Above photo By Andrew massyn – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4607724
Not to be confused with Sapele and Utile trees, the African Mahogany I’m focusing on in this article are from the Khaya Genus of trees, specifically:
- Khaya Madagascariensis
- Khaya Ivorensis
- Khaya Grandifoliola
- Khaya Anthotheca
- Khaya Senegalensis
Colours of these woods vary greatly from a dark reddish brown to a rather pale pink.
The Khaya Madagascarensis is found, no surprise, in Northern and Eastern Madagascar. An evergreen tree it produces valuable timber and is known for its local medicinal use. It is reddish brown in colour and its timber uses include fine furniture, carving and its trunk is traditionally used for canoes. Unfortunately, it has been overexploited for its timber and has lost its natural habitat due to human activity, this has led to it being classified as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
The Khaya Ivorensis grows in Gabon, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Angola; the tropical areas of Western Africa. The heartwood is a pale reddish brown and its timber is used for fine furniture and also for boat and ship construction. Its medicinal uses include being used in the treatment of whooping cough, diarrhoea, dysentery, back pain and rheumatism. Much like the Madagascarensis, Khaya Ivorensis is also under threat and is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.
The Khaya Grandifoliola grows in Guinea-Bissau, Sudan and the Congo and is mainly a deciduous species in the dry season. The heartwood which darkens to a reddish brown after exposure is pinkish brown when first cut. The timber is used for fine furniture, veneer, ship building, toys, musical instruments and is traditionally used for furniture, canoes and household items. Medicinally the bark can be used as a washing cloth, as a treatment for the fever caused by malaria and also the treatment of gastric ulcers. A gum from the bark is used in the pharmaceutical industry as a slow release for tablets. Once again due to the high exploitation of this highly desired tree the IUCN list it as vulnerable.
Also known as White Mahogany the Khaya Anthotheca is a semi deciduous tree found in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Angola and Mozambique. The heartwood can be a pinkish brown to copper red and is used for veneer and furniture making, traditionally the logs are carved out to form canoes. It can also be used to make charcoal. The bark is used traditionally to treat abdominal pain, gonorrhoea, colds and fevers. Lice can also be treated when oil from the seeds is rubbed into the hair. The bark is also sometimes used to treat ulcers and wounds and when pulverised is even used to combat male impotence and as an aphrodisiac. The IUCN rates the Khaya Anthotheca as vulnerable due to its heavy exploitation.
Above photo By Forestowlet – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33446266
Found in Senegal, Sudan and Uganda, the evergreen tree Khaya Senegalensis has a dark red brown colour heartwood, sometimes with a hint of purple. The timber is used for fine furniture and boat building. Locally the wood is used for turning and railroad ties among other things. Once again the bitter bark is reported to be successful in the treating of fever but also syphilis. Bark extract is used as a disinfectant for various ailments. Unfortunately I have to once again type that this tree is also listed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to poor control of logging practices.
In Darwin, Australia there have been cases of falling branches of the African Mahogany killing people below when poorly maintained, as reported by NT News among others (African Mahogany in Darwin). One man was killed by a falling branch whilst on a golf course and a school boy was killed in the school playground in similar circumstances. It is theorised that planting African Mahogany trees in a wetter climate than their natural dry habitat causes them to grow larger faster, making them unstable.
What have I learnt about African Mahogany whilst writing this article? Well, mostly that its cultivation is poorly managed and this has unfortunately, though perhaps not unexpectedly, lead to it becoming a currently vulnerable species and perhaps soon to be endangered. I’ve also learnt that the Khaya genus produces great quality wood which is also stunningly gorgeous whilst also at the same time producing bark, oils and gum used in many kinds of medicines. Hopefully these trees will be around for many generations to come and I would think its our responsibility to make sure this is the case.
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Previous article in this series can be found here The A – Z of Trees : Acacia [Series]