1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mahogany

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MAHOGANY, a dark-coloured wood largely used for household furniture, the product of a large tree indigenous to Central America and the West Indies. It was originally received from Jamaica; 521,300 ft. were exported from that island in 1753. It is known botanically as Swietenia Mahogani, and is a member of the order Meliaceae. It bears compound leaves, resembling those of the ash, and clusters of small flowers, with five sepals and petals and ten stamens which are united into a tube. The fruit is a pear-shaped woody capsule, and contains many winged seeds. The dark-coloured bark has been considered a febrifuge, and the seeds were used by the ancient Aztecs with oil for a cosmetic, but the most valuable product is the timber, first noticed by the carpenter on board Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship in 1595 for its great beauty, hardness and durability. Dr Gibbons brought it into notice as well adapted for furniture in the early part of the 18th century, and its use as a cabinet wood was first practically established by a cabinet-maker named Wollaston, who was employed by Gibbons to work up some mahogany brought to England by his brother. It was introduced into India in 1795, and is now cultivated in Bengal and as far north as Saharunpur.

The timber of species of Cedrela and Melia, other members of the order Meliaceae, are used as Mahogany, and the product of the West African Khaya senegalensis is known as African mahogany. There is some confusion between the product of these various trees. Herbert Stone (The Timbers of Commerce, 1904) says: “The various species of mahogany and cedar are so confusing that it is difficult to make precise statements as to their structure or origin. I know of no convincing proof that any of the American kinds met with on the English market are the wood of Swietenia Mahogani, nor that those shipped from Africa are the wood of Khaya senegalensis. These two genera are very nearly allied to Cedrela and Melia, and it is difficult to separate any of the four from the rest by the characters of the wood. After giving the most careful attention to every detail, I lean to the view that most if not all of the mahoganies commonly met with are Cedrelas.”

Kiggelaria Dregeana (natural order Bixineae), a native of South Africa, is known as Natal mahogany.