Black Ebony Tree- Endangered Worldwide
Black Ebony is one of the most valuable and expensive types of wood in the world; prized for its dark heartwood. Traditionally, Ebony blackwood has been used for charcoal, native carvings, combs, needles, cups and knife handles. Because of its high density, texture and waxiness, it is ideal for the production of woodwind musical instruments like clarinets and is a superior wood for holding the metal fittings of guitar fret boards. Black Ebony is prized for the making of fine furniture.
Because of the relative rarity of high quality pieces Ebony black wood commands a high price. Sawn logs currently sell at US $ 9,000 per cubic meter while processed timber for clarinets fetches up to US $ 13,000 per cubic meter. (Sebastian M. M. Chuwa - Conservation of the Mpingo Tree (Dalbergia melanoxylon Guill & Perr.) in Tanzania). To put into perspective, high-quality veneer grade White Oak sawlogs sell on average for US $ 120 per cubic meter. (MJK Marketing). Due to the high value of this wood, many species of Black Ebony are now extinct, on the verge of extinction, endangered or vulnerable.
Ebony has been a wood that for two, or three, or four hundred years, we’ve gone into countries, and we’ve used the ebony until it’s all gone. Literally. Then we move into another country, and we take their ebony till it’s all gone." - Bob Taylor (Taylor Guitars)
Some Ebony species have been placed on the endangered species list published by IUCN - The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Gaboon Ebony is listed in the CITES Appendix III, and is on the IUCN Red List. Gabon Ebony is listed as endangered due to extensive logging the past 100 years. This Black Ebony is now classified as commercially extinct and endangered. Black Ebony is also the heaviest wood in the world weighing more than 70 pounds per cubic food. Balsa Wood on the other hand is one of the lightest woods at less than 1 pound per cubic foot. Interestingly, a tree’s growth rate seems to be related to weight. Black Ebony as the heaviest wood also is the slowest growing at just one half of an inch per year, while Balsa Wood can grow 10 feet or more per year.
Mun Ebony is one of a handful of ebony species that are native to Asia: more specifically, it’s native to Vietnam and Laos. Because of exploitation and drastic population reductions, export of this species is currently banned. It is on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered due to a population reduction of over 80% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.
Makassar Ebony was considered a replacement for African Black Ebony, often named as such to keep up with demand and fetch a higher price. It is on the IUCN Red List due to a population reduction of over 50% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.
African Black Ebony has been classified as vulnerable due to unsustainable harvesting. If the current trend continues, industry experts predict that African Black Ebony may be on the path to extinction within 15 years. (american.edu) (African Timber Ban - Uta Saoshiro) (African Blackwood - Mpingo)
Wild Dwarf Ebony is already extinct. Artificial Cultivation has been underway in an effort to reintroduce a cloned species back into the wild.
Typically, Black Ebony does not grow in thick stands or under closed cover but prefers a more solitary existence, often taking hold in rocky and infertile soils where other plants cannot survive. This characteristic seems to derive from its inability to compete successfully with other plants. During its early years it develops an extensive system of roots to sustain its life during the long months of the African dry season. Its growth is incremental; it takes 70-200 years to attain a usable size. Most trees do not exceed a height of 9 m. (about 30 feet) and rarely exceed 0.3 m. (1 foot) in diameter. Some prize specimens have been reported with a 1 m. (3 feet) diameter and a 5 m. (16 feet) clear bole, but these were rare treasures of the woodlands and very old trees grown under excellent conditions.
It is a much-branched, many-stemmed, spiny, deciduous tree losing its foliage in the dry season, or shrub of dry woodland and savannah that grows up to 10-15 m tall. The leaves are pinnate with 3-5 leaflets, the flowers are white and sweetly-scented and the fruits are a blunt pinnate pod with 1-4 seeds. Flowering takes place in the second dry season, covering most of the branches when the tree is leafless. Pods mature about 7 months after flowering. The trunk or bark is pale grey to pale brown and the bole is often deeply fluted but usually under 1.5 m long to the first major branch, and under 30 cm in diameter and often finely scored in the wild. It commonly has more than one stem. Large trees may have low buttresses. Especially on the branches and on the boles of younger trees there are scattered straight, conical, pale-colored spines, which often bear leaves and flowers. In older trees there are irregular flaky patches. It is a heavily branched tree and the crown is usually rather irregular and rather open though in well-developed individuals it is more rounded and heavier.
Grading Black Ebony Wood
Not all Black Ebony is the same. The darker the wood, the more valuable it is. The darkest wood is referred to as “pure” and has become increasingly rare. Pure Black Ebony only comes from trees that are 150 years old or more. Most of these trees were harvested long ago. The ones that are left are typically poached. Young ebony tree wood is light brown and is less valuable, usually cut when it is just 50 years old.
Bonsai Ebony Tree
There may be a solution for disappearing Black Ebony. As it happens, Black Ebony makes an excellent bonsai tree. They grow small and compact, typically attaining a height of just 3 or 4 feet. Annual reductions will keep the tree small and squat. Pruning will also increase trunk width, which is desirable for future wood harvesting. Black Ebony can be grown indoors or a greenhouse if the climate is less than suitable. A million people growing Bonsai Black Ebony would keep these valuable trees from extinction, which scientists predict will be in less than 15 years from now.
The following comments where collected from a national wood products discussion forum using Black Locust in the United States.
Comment from contributor A:
Some of the guitar companies are saying that rosewood and ebony are getting too scarce to use as fingerboard material, and have switched to a synthetic for same. Wouldn't it be possible to grow either/or in the US? Is there not a climate amenable in our country somewhere? Commercial plantations of same in the US would ensure supply and overcome the import regulations.