Genuine Mahogany: The Beauty of Diversity

Stacks of Genuine Mahogany

Stacks of Genuine Mahogany

Just like the different individuals that make up a family or community, the various types of Mahogany are part of this lumber family’s beauty. At the same time, there are other types of lumber paraded as “Mahogany” when, in fact, they are of lesser quality. To the untrained eye, though, the label of “Mahogany” and even a remotely reddish-brown appearance will be enough to cause confusion. Perhaps all of these species are legitimately part of the Meliaceae family, but each genus truly has its own unique characteristics. The savvy woodworker or builder will inquire of the supplier to find out exactly the type of Mahogany they’re getting.

Typically, “Genuine Mahogany” refers to species within the genus Swietenia. The best known species within this category include Swietenia macrophylla and Swietenia humilis. Also referred to as Honduran, American, or Big Leaf Mahogany, these species grow in both Northern South and Central America. Due to over-harvesting, Genuine Mahogany has become named on the infamous CITES Appendix II, which lists endangered species. As a result, careful regulation attempts to ensure the continuation of the species.

Mahogany logging

Mahogany logging

Since the CITES regulations apply only to Mahogany grown in Central and South America, plantation-grown Mahogany has blossomed in recent years. The ideal climates of the Philippines, Fiji, and Indonesia help Mahogany trees to grow even more quickly and aggressively than those occurring naturally. The result is often lower quality, due to the lack of established forest canopies. Unpredictable knots and grains occur, as a result, along with lower density and lighter coloring. Currently, the only area producing high-quality plantation-grown Genuine Mahogany is the Fiji Islands.

For the Mahogany naturally occurring in Central and South America, the recent regulation is already having an impact. Due to the governmental regulations protecting and limiting harvesting, today’s Mahogany forests look healthy and have promising futures. With sustainable forestry management in place, you can be assured that using Mahogany will not lead to the extinction of this valuable natural resource. Saw mills in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay are all producing plentiful supplies.

Mahogany windows and trim

Mahogany windows and trim

All the regulation and plantation attempts are due to centuries of overharvesting Mahogany. Since the 1700s, furniture makers have recognized the beauty and ideal working properties of this lumber. Its consistent, straight grain and reddish-brown coloring combine with its constant density to provide a beautiful resource for carving and other forms of embellishment. Mahogany works well with hand tools and machines, in part due to its ideal medium hardness.

Of course, consistency is always relative when you’re dealing with a natural product like lumber, but that variation is part of its beauty. Depending on differences in climate and soil makeup, color and grain will vary somewhat.

Much of the best Genuine Mahogany produced today comes from Bolivia and Peru. The deep rich coloring and higher density is considered ideal for many. However, for those who prefer a lighter variety with more pink, Santa Cruz Mahogany may be best. As you discuss your precise requirements with your lumber supplier, one thing is sure: origination will be key.

For more information on the types of Mahogany which we can provide for your project, contact the J. Gibson McIlvain lumber company today at (800) 638-9100.

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company ( is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.

As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.

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