Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Mahogany has been valued for its high-quality durable timber since the 16th century. This tree, the big-leaf mahogany is native to Central and South America. In these countries there is a ban on its timber as it is now on the CITES list and the mahogany that is sold now comes from plantations in the Asia-Pacific region, from Fiji, India, Sri Lanka and other countries. It has been on the IUCN red List since 2003 in its natural range.
  Mahogany wood has a rich, red-brown colour and has been used to make musical instruments, for timber in the construction industry, boat-building and high-quality furniture. However the tree also has medicinal properties.
  In Bolivia the Mesetemo Indians use a decoction of the crushed seeds to bring about an abortion, and use the crushed seeds with the oil from Attalea phalerata for skin problems and children’s skin allergies. They make use of the bark to make dye. In Malaysia the seeds are chewed, or swallowed in powder form to treat high blood pressure, while in India the seeds are also used to treat this as well as diabetes. In India the seeds are also used for diarrhoea. In Indonesia a decoction of the seeds is given against malaria.
  In clinical trials the leaves have been found to have anti-diabetic properties, and to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as perhaps having the potential to help against hepatitis C. Traditional uses have also been upheld for the treatment of diarrhoea and malaria. The leaves have also been found to have some anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties.
  In some countries a decoction or infusion is made with the crushed seeds for all of the above diseases with honey added to sweeten the concoction. It is said to increase the male libido and so has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, touted in supplements for erectile dysfunctions. However there is no scientific evidence for these claims.
  The tree grows to great heights of 50 metres and can live for 350 years plus. It has white flowers which fall to form the fruit which is very unusual as it is gravity defying – it points upwards, and so is called the sky fruit. This contains a winged seed, which falls quite near the parent tree because of its weight, meaning that mahogany trees tend to form natural stands. The tree sheds its leaves in summer and is a member of the Meliaceae family of plants, so is related to the neem tree, Azadirachta indica, and to the Chinaberry tree, Melia azedarach. The other trees which produce mahogany are Swietenia humilis and Swietenia mahagoni. This one is also known as the bastard mahogany, as opposed to Swietenia mahagoni.
   Deforestation has led to the endangerment of this tree in South America, along with unsustainable logging for its timber. There has been a ban on felling it in Costa Rica since 1997. When the trees are felled this leads to soil degradation and erosion as the roots go deep into the ground and stabilize the soil.

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