Rosewood: Part II - West Wind Hardwood
caribbean rosewood & katalox

“That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet” — From Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2).

 In August 2006 – Volume 6 – I wrote about rosewood entitled “A Rose by Any Other Name”.  Check out this vintage newsletter.

Seven big decisions were recently made at the Cites Global Wildlife Summit.  This was a major meeting on the regulation of trade in endangered species in Johannesburg, South Africa.  One of these decisions related to “Rosewoods”.

“If forests are like wine, the second and third generations that come up after a native forest is cut are the young and inexpensive varieties. They might be serviceable, but they don’t begin to compare with the rich, heady, bold, and complex attributes of a forest that has aged for centuries…. The massive tree farms where the product is grown in rows like corn and as fast as possible, are chardonnay in a box”……….Excerpt from Condé Nast Traveler with permission from Jim Robbins.

This quote captures our attachment to rosewood but the state of the world’s forests defies the wisdom of our continued dependence on the “classics”. It has a heady richness that has been in demand for centuries by consumers who love its distinctive dark auburn sheen.  But there’s been an explosion and the market has grown 65 times since 2005 and it is devastating the forests in South-East Asia; traffickers are now looking for sources in Africa and Central America. By a consensus decision, the Cites conference placed all 300 types of rosewood under trade restrictions.

caribbean rosewod chechenRosewood is the world’s most trafficked wild product, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, accounting for a third of all seizures by value, more than elephant ivory, pangolins, rhino horn, lions and tigers put together.  That’s bloody amazingly sad.  Governments have launched a crackdown on the rampant billion-dollar trade in rosewood timber that is plundering forests across the planet to feed a booming luxury furniture market in China.

With enhanced Cites protection, the deadly cycle of corruption, violence and forest destruction may just be broken in the nick of time.  The importance of protecting the entire Dalbergia genus of rosewood is that criminals can no longer pass off illegal rosewood as one of the previously unprotected species. “Officials have great difficulty in distinguishing between species,” said Guatemala’s delegate to Cites. “It is very difficult for people who are not experts, and even sometimes for the experts themselves.”

The Cites summit also applied new protection to African rosewood from another genus, known as Kosso, which grows in the dry forests of West Africa. It was barely exported in 2009 but exploitation has since soared and it is now is now the main rosewood timber imported by China. “The forests have been emptied,” said Benin’s delegate to Cites.

siam rosewoodSome rosewood species can still be logged under the new rules, but will require permits that should only be granted if it is deemed sustainable.  The new rules will not prevent musicians crossing international borders with their instruments made from rosewood.

Perhaps it is time lose our romance with this classic and make an intelligent decision based on our senses plus one.  Is the look appropriate for the project?  Has it the working properties required?  Have I made an environmentally sound decision?  Is there a suitable sustainable alternate?

We currently stock a variety of substitute rosewoods.  Check them out; especially our new one called Caribbean Rosewood aka Chechen (Metopium brownei) and we do have some Cambodian/Siam Rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis).  It is the “real meal deal” however it one of those basement stories.  Somebody knew someone who knew someone else and there was a death in the family and now the basement was being emptied.  True story!

Other substitutes to consider are:

  • Bubinga – African Rosewood (Guibourtia spp.)
  • Bocote – Mexican Rosewood (Cordia spp.)
  • Padauk – Madagascar Rosewood (Pterocarpus soyauxii)
  • Granadillo – Amazon Rosewood (Platymiscium spp.)
  • Pau Ferro – Bolivian Rosewood (Machaerium spp.)
  • Ziricote – Mexican Rosewood (Cordia dodecandra)

I think of particular interest is the Caribbean Rosewood/Chechen.  Every imported wood is, at some point, “lesser known”, even one as familiar as mahogany, when it first jumped the queue in the early 1700’s.  Its eventual acceptance or rejection has much do with demand as with supply.  And demand is based not merely on aesthetic quality but on the performance of the wood.  Put simply, how does the wood work?


Chechen is rich chocolate to reddish-brown in colour – some yellow streaking; straight grain.  Occasionally swirls, curls and flamboyant figure can be found and then you’ve won the lotto. It takes a great shine when oiled and waxed; polishing nicely.

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