Rosewood, Brazilian

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Rosewood, Brazilian

Dalbergia nigra

division: Magnoliophyta

class: Magnoliopsida

order: Rosidae

family: Fabaceae

status: Vulnerable, IUCN

range: Brazil

Description and biology

The Brazilian rosewood, or jacaranda, is a tropical timber tree that grows to a height of 50 to 82 feet (15 to 25 meters). Because most of these trees have been logged, those with thick trunks are rarely found. The remaining rosewoods have trunks measuring just 1 to 1.3 feet (0.3 to 0.4 meter) in diameter.

The tree's bark is thin, gray, and rough. Its branches are dark and roundish, and they grow in a slightly zig-zag manner from the trunk. The compound leaves are divided into 12 to 18 leaflets, each one measuring up to 0.6 inch (1.5 centimeters) long and 0.3 inch (0.8 centimeter) wide.

Brazilian rosewoods flower in October and November. The pale, violet-scented flowers are about 0.35 inch (0.89 centimeters) long and are arranged in bunches on leafless shoots.

Habitat and current distribution

The Brazilian rosewood is found in the Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil. It grows in a range of climates from southern Bahia to Minas Gerais (Brazilian states). It is most frequently found inhabiting rolling or mountainous terrain that has relatively fertile soil. Current population figures are not available.

History and conservation measures

The Brazilian rosewood is one of Brazil's finest woods. It is highly prized for its valuable heartwood, the central nonliving wood in the trunk of the tree. The heartwood is purplish-black in color and is rather oily and fragrant—hence the common name of rosewood. The durable wood of the Brazilian rose-wood has been used for decorative veneers, high-quality furniture, musical instruments, tools, and craft products.

Brazilian rosewoods grew in great numbers when European explorers first came to South America in the early sixteenth century. Once the Europeans realized the value of its wood, they began cutting down the rosewood and shipping it around the world. Other rosewoods were cut down simply to create plantations and farms. Still more were cleared to aid mining operations. This deforestation continued for over 300 years, finally reaching its peak in the twentieth century. At present, Brazilian rosewoods occupy just 5 percent of their former range.

Only a tiny portion of the remaining rosewood forests are protected in national parks and reserves. The export of rose-wood logs has been banned in Brazil for 30 years. In 1992, the Brazilian rosewood was added to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES; an international treaty to protect wildlife). This act prohibited the trade of the tree between nations that had signed the treaty.

Despite these protective measures, the Brazilian rosewood remains threatened by those who cut it down illegally and sell it for high prices.