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What is Ebony Wood?

By James Johnson April 15, 2019


What is Ebony Wood?


PUBLISHED: APR-20-2019

Ebony wood is one of the rarest and most expensive types of wood on the planet. It belongs to the Diospyros genus. For many centuries, probably the last 500 years it has been prized on many royal courts.

Kings, princes, and dukes throughout Asia and Europe had used it for decoration amongst other things. The rulers in Asia used to use it as their drinking cups since they thought it could neutralize poison.

It was so praised in ancient times that some countries used it as their main kind of tribute to their greedy conquerors. The superior, pure types of ebony wood are dense, heavy, and as dark as night.

Features of Ebony Wood:

The wood is very pleasing for the eye, but is also quite difficult to carve. Due to the combination of limited habitat, slow growth and high demand it has become a very rare species of wood.

It is one of the most expensive types of wood in the world. Depending on the type of black ebony wood and its potential use, you could be looking at a price of over 15,000 US dollars.

Looking at it from the outside, it has a very stripe-like appearance. The main body is a mixture of red and brown, with brown being the more dominant color in many species. The stripes are black or such a darker shade of brown that it is barely distinguishable from black.

An adult tree can reach the height of a minimum of 20 meters. Some are known to grow even bigger, reaching a height of 30 meters. The crowns of younger tries are more cyclical, while older trees have a crown formed of many branches stretching towards the horizon.

It is both very dense and very hard. With over 3200 Janka, it is one of the hardest types of wood on our planet. The exact life expectancy isn't exactly known. What we do know is that it can reach maturity in a century or two.

So it can probably live for half a millennia or even more. One of the main reasons for its durability is certainly its impressive ability to resist rot.

Due to its hardness and density, it is one of the rare kinds of wood that does not float on top of the water; each ebony tree produces both male and female flowers. That happens during springtime. Even if the flowers are quite tiny compared to flowers on other trees, they pack quite the scent.

The roots of ebony trees are known for having medical properties. People use them to treat parasites and other kinds of infectious diseases. The fruits of ebony trees are food for various kinds of apes and monkey. Bigger stronger animals, such as elephants are known to feed on its soft leaves.

Types of Ebony Wood:

Diospyros Ebenum

1. Cylon Ebony (Diospyros Ebenum)

This tree grows between 20 and 25 meters and it is evergreen. It has bigger leaves, with the length approaching 20 centimetres and small fruits with the size of barely a few centimetres. The wood interior is black with a bit of a shine. It has a smooth texture.

This type of ebony wood grows primarily in Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia. Its popularity hit its peak in the period between the 16th and 19th century when almost all high-quality furniture was made from this type of wood. Due to the high demand, and fears of extinction, both India and Sri Lank has put laws in place that ban the exportation of Cylon ebony.

2. African Ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis)

The mespiliformis is a large evergreen tree growing around the African Savannah. It is commonly called jackalberry because jackals use its fruits as a source of food.

On average it is shorter than the other kinds of trees in this family, on average it reaches up to 5 meters in height, even tho some trees are known to reach up to 4 or 5 times that height. The flowers, which appear on the trees during heavy rainfalls, are cream colored.

Unlike the majority, the African Ebony has only one set of flowers on a single tree. Once the rains stop and the dry season begins, the female trees will grow fruit.

When they get ripe, they are yellow or red and are eaten by every kind of wild animals, not only jackals. The trees of African Ebony grow together with termites, but are termite proof!

Gaboon Ebony

3. Gaboon Ebony (Diospyros dendo)

The D. dendo tree grows around the equator on the western side of Africa. It can grow up to 18 meters tall and can have a trunk diameter of almost a meter.

Looking from the outside, it is very dark, with rare and thin dark gray or dark brown stripes. It is usually used for small, sensitive musical instruments.

Because its population has nearly halved in the last three generation, it is now considered an endangered species.

Makassar Ebony

4. Makassar Ebony (Diospyros celebica)

This kind of ebony wood is native to the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. It has gotten its name from the main port on that island Makassar. It has one of the wider stripes in the ebony family.

The stripes are brown, mixed with black. Japan has a long tradition of importing this wood. They used it traditionally for wood posts in front of their homes. The tree can grow up to 20 meters in height.

It is most commonly used for fingerboards in guitars. Due to it being easy to carve and work, woodworkers usually used it to create elegant furniture.

Pale Moon Ebony

5. Pale Moon Ebony (Diospyros malabarica)

Native to the Indian subcontinent and the rest of Sout East Asia. It is one all of the tallest members of the black ebony tree family, reaching heights of up to 35 meters. Its ripe fruits are yellow. The unripe fruits and leaves are traditionally used to dye clothes black.

6. Coromandel Ebony (Diospyros melanoxylon)

This member of the ebony family is native to India and Sri Lanka. It has gotten its name from the coast of East India, the Coromandel. Its leaves are used as wrappings for tobacco.

It has gotten so popular that its sales have eclipsed that of cigarettes in India. Both the leaves and the barks have medical properties and are used to treat symptoms of malaria and similar diseases.

7. Mauritius Ebony (Diospyros tessellaria)

As the name implies, it is a native tree on the island of Mauritius. The tree can grow up to 20 meters and have very dark green leaves that are usually a few shades lighter on the underside. Once it flowers, it creates small white flowers that have a strong odour.

Due to its position in the Indian ocean, their trees have been exploited by both the Dutch and British Empires.

Mun Ebony

8. Mun Ebony (Diospyros mun)

This is one of the smallest members of the ebony family. It is native to Laos and Vietnam only. On the outside, it is black with brown or sometimes red-like stripes. It has a very high lustre. It is most commonly used as inlays or carvings.

9. Myrtle Ebony (Diospyros pentamer)

Growing in the tropical parts of Queensland, Australia, this member of the black ebony tree family has white flowers that appear in spring. It is one of the rare rainforest trees in the ebony wood family.

The average height of one D. Pentamera tree can vary greatly. On the lower end of the spectrum, they can grow around 5 meters. The highest members of this species grow up to 40 meters in height. Its fruits are food for many birds in the Queensland rainforest.

10. Queensland Ebony (Diospyros humilis)

More of a shrub than a proper tree the Queensland ebony can be found around the coast of Queensland, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory. Its fruits are orange, or rarely yellow. The wood is usually used to create high-quality cabinets.


Use of ebony wood:

Ebony wood has been carved for many thousands of years. Many ancient Egyptian pharaohs have been buried with objects made from this type of wood. There is also a long tradition of native African art that carved its creation into this type of wood.

One of the most common uses of black ebony wood is transforming it into instruments. The wood creates clear tonality and superior tone. The most common devices built from ebony wood are black piano keys, mandolins, violins, violas, fingerboards for guitars or cellos.

black ebony wood piano key

Extravagant black chess pieces are most likely also made from black ebony wood. Some parts of the world were the trees are native, have used it for charcoal. This practice is now abanded do to the danger of these trees going extinct.

Today, since the amount of ebony has drastically decreased, the wood is mostly used to create small objects such as crucifixes or combs.

Today, since the amount of ebony has drastically decreased, the wood is mostly used to create small objects such as crucifixes or combs.


Prices for ebony wood:

With each passing day, the prices for this type of wood are increasing. The number of trees keeps decrease, but the demand is always staying high.

If you are looking to buy sawn logs of ebony wood, you are probably looking at a price around five figures. On the low end of the spectrum, you might get a sawn log for 10,000 dollars per cubic meter. The more expensive, rare and quality logs of wood will cost you around 15,000 dollars.

In comparison, the same amount of white oak can be bought for 100 times less money. In the case that you are buying per board foot, the price might be between 50 and 100 dollars. Much like in former times, furniture made out of black ebony wood is in high demand.

A simple drawer made from ebony can cost up to 30,000 dollars. Tables made from this type of wood are between 10,000 and 15,000 dollars. A simple bed can cost you up to 5000 dollars. A sculpture made from real, black ebony, can have a price ranging from 200 to over 1,000 dollars.


Conclusion:

Black ebony wood is a sad example of how natural beauty can become endangered by the greed and lusts of an average human being.

The tree that has spread throughout three large continents is now being pushed to fight for survival. Our demand for it still isn't lessening even now when we have pushed a few species of this marvellous tree to its extinction.

That is why many countries have put in legislation to help this slow growing and even slower recovering tree population recover its former numbers.

India and Sri Lanka have banned the export of their most famous type of ebony, the Cylon Ebony. Other countries will probably follow their examples since both the Gabon and Mun ebony are considered endangered.

With the availability of new ebony, the prices are again raising. The illegal trading markets for this type of wood are also in full swing.

But, with the global rise in wildlife preservation, it is likely that ebony woods could recover. More and more people today are worried about the future of our plant and of everything that lives on it.

This is our final chance to save these beautiful dark trees. Woodworkers will have to find alternatives, such as katalox, black plum or ipe.


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