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Mahogany is a straight-grained, reddish-brown timber of three tropical hardwood species of the genus Swietenia, indigenous to the Americas and part of the pantropical chinaberry family, Meliaceae.

Mahogany is a commercially important lumber prized for its beauty, durability, and color, and used for paneling and to make furniture, boats, musical instruments and other items. The leading importer of mahogany is the United States, followed by Britain; while the largest exporter today is Peru,which surpassed Brazil after that country banned mahogany exports in 2001.

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Description

The three species are:
  • Honduran or big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), with a range from Mexico to southern Amazonia in Brazil, the most widespread species of mahogany and the only true mahogany species commercially grown today. Illegal logging of S. macrophylla, and its highly destructive environmental effects, led to the species' placement in 2003 on Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the first time that a high-volume, high-value tree was listed on Appendix II.
  • West Indian or Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), native to southern Florida and the Caribbean, formerly dominant in the mahogany trade, but not in widespread commercial use since World War II.
  • Swietenia humilis, a small and often twisted mahogany tree limited to seasonally dry forests in Pacific Central America that is of limited commercial utility. Some botanists believe that S. humilis is a mere variant of S. macrophylla.
While the three Swietenia species are classified officially as "genuine mahogany", other Meliaceae species with timber uses are classified as "true mahogany." (Only members of the genus Swietenia can be called "genuine mahogany.") Some may or may not have the word mahogany in their trade or common name.

Overview

Distribution

The natural distribution of these species within the Americas is geographically distinct. S. mahagoni grows on the West Indian islands as far north as the Bahamas, the Florida Keys and parts of Florida; S. humilis grows in the dry regions of the Pacific coast of Central America from south-western Mexico to Costa Rica; S. macrophylla grows in Central America from Yucatan southwards and into South America,
extending as far as Peru, Bolivia and extreme western Brazil.

In the 20th century various botanists attempted to further define S. macrophylla in South America as a new species, such as S. candollei Pittier and S. tessmannii Harms., but many authorities consider these spurious. According to Record and Hess, all of the mahogany of continental North and South America can be considered as one botanical species, Swietenia macrophylla King.