A Single Black Ebony Tree Could Be Worth A Million Dollars

The black ebony tree, also known as Diospyros ebenum, is a species of tree that is native to Southeast Asia and parts of Africa . It is typically found in tropical and subtropical forests, growing in areas with a high level of humidity and rainfall.

The wood of the black ebony tree is highly prized for its dark color, fine texture, and high density. It is one of the densest and hardest woods in the world, with a Janka hardness rating of 3220 lbf, which is almost three times harder than oak. It is also highly resistant to moisture, decay, and insects, making it ideal for use in musical instruments, fine furniture, and decorative carvings.

Unfortunately, the black ebony tree is endangered due to over-harvesting and habitat loss. It is a slow-growing tree that takes decades to mature, and its high value has led to illegal logging and trade. In addition, many of the forests where it grows have been cleared for agricultural and urban development, further reducing its population.

The rarity and value of black ebony wood is due to its unique combination of aesthetic and physical properties. Its dark color and fine texture make it highly desirable for decorative and artistic purposes, while its density and durability make it ideal for high-end products that require strength and longevity. As a result, black ebony wood is highly sought after by craftsmen, musicians, and collectors, and its scarcity has only added to its value.

If you could grow it or find it, a single black ebony tree could be worth a million dollars.

The Illegal Poaching Of African Blackwood

The illegal poaching of black ebony trees in Africa, also known as African blackwood, is a serious problem that threatens the survival of this species in the wild.

Poaching of African blackwood trees is often carried out by organized criminal gangs who operate in remote forests, making it difficult for authorities to monitor and control the situation. Trees are often cut down and the logs transported to markets in urban areas, where they are sold to buyers who are often unaware of the illegal origin of the wood.

The illegal poaching of African blackwood has serious environmental and social consequences. It not only threatens the survival of this important species, but it also damages the ecosystems where it grows and disrupts the livelihoods of local communities who depend on the forests for their survival.

black ebony tree identification
bark of a black ebony tree drare and expensive black ebony wood

Black Ebony is one of the most valuable and expensive types of wood in the world; prized for its dark heartwood. Traditionally, 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 and prized for the making of fine furniture.

african black ebony carving

Because of the relative rarity of high-quality, Black Wood commands a high price. Sawn logs currently sell at US $300,000 per cubic foot while processed timber for clarinets fetches up to US $450,000 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 Ebony are now extinct, on the verge of extinction, endangered or vulnerable.

Black Ebony has been a wood that for two, or three, or four hundred years, we’ve gone into countries, and we’ve used it until it’s all gone. Literally. Then we move into another country, and we take their Black Ebony till it’s all gone." - Bob Taylor (Taylor Guitars)

Some Black 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 tree is now classified as commercially extinct and endangered. Black Wood 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 weighing less than 1 pound per cubic foot. Interestingly, a tree’s growth rate seems to be related to weight. As the heaviest wood, Black Ebony is also the slowest growing at just one half of an inch per year, while Balsa can grow 10 feet or more per year.

Mun Ebony is one of a handful of Ebony tree species that are native to Asia: more specifically, it’s native to Vietnam and Laos. Due to exploitation and drastic reductions in natural populations, export of this species is currently banned. It is on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered due to a reduction of over 80% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and over harvesting.

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.

African Black Ebony has been classified as vulnerable due to unsustainable harvesting. If the current trend continues, industry experts predict that this tree 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.

Black Ebony Growth Habit

Typically, Black Ebony does not grow in thick stands or under a closed forest 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 the tree develops an extensive system of roots to sustain its life during the long months of the African dry season. Growth of the tree is incremental; it takes 70-200 years to attain a usable size and mature trees never exceed a height of 9 m. (about 30 feet) and 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 a once virgin savannah.

old growth black ebony tree

Black Ebony is a multi-branched, many-stemmed, spiny shrub of dry woodland and savannah that drops its leaves in the dry season. The leaves are pinnate with 3-5 leaflets, flowers are white and sweetly scented, and the fruits are a blunt pinnate pod with 1-4 seeds, which are in short supply. Flowering takes place in the second dry season, covering most of the branches when the tree is leafless, much like a temperate fruit tree. Seed 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 5 feet long to the first major branch, under 11 inches 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 boles of younger trees. Older trees are heavily branched with a well-developed crown.

Grading Black Ebony Wood

Not all Black Wood is the same; the darker the wood, the more valuable it is. The darkest wood is referred to as “pure” and is the rarest Black Wood of all. The most expensive and prized Black Wood only comes from Black Ebony trees that are 150 years old or more. Almost all the marketable trees were harvested long ago and the few that are left are in danger of being poached. The wood from young trees is light brown and is less valuable, usually cut when the tree is just 50 years old.

Ebony Wood, Milling Black Ebony Video

video showing sawn black ebony

Bonsai Black Ebony Trees

There may be a solution for disappearing Black Ebony. As it happens, this tree 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. It can be grown indoors or a greenhouse if the outdoor climate is less than suitable. A few thousand people growing Bonsai Black Ebony would keep these valuable trees from extinction, which scientists predict will be less than 15 years from now.

Black ebony bonsai trees are rare and highly prized for their unique appearance and the challenging nature of their cultivation. Bonsai is the art of growing small trees in containers, and it involves shaping and pruning the trees to create miniature versions of full-grown trees.

Black ebony bonsai trees are typically grown from seed or cuttings and require specialized care to thrive. The trees prefer warm, humid environments and need frequent watering to prevent the soil from drying out. They also require regular pruning to maintain their small size and shape.

Due to the slow growth rate of black ebony trees, it can take many years for a bonsai tree to mature and develop the characteristic dense, dark wood that makes this species so valuable. As a result, black ebony bonsai trees are highly prized by collectors and can fetch high prices.

It is important to note, however, that the illegal harvesting and trade of black ebony trees is a serious problem, and collectors should ensure that any black ebony bonsai trees they acquire come from sustainable and legal sources. Additionally, the cultivation of black ebony bonsai trees should only be undertaken by experienced bonsai enthusiasts who are familiar with the specialized care required for these trees.

black ebony bonsai specimen

Adopt A Tree & Save Black Ebony From Extinction

The following comments were collected from a national wood products discussion forum using Black Ebony.

Comment from contributor A:

Some of the guitar companies are saying that Rosewood and Black 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 in the US would ensure supply and overcome the import regulations.

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The best time to plant black ebony trees was 20 years ago.
The second best time is now!