Friday May 25, 2018

African Wood Species

Red Milkwood

Species: Mimusops caffra E.Mey. ex A.DC.

Family: Sapotaceae

Trade name: Coastal Red Milkwood

Other Names: Kusrooimelkhout; Shore milkwood; umThunzi, umHlope (Xhosa); umThunzi, uMagayi, umKhakhayi (Zulu)

Distribution: South Africa – Eastern Cape province, Kwazulu-Natal; Mozambique

Red Milkwood is pinkish red, close-grained, heavy, hard, strong and elastic. It has fiddles in the pattern, which add to its beauty for furniture and turning. In Zululand it is considered as a royal timber tree of excellent quality. It is durable when exposed to water and therefore suitable for boat building, as well as the framework of the large, conical fish traps used by the local people in northern Zululand. The wood is also used for various household utensils and ornaments.

The bark and roots have medicinal value and are used to cure broken bones, to treat fevers, to dispel bad dreams, and to treat gall sickness in stock. The red milkwood is sometimes called the ‘walking tree’, because growing on the sand as it does, it is easily blown over and where it touches the ground it roots to from new trees. Although hard, the wood is easy to work with, and finishes easily to a satin surface.

The town Mtunzini’s name is derived from the Zulu word “Emthunzini” meaning "at the umthunzi (milkwood) tree" or "in the shade of the umthunzi tree". In the case of the town of Mtunzini it refers specifically to John Dunn's Indaba Tree, a large coastal red milkwood tree in the Umlalazi Reserve

White Milkwood

Species: Sideroxylon inerme L.

Synonyms: Calvaria inermis (L.) Dubard.; Calvaria inermis (L.) Dubard. var. zanzibarensis Pierre ex Dubard.; Calvaria diospyroides (Bak.) Dubard.; Sideroxylon cinereum Lam. P.p.; Sideroxylon doispyroides Bak.

Family: Sapotaceae

Trade Name: White Milkwood Other Names: Witmelkhout; Melkhout; Melkbessie; Sea oak; umQwashu (Xhosa); uMakhela-fingqane, amaSethole, umHlahlale, umBhobe (Zulu), Mebope

Distributon: South Africa – Western-, Southern-, Eastern Cape Province, Transkei, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga; Swaziland; tropical Africa; Kenya

White Milkwood is commonly found in dune forests, almost always in coastal woodlands and also in littoral forests. It also occurs further inland in Zimbabwe and Gauteng. The genus name is derived from the Greek sideros meaning iron, and xulon meaning wood, referring to the hard wood.

There are three individual trees in South Africa that have been declared as national monuments. These are:

The Post Office Tree in Mossel bay. In the 16th century, a Portuguese navigator left a letter in a shoe which he hung from the branches of the tree. This letter contained information on the drowning of the explorer, Bartholomew Diaz. It was collected a year later by Commander Da Nova, and for centuries afterwards, served as a post office for seaman.

The Treaty Tree is growing in Woodstock, Cape town. It was under this tree that the commander of local defences formally handed over the Cape to the British after the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806.

The Fingo Milkwood grows near Peddie in the Eastern Cape. It shows the location where the Fingo people affirmed their loyalty to God and the British King because they were led to safety by English soldiers when being pursued by Chief Hintza and his warriors.

The bark and roots have medicinal value and are used to cure broken bones, to treat fevers, to dispel bad dreams, and to treat gall sickness in stock.


Species: Spirostachys africana

Other Names: isiZulu: umThombothi

Tamboti occurs naturally from KwaZulu-Natal in the South to Tanzania in the North. Renowned for its beautiful wood, Spirostachys africana is a medium-sized, semi-deciduous tree with a round crown which occurs in low altitude bushveld, often in woodland, on watercourses and savannas. The scented wood is beautifully figured with creamy white sapwood and beautifully grained, dark brown heartwood. It is hard, heavy and oily, and has a distinctive scent that lasts for decades. It is used to manufacture good furniture and the poisonous latex is traditionally used to stupefy fish, making them easier to catch. The latex from freshly cut branches can be used to treat tooth-ache, and the wood is often used to keep insects away.

Pink Ivory

Species: Berchemia zeyheri (Sond.) Grubov.

Synonyms: Phyllogeiton zeyheri (Sond.) Suesseng.; Rhamnus zeyheri Sond.; Berchemia transvaalensis N.E. Br.

Family: Rhamnaceae

Trade names: Red Ivory

Other Names: Rooi-ivoor; Rooihout; Purple ivory; Pink ivory; umNcaka, umNini, Mutiwenkosi (Zulu); siNeyi (Swazi); Monee (N.Sotho); Muniane (Venda); Mucrane, Mulatchine, Sungoma, Sungangoma, Pau-rosa (Mozambique) Distribution: South Africa – Zululand, Mpumalanga; Botswana; Mozambique; Swaziland

This species occurs naturally from Zimbabwe in the north to the Eastern Cape in the south. The heartwood of Pink Ivory is a beautiful pinkish-red, hard and fine textured. Furniture made from this tree is very strong, durable, and takes paint and varnish well. The wood is also good for making wooden bows, walking sticks, small boxes and curios. It is believed that in KwaZulu-Natal, the tree was known as the royal tree because only chiefs were allowed to carry knob-kerries (a stick with a rounded knob on one end) made from it.


White Ironwood is a near relative of the African Olive.

Species: Vepris carringtoniana

Distribution: Ironwood occurs from the Western Cape to Natal and the Transvaal. 

Properties: The sapwood has a streaked, off-white color while the heartwood is a distinct rich-brown to almost black color. The wood has a straight, fine grain with an even texture. It is very heavy and hard. (Weight 1217kb/m3 green, 1027kb/m3 air-dry). The average linear shrinkage from green to air-dry is 6-7% across the grain. Takes a long time to dry when air dried.

Working Qualities: Works with difficulty and is demanding on tools. It does however finish well and turns beautifully. Uses: A very durable species. It is increasingly used for furniture.


The freshly cut wood gives off a sweet pungent odor, thus the name stinkwood.

Species: Celtis africana

Distribution: Stinkwood occurs from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Transvaal, but is absent from the Eastern Cape.

Properties: Has an even straw colored sap wood, darkening to gold-brown and black in the heart wood. It has a fine texture and is naturally lustrous with interlocked fibre and is moderately hard and heavy. (Weight 1089kg/m3 green, 753kg/m3 air-dry). Average linear shrinkage from green to air-dry is 5-6% across the grain. Susceptible to honeycombing in thicker dimensions if dried too fast. 

Working Qualities: It saws easily, turns well, but is demanding on tools. Uses: Moderately durable and stable. It is extremely high priced and is used for high class furniture and panelling, framery and joinery.

Hard Pear

Species: Olinia ventosa

Distribution: Hard Pear occurs in the Eastern, Southern and Western Cape of South Africa.

Properties: Has a yellowish-brown to reddish-brown color, a fine, wavy, close grain and is hard, compact and strong. (Weight 1201kg/m3 green and 849kg/m3 air-dry). Average linear shrinkage from green to air-dry is 4,5% across the grain. It must be seasoned with care to avoid splitting and warping.

Working Qualities: Not the easiest timber to work because of its uneven, wavy grain, and sharp, high speed tools are required. It has a very fine finish due to the wavy appearance of the grain, which gives it a characeristic rippled effect.

Uses: Hard Pear is durable and is used for furniture and musical instruments, and to a limited extent for boat building and carpentry.


Species: Pterocelastrus bicuspidata

Common Name: Cherrywood

Distribution: Candlewood occurs from the Cape Peninsula to Natal.

Properties: The wood has a pinkish-brown to red color and is undifferentiated in color between the sapwood and heartwood. A fine straight grain and is heavy, hard and compact. (Weight 1233kg/m3 green, 1042kg/m3 air-dry). Average linear shrinkage from green to air-dry is 6% across the grain. Surface checking may occur if not seasoned properly.

Working Qualities: Candlewood planes and polishes very well and displays striking grain figuration.  It is probably one of the finest turning timbers to be found, displaying very attractive grain and light “annual” rings in its turned form. 

White Elder

White Elder occurs from the Cape Peninsula to the Southern Cape

Properties: Has a yellowish-white to deep brown color with a sweet smell. it has a fine, even grain and is soft and light. (Weight 1042kg/m3 green, 593kg/m3 air-dry). Average linear shrinkage from green to air-dry is 6% across the grain. Because of honeycombing and uneven shrinkage it requires a mild kiln-drying schedule at low humidity (20 days per 25mm)

Working Qualities: Saws easily, planes, glues and polishes well. Uses: Is quite durable and is used for furniture, panelling and interior cabinet construction.

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