Across the world, over 7,400 trees appear on the IUCN Red List under the category of globally-threatened species of trees. Out of this, the Red List considers more than 1,100 trees critically endangered. Other estimates state that over 30% of the trees in the world face the threat of extinction, and many of them grow in the United States.
The most endangered wood species in the world are well-recorded on the IUCN Red List and the CITES Appendices. We as woodworkers need to be aware of the updated list of endangered species at all times. We can use alternative types of wood to give these endangered wood species a new lease on life.
As we mentioned above it may come as a surprise to know how many familiar wood species that we use in the United States that are highly endangered. Unexpectedly, woods such as anigre, Ipe, and cocobolo now appear on the list of endangered wood species.
One of the main challenges of architects and woodworkers is to be aware of these endangered wood species and avoid indiscriminately using them.
Most Endangered Wood Species
The Lacey Act is the law that protects endangered plants and animals in the United States. It gives regulators across the world a free hand in updating the list. “Ignorance is bliss,” they say. But as a woodworker, if you are not aware of the legal issues you could face unwelcome liabilities anywhere down the supply chain.
So, it is the responsibility of a woodworker to be aware of endangered wood species. Here are 12 of the most endangered wood species in the world:
Afromosia/African Teak (Pericopsis elata)trees
These trees grow in West Africa and we use the wood for boat building, furniture, and flooring. It has a light to medium color and it appears on the CITES Appendix II and also features on the IUCN Red List.
African Teak features on the IUCN Red List because its population has reduced by 50% during successive three generations due to overharvesting.
The trees are extremely tall. They grow up to 150 feet and with tree trunk diameters of up to 5 feet. African teak is a wood of medium hardness with a Janka hardness rating of 1,570 lbf.
The heartwood is yellowish-brown with an occasional olive or reddish hue. It gets darker with age. The sapwood is pale yellow and there is a clear differentiation between the sapwood and heartwood.
The grain of African teak is straight with occasional interlocking. It is a very durable wood and is moderately resistant to decay, termites, and other insects.
It is an easy wood to work with on both machine and hand tools. However, the sections with interlocking grain may cause you a little difficulty. Otherwise, African teak glues, stains, and finishes well.
Anigre (Pouteria spp. (formerly Aningeria genus))
We use anigre to make interior furniture, plywood, and other wooden items. It is light in color and highly figured. Although anigre does not appear on the CITES Appendices, there are cases of it featuring on the IUCN Red List.
Anigre trees grow in East Africa. They are rather tall growing up to 180 feet with tree trunk diameters up to 4 feet. It is a softer variety of wood with a Janka hardness rating of 990 lbf.
The heartwood of Anigre is light yellow and sometimes has a pinkish hue. The color of the wood darkens slightly with age. The grain of this wood can be straight or interlocked.
Anigre is considered to be non-durable to perishable. It does not withstand insect attacks easily. Moreover, it is prone to blue fungal staining during the drying process.
We use Anigre for making interior furniture, plywood, and veneer, and also for general carpentry purposes, construction, and boatbuilding.
Black Ebony/Gabon Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)
This wood comes from West Africa. We use this wood to make musical instruments and fine carvings, and high-end furniture. Gabon ebony is on all the lists and not only endangered but also its trading and dealing have been banned indefinitely.
Gabon ebony trees grow up to just 60 feet and the tree trunks grow up to diameters of 3 feet.
It is an extremely hard type of wood with a Janka hardness rating of 3,080 lbf. Its uniqueness is its jet-black color. Gabon ebony is so black that you cannot see any visible grain structure. You may however see slight brown or grey streaks.
It is a straight-grained wood with occasional interlocking. The wood is extremely durable and has a high resistance to insects.
Gabon ebony is difficult to work with due to its extreme hardness. It is among one of the most expensive forms of lumber in the world if and when it becomes available.
Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)
Cocobolo grows mostly in Central America. The trees grow up to 60 feet with tree trunks of up to 2 feet in diameter. It is an extremely hard variety of wood with a Janka hardness rating of 2,960 lbf.
Cocobolo is on the IUCN Red List and it also features Appendix II of CITES. It comes under the category of endangered tropical rainforest wood species. It is a colorful wood with many colors ranging from red, yellow, orange, and shades of brown with a few streaks of black and purple.
The sapwood of cocobolo is yellow and it is a very durable wood. It can resist insect attacks. Its high durability is attributed to the natural oils that it produces.
It is very limited in supply and also very expensive. We make turned items, musical instruments, and fine furniture with cocobolo.
Honduran Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)
Honduran mahogany grows in southern Mexico and Central America. It appears on the CITES Appendix II and also features on the IUCN Red List. The reason for it being listed is because its population reduced by over 20% across three consecutive generations.
We also call this species genuine mahogany, American mahogany, Brazilian mahogany, and bigleaf mahogany. The trees are huge and grow up to 200 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 6 feet. Honduran mahogany is surprisingly soft with a Janka hardness rating of 900 lbf.
Honduran mahogany has a wide color variation that fluctuates between pinkish-brown to dark-brown. The wood darkens over time and exposure to sunlight. It also exhibits a unique optical phenomenon called “chatoyancy.”
Honduran Mahogany can be straight or interlocked, wavy, or irregular. It has a moderate, natural luster.
This wood is moderate to extremely durable. The heartwood is resistant to termites but is susceptible to attack by other insects.
It is an easy wood to work with both by hand and machine. However, you may find difficulty working at sections where the grain interlocks where tearout and chipping can occur.
We use Honduran mahogany for carving, musical instruments, boatbuilding, furniture, veneer, turned objects, and cabinetry.
Ipe (Handroanthus spp. (formerly placed in the Tabebuia genus))
Also known as Brazilian walnut, Ipe grows in Central and South America. You will find these trees also being farmed commercially. The trees are very high. They grow up to 130 feet with tree trunks of up to 4 feet in diameter. Ipe is extremely hard with a Janka hardness rating of 3,510 lbf.
Ipe is reddish-brown and it can have an olive tint with darker shades. The wood has a fine, medium texture with a straight grain with occasional irregularities.
Here, we have another durable type of wood with excellent resistance to insects. But some species are susceptible to marine borers.
Ipe is a difficult wood to work with because of its extreme hardness. It can have a blunting effect on cutting blades. We use Ipe for exterior lumber, tool handles, flooring, decking, veneer, and turned objects.
Ipe is not on the list of CITES or the IUCN Red List but it is in short supply.
Iroko (Milicia excelsa, M. regia (syn. Chlorophora excelsa, C. regia)
Native to tropical Africa, Iroko is a tall tree that grows up to 130 feet with tree trunk diameters up to 5 feet. It is a moderately hard sort of wood with a Janka hardness rating of 1,260 lbf.
Although it is not on the CITES Appendices, it is on the IUCN Red List. It is because its population has reduced by over 20% during the last three generations.
Iroko is a yellow-brown to medium-brown wood and it darkens over time. The sapwood is yellow with a clear demarcation between the sapwood and the heartwood.
The wood has a medium-to-coarse texture. The pores are open with occasional interlocking in the grain.
Iroko is a durable type of wood and has adequate resistance to insect attack and rot. It even serves as a decent alternative to teak due to its similar properties.
Other than the interlocking sections, iroko is an easy wood to work with. However, calcium carbonate deposits can sometimes interfere with cutting operations. Otherwise, iroko glues and finishes well.
We use iroko to make boats, turned items, furniture, veneer, flooring, and cabinets.
Lauan (also called meranti) is not a specific species. It is an umbrella term for a group of species that come from Southeast Asia. Because it is commonly used for making plywood, we often use the word “Lauan” to describe plywood made from this wood.
Lauan also comes with the name Philippine mahogany, although it is not related to the mahogany family.
Lauan or meranti does not feature in the CITES Appendices but some of the species in this group do appear on the IUCN Red List. This species is on the red list because of a reduction of up to 80% of the population in a span of three generations.
Ramin (Gonystylus spp.)
You find Ramin trees growing in Southeast Asia. They grow up to 100 feet with tree trunk diameters as wide as 3 feet. It is a wood of moderate hardness with a Janka hardness rating of 1,210 lbf.
Ramin is a pale wood, sometimes grayish and there is not much differentiation between the sapwood and heartwood. It tends to exhibit spalting and blue fungal staining.
Ramin has a straight grain with slight interlocking but no specific figuring. It is not a durable kind of wood and is considered to be between non-durable and perishable. It is also prone to insect attacks.
This wood is easy to work on but you need to be wary of splintering while cross-cutting it. Ramin glues, finishes and turns well.
Ramin is on both the CITES Appendix and the IUCN Red List. So, it is an officially endangered species.
We use Ramin to make utility lumber and to make plywood, furniture, veneer, cabinets, and flooring.
Satinwood (Zanthoxylum flavum/Chloroxylon swietenia)
Satinwood alludes to a group of woods that have a smooth, satiny texture. You find different types of satinwood. But when we talk about the endangered species of satinwood, we usually refer to the East Indian and West Indian varieties.
Although no species are listed on the CITES Appendices, they appear on the IUCN Red List.
West Indian Satinwood trees grow in the Caribbean whereas East Indian satinwood grows in central and southern India and Sri Lanka. The trees don’t grow more than about 50 feet with a tree trunk diameter of up to 1.5 feet only.
West Indian satinwood is softer than the East Indian variety at a Janka harness rating at 1,820 lbf. whereas East Indian satinwood has a Janka hardness rating of 2,620 lbf.
Both of these wood species are useful for making inlays, veneer, fine furniture, and various wooden items and turned objects.
Wenge (Millettia laurentii)
Wenge grows in Central Africa. The trees grow rather tall up to 90 feet with tree trunk diameters up to 4 feet. It is a moderately hard kind of wood with a Janka hardness rating of 1,920 lbf.
Although wenge doesn’t appear on the CITES Appendices, it features on the IUCN Red List. It is because its population has reduced by 50% over the last three generations.
Wenge is a medium-brown wood that can sometimes have a reddish or yellowish hue. Its streaks are almost black. The uniqueness of this wood is that unlike most other types of wood, instead of darkening over time, it lightens when exposed to sunlight.
Wenge has a straight wood grain and coarse texture. It can prove to be difficult with hand and machine tools and difficult to sand as well. It is a very splintery wood so you need to take care while handling it to avoid personal injury. Wenge splinters can be rather large and can cause infection.
We use wenge to make musical instruments, veneer, furniture, turned objects, and paneling.
It is interesting to note that due to the extreme darkness of this wood we often use it as an alternative to ebony.
Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillensis)
Also known as Zebrano, you will find zebrawood growing in West Africa. The trees are tall and they grow up to 130 feet with tree trunks up to 5 feet.
Zebrawood does not find a place on the CITES Appendices but appears on the IUCN Red List. This is because its population has reduced by 20% during three successive generations.
This wood has a light-brown to cream color with striking, dark, blackish-brown, or black streaks that resemble a zebra’s stripes. It can show some wildly varying patterns depending on how the lumber is cut. Zebrawood has a coarse texture and the grain is either wavy or interlocked.
You can cut this wood easily but you may find it difficult to plane due to the interlocking grain structure. It tends to tear out so you have to be careful, particularly in the interlocked places. However, it glues and finishes well. But due to the large, open pores, you might need to use a pore filler as part of the finishing process.
Zebrawood makes good tool handles, skis, furniture, and boats. Due to its striking patterns, it makes good veneer too.
Now, you are fully aware of some other most endangered wood species in the world. You would do well avoiding them totally unless perhaps you use reclaimed wood. There are also several substitutes for these endangered species.
We have not mentioned teak in this list because it has become more regulated and available today. But it is also a frequently threatened type of wood.
All the species that we have mentioned here including teak have viable alternatives which you can use. It is always worthwhile to be aware of these alternatives which we featured in a few of our other posts. Some of them include teak wood alternatives, mahogany alternatives, ebony alternatives, and so on.
We hope as a responsible woodworker you will identify and procure some of these alternatives to the world’s finest wood and make some fine woodworking projects out of it.