Big-leaf Mahogany

Despite international protection, big-leaf mahogany is still being plundered at an unsustainable rate. The levels of illegal logging and the lack of implementation of international legal trade requirements are pushing this majestic tropical hardwood tree towards extinction.
Mahogany tree (Swietenia macrophylla) or "Caoba" in the local language Emergent along the ... rel=
Swietenia macrophylla
© André Bärtschi / WWF-Canon

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  • common name

    Big Leaf Mahogany, Brazilian Mahogany, Honduras Mahogany, Large-leaved Mahogany; Mahogani Grands Feuilles (Fr) Caoba, Mara, Mogno (Sp)

  • scientific name

    Swietenia macrophylla

  • habitat

    Tropical moist broadleaf forests, Tropical dry broadleaf forests

  • status

    IUCN: Vulnerable A1cd+2cd CITES: Appendix II

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A truly majestic evergreen tree

At heights of up to 60 metres, this massive evergreen species bursts out above the ceiling of the forest canopy. It is named after the big leaves that it bears, which can be as long as 50 cm.

Its bark is dark-brown and flaky with a sweet odour. Its flowers are small and white in colour but the fruits are large capsules that are light grey to brown in colour. It is one of the most commercially important trees in the Amazon as other members of the mahogany genus are commercially extinct due to overexploitation.

Mahogany (known as caoba throughout much of Latin America, as mogno in Brazil, mara in Bolivia, and ahuano in Ecuador) is patchily distributed from southern Mexico through Central and into South America, to its southern limits in Bolivia and Brazil.

Highly valued

The trade in big-leaf mahogany began with the Spanish in the 1500s and over the centuries the mahogany populations in Central and South America have gradually declined. Big-leaf mahogany – prized for its rich reddish colour and good technical characteristics – has been sought, traded and used for the manufacture of furniture, musical instruments and other wood products of high quality, beauty and durability.

Loss of habitat for species

The big-leaf mahogany forests are an important habitat for many species including the endangered giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis). The giant otter lives in the streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands of the Amazon and other South American river systems. The removal of big-leaf mahoganies and other trees leads to soil erosion which destroys the river habitat of the otters.

Size

Height: 40 - 60 m
Trunk diameter: 80 cm
Leaves: 35 - 50 cm
Habitat
Biogeographic realm
Neotropic

Range States
Belize; Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Costa Rica; Dominica; Ecuador; El Salvador; French Guiana; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Peru; Venezuela

Geographic Location
South America

Ecological Region
Tropical moist broadleaf forests, Tropical dry broadleaf forests
 / ©: James Frankham / WWF-Canon
Big leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), Peru.
© James Frankham / WWF-Canon

Priority region

Big-leaf mahogany's range includes the Amazon, which is a WWF global priority region.

Priority species

Big-leaf mahogany are a priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

What are the main threats?

While information on mahogany inventories and status is incomplete, there is evidence of sharp population declines and increased fragmentation.

Population reductions in Central America are estimated at over 70% since 1950 and the species is reported to be commercially extinct in El Salvador, Costa Rica and in parts of South America such as Mato Grosso in Brazil, and Beni in Bolivia.

Besides forest conversion for other land uses such as agriculture, illegal logging and unregulated trade pose major threats to populations of this species, potentially exhausting commercial supplies of this valuable timber in the future.

Deforestation has reduced big-leaf mahogany ranges by over 60% in Central America and by 30% in South America. Natural forests have been the prime target for the exploitation of mahogany because long-term efforts to grow the species in plantations have been mostly unsuccessful.
Mahogany tree trunk being sawn into planks. / ©: Mark Edwards / WWF-Canon
Mahogany tree trunk being sawn into planks. There are 600 sawmills in the municipality, which cut up to some 5000 trees every day. The labourers, including children, live and work in appalling conditions for subsistence wages. Paragominas, Amazonas, Brazil.
© Mark Edwards / WWF-Canon

What is WWF doing?

WWF works to promote sustainable forestry to help ensure species like big-leaf mahogany are not forced into extinction. These measures include:

  • Investment in forest certification and promotion of the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Driving improvements in forest managment and trade practices to reduce inefficiencies and offer financial incentives for the sustainable management of natural forest. WWF is attempting to shape the market through its Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN).
  • Action to address the problem of illegal logging, including work with government and regulatory authorities to ensure quotas are not exceeded and proper monitoring controls are in place.
  • WWF has worked with governments and local communities for over 40 years to protect and conserve the Amazon rainforest.

How you can help

  • Check before you buy - always look for FSC certification when purchasing wood products.
     
  • Spread the word! Click on the button to share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service.
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Did you know?

    • The fruits of bigleaf mahogany are called sky fruit, because they seem to hang upwards from the tree.
    • Each fruit contains 71 winged seeds, 7 to 12 cm long.

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