The Mahogany (Swietenia Mahogani, Jacq.) is the true mahogany whose heavy, brownish-red wood is so highly valued by the makers of elegant furniture.
In Central America and in the West Indies it grows to great size, and is remarkable in having huge buttresses extending out from the base of its lofty trunk. In the Florida Keys it attains but medium size, and the greed of lumbermen usually sacrifices the half-grown trees. It is known as "Madeira," and is used in boat building.
Nurserymen in Florida and southern California offer small mahogany trees for ornamental planting. The potted specimens bloom when quite young. The tree has graceful, slender branches, delicate, shiny, ash-like leaves, and light sprays of tiny white flowers. The fruits are heavy, brown, 4-valved capsules as large as lemons and full of winged seeds.
The wood, beside being beautiful in colour and in pattern of grain, becomes richer in tone with age, and seems impervious to decay. The finest grades of this wood grow on upland limestone soil. The Florida trees do not furnish this first-grade lumber.
Mahogany is a kind of wood—the straight-grained, reddish-brown timber of three tropical hardwood species of the genus Swietenia, indigenous to the Americas, part of the pantropical chinaberry family, Meliaceae. The three species are:
Honduran or big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), with a range from Mexico to southern Amazonia in Brazil, the most widespread species of mahogany and the only true mahogany species commercially grown today. Illegal logging of S. macrophylla, and its highly destructive environmental effects.
West Indian or Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), native to southern Florida and the Caribbean, formerly dominant in the mahogany trade, but not in widespread commercial use since World War II.
Swietenia humilis, a small and often twisted mahogany tree limited to seasonally dry forests in Pacific Central America that is of limited commercial utility. Some botanists believe that S. humilis is a mere variant of S. macrophylla.
While the three Swietenia species are classified officially as "genuine mahogany", other Meliaceae species with timber uses are classified as "true mahogany." (Only the Swietenia species can be called "genuine mahogany.") Some may or may not have the word mahogany in their trade or common name. Some of these true mahoganies include the African genera Khaya and Entandrophragma;New Zealand mahogany or kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile); Chinese mahogany, Toona sinensis; Indonesian mahogany, Toona sureni; Indian mahogany, Toona ciliata; Chinaberry, Melia azedarach; Pink Mahogany (or Bosse), Guarea; Chittagong (also known as Indian Mahogany), Chukrasia velutina; and Crabwood Carapa guianensis. Some members of the genus Shorea (Meranti, Balau, or Lauan) of the family Dipterocarpaceae are also sometimes sold as Philippine mahogany.
A mahogany tree's foliage forms a roughly symmetrical, round canopy. Although the tree grows from a single trunk, the main trunk branches off into several large stems that spread out and up from the main trunk starting 4 to 8 feet above the ground. Mahogany trees have a moderate to fast rate of growth compared to other trees. It is a deciduous tree that drops its leaves late in the spring during dry weather. The leaves are quickly replaced, but a large tree can create a considerable amount of leaf litter.
The mahogany tree's large spread of growth can cause problems if it is planted too close to buildings or power lines. It should be planted at least 20 to 25 feet from buildings. The root system of the mahogany grows aggressively near the surface and can damage paved surfaces up to 5 or 6 feet away from the base of the trunk.