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What is rosewood?

April 9, 2012
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‘Rosewood’ is a catchy English tradename for many woods. Some are indeed superior like the ‘makha’ (Afzelia xylocarpa, Fabaceae), some are quite poor like ‘Burmese rosewood’ (Pterocarpus indicus, Fabaceae). The real rosewood, the wood used by the Chinese for their superb red furniture with mother-of-pearl inlays, belongs to the genus Dalbergia. This genus of trees with a dark, rose-scented wood is known from South America (Dalbergia nigra) as well as from southern China and Southeast Asia. A local hero here in Chiang Mai is Dalbergia oliveri. It is called ‘chingchan’ in Central Thai language, but ‘ket dam’ or ‘ket daeng’ in northern Thai langauge. ‘Chingchan rosewood’ would be a good English name to distinguish it from other rosewoods. ‘Burma pallisander’ or ‘Burma tulipwood’ are other tradenames but not very suitable.

This picture was taken at Dokmai Garden yesterday when we had Australian garden tour guests. The young leaves are refreshingly rose-coloured for a few days. Please note the shade which elegantly performed a ballet on the white brick wall. The movements of the shade reminded me of reflections from water. So elegant, so lovely, in nature exploited almost to exhaustion, but you can get seedlings for free from any governmental Thai tree nursery. This generous and clever offer from the intellectual elite of Thailand does not necessarily mean this miracle of life is safe. In spite of the economical risks with monocultures most land owners only plant teak, since they can cash it quickly. The slow growth of a Chingchan does not fit the fast buck-society. The sapling seen here is four years old.

Dalbergia oliveri flowers. Feb24.2013.72

Update: the first flowers of the sapling shown above emerged on February 24th, 2013.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. David Cooke permalink
    April 9, 2012 1:37 AM

    your enthusiasm is most infectious, I certainly learn about tropical plants faster than I do Thai! Please keep ’em coming.

  2. February 27, 2013 8:15 AM

    I have seen many of these Dalbergias in flower at this time of year in bushland south of Doi Suthep in the past, but have never seen a big tree. But how does one get them to plant? My experience is that the Forest Nurseries stock Phayung (พะยูง) which is D. cochinchinensis, which I am told has a cream flower. This tree was once common but now endangered in North East Thailand, although one still reads reports of illegal logging for its valuable timber, but is not native to the north according to Gardner et al. I have seen references about research on growing Phayung out of its natural range. This bring me to comment on the over-centralised style of management of the Forests bureaucracy and hence promoting non-indigenous trees e.g Pterocarpus indicus, Dipterocarpus alatus. Nurseries buy in seed rather than have local collectors thereby strenghtening their own knowledge of local flora and helping conserve it. Time for a change at the top I suggest.

    • February 27, 2013 8:40 AM

      Thank you Ricky!

      We have Siamese rosewood too (the cream-coloured Dalbergia cochinchinensis) but it blooms at a different time if I recall correctly. I shall go out and have a look.

      Since the loggers came about half a century before the first botanists Kerr and Hosseus, some valuable species might be gone, such as ebonies, maybe D. cochinchinensis?

      Cheers, Eric

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