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MAHOGANY NAMES (Swietenia and Khaya species)
THE SHORT VERSION:
This is a slightly abbreviated version of what's what. It doesn't go into full details but it is a strong consensus view of the name usage and is sufficient for the the hobbyist.
The characteristics of the various species in the mahogany family is illustrated and discussed here: MAHOGANY CHARACTERISTICS
- Swietenia mahagoni = Cuban mahogany (hardly available at all)
- Swietenia mahagoni x macrophyl --- Puerto Rican mahogany; this is a hybrid of Swietenia mahagoni and Swietenia macrophylla and is not further discussed in this article
- Swietenia macrophylla = Honduran mahogany (the mahogany in use today from the Americas)
- Khaya ivorensis = African mahogany (the mahogany in use today from Africa)
- "genuine" and "true" both mean Swietenia macrophylla
- "American" can mean "of the genus Swietenia" (i.e. "grown in the Americas) but more often means Swietenia macrophylla
- "African" technically implies "one of several Khaya species" but will usually be Khaya ivorensis
That discussion includes some other species in the mahogany family from the Cedrela and Toona genera that are sold as Spanish cedar and are particularly similar in characteristics to the Swietenia and Khaya species. It also includes two woods, sapele and sipo, that are often touted as "mahogany substitutes", a designation I consider to be more vendor hype than reality but they do have very similar characteristics to Khaya species.
THE LONG VERSION:
Swietenia mahagoni [often misspelled as "mahogani" --- see below]
This mahogany grows in Florida, Cuba, and the Caribbean area in general. The most common of the common names of this wood is Cuban mahogany. Swietenia mahagoni tends to be a darker reddish brown than Swietenia macrophylla, but the color and density are affected by the specific conditions in the area of growth, so there are no absolutes.
This is the original mahogany that was imported to Europe starting in the 1600's. Famous furniture builders Thomas Sheraton, Thomas Chippendale, and Duncan Phyfe used Cuban mahogany for their fine furniture and it was widely considered among the finest woods available for furniture. I think cabinet-maker Gene Wengert has expressed best what followed:
As timber harvest methods became more sophisticated, even the "inaccessible" trees became lumber. By the mid 1700s, Cuban mahogany was becoming quite scarce. By the mid 1800s, good lumber was becoming rare. By the late 1800s, the species had been logged into genetic impoverishment and commercial extinction. Today there are still a few trees, but they are extremely rare and should not be used as such usage will encourage harvesting and the ultimate end of this species.
When mahogany in Cuba and the Caribbean began to run out, logging operations were moved to Mexico and other areas and at first it wasn't even known that what was being harvested there (Swietenia macrophylla) was not quite the same wood.
SO ... although it was the first and best of the mahoganies, Cuban mahogany really isn't part of the scene any longer. Because it was the first and best, I have always thought that it, rather than Swietenia macrophylla, should have the honor of the names "true" and "genuine" mahogany, but I don't get to make the rules, I just report on them as best I can.
I also note that it is impossible (as far as I am aware) to distinguish between Swietenia mahagoni and Swietenia macrophylla with nothing but a 10X loupe.
Further information, also from Gene Wengert:
In 1671 the word mahogany appeared in print for the first time ... Among botanists and naturalists, however, the tree was considered a type of cedar, and in 1759 was classified by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) as Cedrela mahagoni. The following year it was assigned to a new genus by Nicholas Joseph Jacquin (1727-1817), and named Swietenia mahagoni.
Until the 19th century all of the mahogany was regarded as one species, although varying in quality and character according to soil and climate. In 1836 the German botanist Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini (1797-1848) identified a second species while working on specimens collected on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and named it Swietenia humilis. In 1886 a third species, Swietenia macrophylla, was named by Sir George King (1840-1909)
As to the spelling of the specific epithet, since Linnaeus and the other early botanists who named the various species all used "mahagoni", and that use continues in scholarly articles and at university sites, it seems clear to me that that is the "correct" spelling, BUT ... I'm a believer in the evolution of language and these days the bastardized spelling "mahogani" is far more widely used so you are most likely to see it that way despite the fact that it is technically incorrect. It is understandable how that bastardization came about since "mahagoni" just SOUNDS wrong (muh-HAG-un-I) and "mahogani" sounds right (muh-HOG-uh-nee).
This mahogany grows throughout mainland Central and South America. The most common of the many common names for this species is Honduras/Honduran mahogany, but it is also called in many cases by its country of origin, such as Nicaraguan, Mexican, etc. Swietenia macrophylla tends to be slightly more orange than Swietenia mahagoni, but the color and density are affected by the specific conditions in the area of growth, so there are no absolutes.
This is a species that is lumped in with Swietenia macrophylla as "Honduran mahogany" because of similarity of characteristics and some overlap of growth range but it is a small and often twisted tree limited to seasonally dry forests in Pacific Central America and is not much used as a commercial timber and thus not much available in the USA. I have only one sample and find relatively few pics of the wood on the Internet so have basically ignored it on the wood ID site and in the name discussion on this page. Just take it that anywhere you see Swietenia macrophylla, it includes Swietenia humilis but you're not likely to encounter Swietenia humilis.
The Khaya species sold as African mahogany are part of the mahogany family, but are separate from the Swietenia species of the Americas. The Khaya species tend to be lighter in color, generally more of a salmon/pink in tint, than the Swietenia species, but the color and density are affected by the specific conditions in the area of growth, so there are no absolutes. The differences between the Khaya species and the Swietenia species are mainly in the external characteristics (leaves, fruit, etc) not in the wood although it is sometimes possible to distinguish between the two with only a 10X loupe by virtue of the fact that the marginal parenchyma lines in the Swietenias are always continuous whereas in the the Khayas they can usually be seen to be strong and then peter out to nothing, sometimes over quite a short distance.
The primary species sold as African mahogany is Khaya ivorensis and that is most likely what you will get if you buy any, but there are several others. The full list, nearly as I can tell, is below, and keep in mind I'm only listing a couple of the many dozens of common names these species all have. Most of these have numerous names that include "mahogany" or "khaya" or "acajou" (or all of these), sometimes with a country of origin.
- Khaya anthotheca: acajou, caoba, African mahogany
- Khaya caudata: African mahogany
- Khaya grandifoliola: acajou, African mahogany, big-leaf khaya, caoba, heavy African mahogany
- Khaya ivorensis: acajou, African mahogany, caoba del Gabon, red khaya
- Khaya klainei: acajou, African mahogany
- Khaya madagascariensis: acajou de Madagascar
- Khaya nyasica: acajou, red African mahogany
- Khaya senegalensis: acajou blanc, African mahogany, dry-zone African mahogany, heavy African mahogany
Other mahogany names, that cause some confusion
Only one source (Princeton University) used that term at all and they used it to mean mahoganies grown in the Americas (the Swietenia species) as opposed to those grown in Africa (the Khaya species). SO ... I looked it up as a separate search term in Google and got quite a few hits, and the first 6 that I bothered to check all used it to mean specifically Swietenia macrophylla. One of the articles claimed that this use is because Swietenia macrophylla is grown in the USA while apparently being ignorant of the fact that while it does grow in Florida it is much more often an imported species here whereas Swietenia mahagoni is native to Southern Florida, in addition to Cuba and other places in South America. Still, it seems moderately widespread to use it as meaning Swietenia macrophylla.
Essentially all sources either did not use the term at all or used it to mean Swietenia macrophylla alone.
true mahogany Most sources either did not use that name at all or else said it refers to Swietenia macrophylla. The only reliable-source exceptions I saw were a couple that used it as being a name for Swietenia mahagoni alone and a couple that used it as meaning all Swietenia species.
There are a number of woods that have nothing to do with mahogany but which have
mahogany in their names, basically as a marketing ploy. The most widely known of these are:
Philippine mahogany This is a blanket name used for dozens of species (primarily groups of Shoria species also sold under the common names meranti and/or luan), none of which are related to the mahogany family in any way other than also being wood.
santos mahogany This is Myroxylon balsamum of the family _discussion_mahogany, totally unrelated to mahogany.
royal mahogany This is is a nonsense marketing term in the flooring industry for a wood that has absolutely nothing to do with mahogany (this kind of dishonesty is typical of the flooring industry, which also calls curupay by the grandiose name "Patagonian rosewood" even though it is totally unrelated to rosewood; it's not even in the same family, much less the same genus)
AN EXTENDED LIST OF MAHOGANY NAMES:
(Yeah, I know ... this is ridiculous)
acajou (brazil and france and venezuela), acajou amerique, acajou d'afrique (venezuela), acajou d'amerique (brazil and french guiana and peru and venezuela), acajou d'amerique centrale (bolivia and france and honduras and mexico and peru and venezuela), acajou du honduras (guadeloupe and honduras and windward islands), acajou du venezuela (venezuela), acajou tabasco (mexico), acajou venezuelien (venezuela), acaju (brazil), aguano (brazil and peru and venezuela), aguano de tabasco (bolivia and honduras and mexico and peru and venezuela), aguano venezolano (venezuela), ahuano (ecuador), albero di acajou (latin america), amerikansk mahogny (venezuela), aquano de tabasco (venezuela), araputan-ga, araputanga (brazil and venezuela), bay (central america), bay-mahogany (venezuela), baywood (central america and venezuela), braziliaans mahonie (brazil and peru), cabano (venezuela), caguano, cao, caoba (bolivia and brazil and colombia and costa rica and cuba and guatemala and honduras and mexico and panama and peru and puerto rico and venezuela), caoba americana (bolivia and colombia and honduras and mexico and peru and venezuela), caoba brasilena (brazil and peru), caoba de atlantico, caoba de honduras (puerto rico), caoba de venezuela (venezuela), caoba del atlantica (central america), caoba del sur (central america), caoba hondurena (puerto rico and venezuela), caoba roja (panama and venezuela), caobilla (cuba), caobo (mexico), cedar, cedro carmesi (venezuela), cedro cebollo (venezuela), cedro espinoso (venezuela), cedro-mogno, centraalamerikaans mahonie (bolivia and honduras and mexico and peru and venezuela), chacalte (guatemala), chiculte (belize and mexico), chiculti (venezuela), civit (india), coabilla, cobano (mexico), crura (venezuela), dai ngua (vietnam), echtes mahagoni, flor de venadillo (venezuela), gateado (mexico and venezuela), giai ngua (vietnam), granadillo (venezuela), honduras caobade (cuba), kanak-che (mexico), laguna de termin mahagoni (belize and mexico), lime, macchochuc-quiui (mexico), madeira (bahamas and usa), mahagoni (venezuela), mahagony, mahogan, mahogani, mahogany, mahogany du honduras (guadeloupe and windward islands), mahogany grandes feuilles (guadeloupe and lesser antilles and windward islands), mahoni, mahoni besar daun (indonesia), mahonie (venezuela), majaine (honduras), mara (bolivia), mara amarilla (bolivia), mara blanca (bolivia), mara colorado (bolivia), maraacedrada (bolivia), marabarsina (bolivia), mararoia (bolivia), mogano americano (bolivia and honduras and mexico and peru and venezuela), mogano brasileano (brazil and peru), mogno (brazil), mogno escuro, mogno peludo, mogno rosa, mogno vermelho, orura (venezuela), palo zopilote (mexico and venezuela), punab (mexico), redwood (bahamas and usa), rosadillo (mexico), sapoton (guatemala), sisam, tsulsul (mexico), tutzul (mexico), tzopilo-cuahuitl (mexico), tzopilote (venezuela), tzopilotsontecomacuahuitl (mexico), tzopilotzontecomatl (mexico), tzulzul (mexico), venezolaans mahonie (venezuela), yulu (nicaragua), zopilote (mexico), zopilote gateado (mexico)
acajou (haiti), acajou a meubles (west indies), acajou de cuba (usa and west indies), acajou de haiti (west indies), acajou de saint domingue, acajou de st. domingue (dominican republic and guadeloupe), acajou des antilles (usa and west indies), acajou mahogani (guadeloupe and west indies), acajou ronceux (haiti), acajou san domingo (usa and west indies), acaju (west indies), aguano, albero di acajou (west indies), amerikansk mahogny (west indies), antillen (cuba), caoba (cuba and puerto rico), caoba americana (usa and west indies), caoba de cuba (usa and west indies), caoba de santo domingo (puerto rico), caoba dominicana (puerto rico), caobilla (cuba), cedre des antilles (west indies), chiculte, coabilla, cobano, cuba mahonie (west indies), dominicana, echtes mahagoni (west indies), gateado, gatoado, honduras mohagany (usa), kleinbladige mahonie (indonesia), madeira (bahamas and usa), madiera (bahamas), mahagoni (west indies), mahog, mahogani, mahogany, mahogany du pays (guadeloupe), mahogany petites feuilles (guadeloupe and lesser antilles and windward islands), mahok (west indies), mahongani (palau islands), mahoni (surinam), mahoni ketjil daun (indonesia), mahonijboom (west indies), moakumi (micronesia), mogano americano (usa and west indies), mogano di cuba (west indies), mongo, nieuxbladboom (west indies), orura, palo de caoba (puerto rico), redwood, redwood (bahamas and usa), sabica (bahamas), small-leaved mahogan (virgin islands), westindisch mahonie (west indies)
the Khaya species
The various Khaya mahogany species have, collectively, almost 400 different common names among them after excluding overlap. I have never seen more than a few of these names used in the USA so I'm not bothering to list them here. Get my free 170,000-entry wood name database if you want the whole list for each of the species.