African Blackwood, One of the Most Expensive Woods in the World

by Swarna Upadhyayula2 months ago
Picture African Blackwood, One of the Most Expensive Woods in the World

Wood is the most significant part of our society. We use it for fuel, furniture, perfumes, musical instruments, and other purposes. Different varieties of wood are available at different price ranges suiting a broad spectrum of human demands. One such wood is African Blackwood. It is one of the most expensive woods in the world. It is a small tree that reaches up to 15 meters in height.

The use of African Blackwood began in the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Wooden label from a tomb in Abydos
Wooden label from a tomb at Abydos. Image credit: CaptMondo/Wikimedia

The scientific name of African Blackwood is Dalbergia melanoxylon. It is mainly found in the coastal areas of East Africa, including Tanzania and Mozambique. According to historical evidence, the use and trade of Dalbergia melanoxylon began in the ancient Egyptian civilization that dates back to 5,000 years. It was used by pharaohs and wealthy families. In fact, two of the oldest artifacts are the engraved wooden labels or tablets recovered from the tomb of King Menes at Abydos.

Sticks of African Blackwood
Sticks of African Blackwood. Image credit: Rob Campbell/Flickr

In ancient Egypt, it has been widely used in making exquisite furniture and artworks. It was used to make special furniture like Tutankhamun’s chair, stool, and bed. It was also used in temple construction as wooden splines holding the stones of the pyramids in place. In addition, it was used in tomb decorations. In recent times, Africans used it to carve everything from utensils to statues. There is a reference to the use of African Blackwood by the Egyptians in the book Pharaoh’s Flowers: The Botanical Treasures of Tutankhamun by F. Nigel Hepper. He mentioned, “The great variety of seats was quite remarkable. They ranged from magnificent thrones to lowly stools, each having a timber framework. Nobody has made precise identification of all the species involved except for the well-known ones of cedar (Cedrus libani) and ebony (Dalbergia melanoxylon).”

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African Blackwood is mostly used in musical instruments.

Oboe
Oboe, a music instrument.

The appearance of the heartwood is dark, purplish-brown, which almost appears black. It is one of the hardest and densest woods with a fine texture. Its ability to have a well-polished, smooth, and lustrous finish has put it to good use. It is used in the manufacturing of custom pool cues, knife handles, walking sticks, and carvings. The primary use of this wood is in musical instruments like flutes, clarinets, bagpipes, piccolos, oboes, and other instruments.

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African Blackwood is considered one of the most expensive woods, but why?

African blackwood
African Blackwood, Dalbergia melanoxylon. Image credit: Mogano/Wikimedia

The reason African Blackwood is so expensive is that it comes from a slow-growing tree. It takes around 60 years to grow into a fully grown tree. The increasing demand for African Blackwood has resulted in a decrease in the quantity of these trees. As reported by IUCN, this species is labeled as a near-threatened species. The threat to the survival of this species has been a major contributor to high prices. African Blackwood typically costs around $14000 per cubic meter.

African Blackwood is stable and durable when it comes to decay resistance.  This species has also acquired adaptive characteristics like heat resistance. Fully matured trees are resistant to fire.

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Here are four other expensive kinds of wood that exist apart from African blackwood:

1 Agarwood is known as “The Wood of the Gods.”

Agarwood
Agarwood

Agarwood trees are native to Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, northeast India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and New Guinea. Due to their fragrant properties, these are known as “The Wood of Gods.” Agarwood is used for incense, perfume, and other products in the world market. The aroma of the oil extracted from agarwood is used in perfumes (Oudh), for which there is high demand. The reason behind its hefty price tag is its extreme rarity. The rising demand for Oudh has caused the depletion of the number of agarwood trees. According to the current IUCN Red List, it is considered a vulnerable species. The cost of first-grade agarwood can cost around $10,000 per kilogram.

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2 Pink Ivory is used in musical instruments

Pink Ivory is an African wood that predominantly grows in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, northern Botswana, and South Africa. The wood is extremely hard and dense. The appearance of the heartwood is a beautiful watermelon pink color. It is used for manufacturing pool cues, wine stoppers, knife handles, small boxes, and chessmen. It is also used in musical instruments like acoustic guitars. This wood is also highly durable and resistant to decay. The reason Pink Ivory is expensive is that it is considered to be one of the rarest woods in the world. The bright pink pieces of wood are difficult to extract. The cost of Pink Ivory is around $80 per board foot.

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3 Sandalwood is widely used in the cosmetic and perfume industry

Sandalwood
Sandalwood

Sandalwood is mostly found in China, India, Indonesia, Australia, and the Philippines. Sandalwood oil is used in perfumes, soaps, candles, incense, and other religious and cultural purposes. Unlike other aromatic woods, sandalwood can retain its fragrance for decades. The appearance of the wood is yellow-gold with a fine texture. The reason for its high price is that sandalwood comes from a slow-growing species. It takes around 20 to 30 years for a sandalwood tree to grow fully. The decline in the number of trees is at a drastic rate. That is why the sandalwood tree has been declared an endangered species as per the IUCN Red List. The cost of sandalwood wood chips ranges between $70 and $250 per kilogram.

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Picture African Blackwood, One of the Most Expensive Woods in the World
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