native to South Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, some mahogany cultivars make ideal shade trees. They are planted in the swales of new home developments as well as in gardens and front yards, where their deep roots and hardy wood plant them firmly in the ground.
Mahogany Wood: Properties, Characteristics & Uses
Mahogany is a world-class wood species that is found in many variants, such as African Mahogany, Cuban Mahogany, Honduran Mahogany, Santos Mahogany, Mountain Mahogany, Philippine Mahogany, etc., mainly based on the origin. It’s a heartwood, usually in deep red-brown color, with occasional dark reddish streaks.
Mahogany is used in both timber and logs forms, mainly for making furniture, cabinets, flooring, etc. The usability and specific properties, however, depending on where the wood has grown.
Since African Mahogany is one of the most popular species, we will talk about its properties and uses here.
Scientific Name: Khaya spp.
Distribution: West tropical Africa, African Mahogany is grown in almost all parts of the country, but major plantation can be found in the West tropical regions.
Tree Size: With 100-130 ft (30-40 m) height, Mahogany is one of the highest naturally-grown trees. The trunk diameter is usually 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) in size.
Average Dried Weight: 40 lbs/ft3 (640 kg/m3)
Some of the reasons why Mahogany is so popular among woodworkers, luthiers and merchants is the easy availability and workability of this African hardwood.
In-depth View of Mahogany properties & characteristics
African Mahogany color ranges from pale pink to dark reddish-brown, depending on the age. The heartwood grows darker with age. Also, it sometimes may have red-brown colored streaks.
Even though it’s a hardwood, Mahogany is not very hard. It ranks average in terms of hardness and has moderate, but not high, durability. Being not very durable, it’s poor to medium resistant to insects.
Since is a soft hardwood, it’s usually easy to work with. It is also easy to mill or cut in different shapes or timber sizes. At Cameroon Timber Export, you can buy African Mahogany timber in all standard sizes and shapes.
The stability of hardwood depends on its grain texture and moisture content, among other things. Mahogany has straight to interlocked grains, which makes it highly stable. The moisture content of the wood can be reduced through kiln drying.
Mahogany is easily available and grown in almost all parts of the world. The prices are usually low or moderate, depending on where you’re importing Mahogany from.
Aesthetics and Uses of Mahogany
The most common use of Mahogany species is for furniture making. Almost everywhere in the world, Mahogany furniture is made with either locally-grown or imported Mahogany wood. The furniture made from Mahogany wood has a premium look and moderate stability. They look even better with a clean finish.
Other common uses of Mahogany include wood flooring, wood doors & windows, high-end trim work, veneering, turned items, plywood making, boatbuilding, etc. It’s also widely used for making guitar bodies.
Forest mahogany seeds can be made into soaps, body ointments and hair oil. The seeds’ fatty acids are the same used in many handmade, detergent-free bath bars sold by spas. Unlike commercial soaps made with beef or mutton fat, oils of palmitic and oleic acids, which make up 85 percent of forest mahogany seeds’ oil content, make vegan-friendly soaps. Palmitic and oleic acids are also key ingredients in hair oils. Their emollient properties improve the texture of hair as well as detangle it.
At heights reaching 200 feet, the big-leaf mahogany tree shoots through the top of the rainforest canopy. This majestic tree, which can live upward of 350 years, is an integral part of the rainforest ecosystem and is an important resource for local communities. Its dark brown, flaky bark has a sweet odor, and the tree bears a gray-brown fruit and small white flowers. With leaves that can reach lengths of 20 inches, it has earned its “big-leaf” name nonetheless, in a number of Latin American countries it’s called simply caoba (in English, “mahogany”).
With an extensive geographical range, big-leaf mahogany can be found throughout much of southern Mexico, Central America, and into South America (with southern limits in Brazil and Bolivia). Found within wet and dry tropical forests, it grows in a variety of soil types.
Since the 1500s, mahogany has been a prized timber product—a building block for high-quality furniture and musical instruments—valued for its deep reddish color, durability, and beauty. Unfortunately, the removal of this great tree often leads to erosion and soil degradation, damaging nearby river systems and, in turn, impacting other plant and animal habitats. Another major threat: overharvesting.
The Rainforest Alliance has been helping communities in the Petén region of Guatemala to sustainably harvest mahogany from their forests. These forestry concessions follow strict management plans, which ensure that species such as mahogany are not overharvested.
A native of South Florida, the mahogany tree grows a naturally beautiful canopy of small pretty leaves that create dappled shade.
Enough sunlight peeks through the tree's foliage to allow grass to grow beneath it.
A white picket fence kind of shade tree, a mahogany works well in landscapes with some space as a front or back yard tree.
A young tree like the one pictured will develop a classic large shade tree look with a nicely rounded, symmetrical crown.
This tree is versatile. it can handle brief episodes of wet feet and doesn't mind salt spray. It will develop very large seed pods that look like Spanish maracas or big baby rattles. These "fruits" eventually split open, releasing winged seeds.
The reddish hardwood from this tree is valued for making fine furniture, cabinetry and boats. Because it's been over-harvested and many natural stands have vanished due to both timber harvesting and land development, mahogany is now on Florida's Endangered List.
This tree is a moderate to fast grower that can reach 35 to 40 feet with a wide-spreading canopy.
It does best in full to part sun.
These are tropical trees that need the warmth of Zone 10 to thrive. Frost will cause damage in areas of Zone 10 that border Zone 9B, and even in warmer areas they can thin out a bit if winter is harsh.
A mahogany is considered semi-deciduous. This means that though it keeps it leaves nearly year-round, the tree pushes out old leaves for a very brief period in spring before new ones appear.
Mahogany's salt tolerance makes it a good shade tree for planting on a coastal property.
Although mahogany trees are South Florida native trees, they appreciate soil enrichment and regular irrigation and fertilization.
Add top soil (or organic peat humus) and composted cow manure to the hole when you plant.
No trimming is needed as long as you've placed the tree well to allow for mature size.
When the leaves drop in spring, they can be quickly cleaned up with a leaf blower.
Water on a regular basis. Fertilize 3 times a year - in spring, summer and fall - with a good quality granular fertilizer.
Because of its potential for developing a wide crown, place a mahogany at least 15 feet from the house.
Come in from walks and drives at least 8 feet - more if you can - to avoid problems with the surface roots of a mature tree lifting paved areas.
Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius Nutt.)
Cercocarpus ledifolius, or curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany, is not a true mahogany: that distinction belongs to trees in the Meliaceae, the mahogany family. This shrubby, slow-growing tree belongs in the Rosaceae, or rose family the common name derives from the dense, heavy wood of this tree, which sinks in water additionally, the leaves tend to curl. The scientific name for the genus is Greek and means "tailed fruit."
A stand of these shrubby trees presents to some the appearance of a miniature African savannah. The contorted shapes of older Cercocarpus trees dominate their habitat, which is unfriendly for most other tall plants: rocky, gravelly slopes in high mountain areas, with little water and plenty sun. Typically, the plant has 1 to 4 main trunks the trunks are not often obscured by foliage. The seeds of this plant do appear to have tails: the stigma of the flower remains attached to the seed and hardens, forming a fuzzy "tail" which facilitates wind-assisted seed dispersal. The leaves are smallish and elongated, from 1/2 to 2 inches long, and often the edges of the leaf curl inward towards the midvein. During spring, the plant flowers small, whitish-yellow flowers the most visible part of the flowers are the stamens.
Although the wood is not suitable for lumber due to its shortness and twistedness, Native Americans (due to its strength and durability) used it for small, handmade items such as bows, spearheads, and special sticks for extricating subterranean foods. Native people also used the tree medicinally, especially the bark, in the treatment of various ills. Part of the bark is boiled with Ephedra to give the tea a pleasing taste Cercocarpus bark tea is also used for treating colds, as well as for making a rose-coloured dye. It is good forage for browsing animals (which may partly explain the naked trunks and bushy tops) and provides winter cover for wildlife.
The hard wood is also excellent (though rare) fuel, and was used to smelt ore during the Comstock era. It is also said to be good for barbecues.
For More Information
ountain mahogany branches with "tailed fruits". Photo by Sue Weis, Botanist, Inyo National Forest.
A scenic view of mountain mahogany by a riverside. Photo by Julie K. Nelson, Botanist, Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Close-up of a mountain mahogany seed, the "fuzzy tail". Photo by Craig Odegard.