24 Types of Exotic Wood

Exotic woods are exotic to North America. Found all over the world, woodworkers, homeowners, and hobbyists who seek to work with these tropical raw materials, choose exotic woods for their rarity.  People are drawn to exotic woods for durability, rich beauty, and unique appearance.

Exotic timber falls in the category of hardwood. This means these exotic trees derive from deciduous trees which lose their leaves annually. Trees that are hardwood have a slower growth rate and a denser wood, which makes them more durable.

Thriving in tropical climates, exotic wood species tend to grow in rainforests and tropical moist forests. From Africa to South America and down under in Australia to the Tropics, exotic wood can be found where climates and forests run hotter. Read on to learn what exotic woods are all about, and a list of the most talked-about exotic woods. Discover where these trees grow, their distinct characteristics and how they are used in everyday life.

Related: Types of Mahogany Wood | Types of Tropical Wood | Mahogany Vs Acacia Wood | Sapwood and Heartwood | Rubberwood vs Pine | Whitewood vs Pine | Juniper vs. Cedar Wood | Shumard Oak vs Red Oak Wood | Acacia vs Eucalyptus Wood | Hemlock Wood vs Pine Wood

24 Types of Exotic Woods

Found all over the planet, exotic woods have become distinct materials for homeowners and interior designers. A beautiful and personalized way to incorporate rich coloring and unusual patterns, exotic woods are finding new life inside and outside, as everyday objects, decorative arts, musical instruments, and boat building.

Here is a list of popularly used exotic woods.

1. Big Leaf Mahogany Tree

  • Additional common name: Honduras Mahogany
  • Scientific Name: Swietenia Macrophylla
  • Growing Range: Central America, South America, and Mexico
  • Tree Size: Up to 200-feet tall (average is about 130-feet tall), 6-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Paneling, furniture, cabinetry, wood sculptures, boats, and decking.

Mahogany trees are known to be slow-growing giants. This wood is desirable for its strength, rot-resistance, and its naturally pink and reddish-brown tones. A popular wood used during the American Colonial period. Mahogany furniture was crafted especially for its durability. Mahogany was an excellent wood for carving, which woodcutters enjoyed.

2. Garapa or Grapia

  • Scientific name: ApuleiaLeiocarpa
  • Growing range: South America
  • Tree size: 65–100-feet tall, 3-5-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, decking, dock, and boat building.

A standard for commercial projects, Garapa is a preferred exotic wood for decks and boat docks. This wood starts a light honey color and when exposed over time darkens with age. Builders favor Garapa for its strength. Similar to Ipe wood, Garapa is fire-resistant.  Dock owners like Garapa for its affordability, easy maintenance (yearly sealant treatment required), and its stability – less splintering and warping.

3. Ipe

  • Additional common names: Brazilian Walnut and Lapacho
  • Scientific name: Handroanthus spp.
  • Growing range: Tropical Americas (Central and South America)
  • Tree size: 100-130-feet tall, 2-4-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, deck, outside lumber projects, veneer, tool handles.

One of the strongest exotic hardwoods, Ipe is flame resistant (Class A fire rating for flame spread) and is compared to the strength of concrete and steel. Its appearance varies and usually lands in one of these color categories of amber-brown, yellow-brown, black-brown, and even features contrasting dark stripes and yellow specks.

It is known that Ipe was the original boardwalk material at New York’s Coney Island. The boardwalk lasted 25 years until it needed replacing, quite the feat for the amount of foot traffic and weather that impacted the wood.

Ipe is a hardy wood and homeowners rely on it during the 4 seasons. It produces natural oil that is resistant to termites and other pests. Ipe also deters mold and rot growth.

4. Australian Cypress

  • Additional common name: White Cypress Pine
  • Scientific Name: Callitris columellaris
  • Growing range: Australia
  • Tree size: 65-100-feet tall, 1.5-2-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Veneer, plywood, flooring, furniture, light construction, and cladding

Australian Cypress is an excellent choice for high usage and exposure. This light to dark brown wood is also characterized by darker red-brown streaks and small knots. Builders select Australian Cypress for its durability and natural protection against decay and insect infestation.

5. Brazilian Cherry

  • Additional common name: Jatoba
  • Scientific name: Hymenaeacourbaril
  • Growing range: Brazil, Norther, South America, Central America, Southern Mexico, West Indies
  • Tree size: 100-300-feet tall, 2-4-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Furniture, cabinets, flooring, veneers, shipbuilding, railroad ties, joinery, woodturning, tool handles, sporting goods

Unrelated to American cherry wood, Brazilian Cherry imbues a beautiful cherry hue with dark brown streaks that enriches any type of environment. As it is exposed to light the appearance of Brazilian Cherry grows darker. This stiff and very hardwood is dependable for the gamut of construction.

6. Goncalo Alves

  • Additional common names: Tigerwood, Jobillo
  • Scientific name: Astronium spp.
  • Growing range: From Mexico south to Brazil
  • Tree size: 100-130-feet tall, 3-5-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, veneers, furniture and cabinetry, woodturning objects and carving, as well as knife handles, pool cues, and archery bows.

Goncalo Alves heartwood (the dead central wood of the tree) is a red-brown with distinct “tiger” black stripes running through the wood. The colors tend to darken as the wood ages. Naturally resisting decay, Goncalo Alves does very well in all climates. This wood is hard and strong, a great source for all types of woodworking and construction projects.

7. Black Locust

  • Additional common names: Robinia and False Acacia
  • Scientific name: Robiniapseudoacacia
  • Growing range: Although found in North America, this tree has been naturalized in Europe and Asia
  • Tree size: 65-100-feet tall, 2-3-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, boat construction, fence posts, railroad ties, furniture, woodturning, and veneer

An ideal material for outdoor construction, Black Locust weathers well without the affliction of rot or decay. It grows in sunny environments and is a strong hardwood. Its honey color and smooth texture results in a beautiful finished project.

8. Desert Ironwood

  • Scientific name: OlneyaTesota
  • Growing range: Northwestern Mexico
  • Tree size: 20-30-feet tall, 1-2-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Decorative cutlery handles, wood carvings, and wood-turned items

Desert Ironwood, also grown in the Southwest part of the United States, is a favorite among wood makers in knife-making. With its orange-yellow and dark red/brown color spectrum, Desert Ironwood also features dark violet and black streaking throughout. You’ll find beautiful knife handles showcasing the wood’s unique coloring and grain patterns. You’ll also find pieces that are all black. The Indigenous Seri community who live in Sonora, Mexico cherish the native Desert Ironwood for traditional carvings.

9. Chatke Viga

  • Additional common names: Paela and Aripin
  • Scientific name: CoulteriaPlatyloba
  • Growing range: Mexico and Central America’s tropics
  • Tree size: 20-30-feet tall, 1-2-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Furniture, flooring, fencing, woodworking inlays, woodturning, and wood instruments

The bright oranges, golden brown, and pale yellows of the heartwood give homeowners that custom design. And string musicians find great sound qualities in Chakte Viga. This hardwood is used to construct various parts of an instrument including harps, violins, and guitars.

10. Mopane or Mopani

  • Scientific name: Colophospermyum mopane
  • Growing range: Southern Africa
  • Tree size: 65-100-feet tall, 2-3-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, furniture, outside construction projects, woodwind musical instruments, inlay, and turned items

This African hardwood is an excellent material to build with. Rated as highly durable and also anti-termites and protects against powder post beetle infestation, Mopane’s heartwood features a rich dark red-brown coloring with black stripes. Its sapwood (the outermost part of the wood) is a pale yellow. It is an excellent wood for luthiers and musicians.

Similar to African Blackwood (one of the most expensive exotic woods on the market), Mopane is a much more affordable wood option.

11. African Blackwood

  • Additional common names: Mpingo (in Swahili), Grenadilla
  • Scientific name: Dalbergia Melanoxylon
  • Growing range: Mozambique, Tanzania, the dry Savanna parts of Eastern Africa
  • Tree size: 20-30-feet tall, 2-3-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, musical instruments, chess pieces, inlay and carvings, walking sticks, tool handles, small furniture items, woodturning, duck calls, and ancient ceremonial objects

African Blackwood is known as the most expensive and hardest exotic wood. Its deep black-purple heartwood is sought after for its gorgeous appearance, density and strength. Once used during ancient Egyptian times, African Blackwood tools and utensils have been discovered in Pharoah tombs.

African Blackwood is often used as tonewood when constructing exquisitely designed instruments such as clarinets, flutes, oboes, and bagpipes.

12. Burmese Blackwood

  • Additional common names: Khamphi Rosewood, Laos Rosewood
  • Scientific name: Dalbergia Cultrata
  • Growing range: Southeast Asia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand
  • Tree size: 65-100-feet tall, 1-1.6-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Furniture, inlay and carvings, pen blanks, musical instruments, woodturning

Burmese Blackwood features black waved streaks running through a dark purple-brown. It has a natural luster that shines wonderfully after it is smoothed and sealed. Carved decorative items including bowls and platters look lovely in kitchens and on shelves.

13. Zebra Wood

  • Additional common name: Zebrano
  • Scientific name: Microberlinia Brazzavillensis
  • Growing range: West Africa’s Cameroon and Gabon
  • Tree size: 65-130-feet tall, 4-5-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Veneer, tool handles, boat building, skis, furniture

You can’t deny the name of this exotic wood when you observe its zebra stripes. Zebra Wood’s heartwood is a cream color with bold dark brown streaks running through the appearance of the wood. When used as a veneer, boat builders say the wood finishes well. You’ll see Zebra Wood incorporated into interior designs, water paddles, and oars.

14. Bamboo

  • Scientific name: Many Bamboo species procreate from the Poaceae grass family, and timber-producing bamboos are of the Phyllostachy and Bambusa genera
  • Growing range: South Asia
  • Tree size: 50-100-feet tall, 3-6-inch diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, fencing, musical instruments, paper, bicycle frames

Bamboo is a revered natural and sustainable material used in many industries. Its appeal isin its color uniformity of pale yellow or almost white. This fast-growing tree matures quickly in 2 to 3 years into a strong hardwood, with a high regeneration rate. Green-minded builders and homeowners choose this exotic wood for many projects including flooring, furniture, home décor, garden trellises and fencing, and screens.

15. Mexican Ebony

  • Additional common name: Katalox
  • Scientific name: Swartzia Cubensis
  • Growing range: Southern Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America
  • Tree size: 100-130-feet tall, 2-4-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Cabinetry, parquet flooring, inlay, woodturning, guitars

Not a true ebony, but occasionally this exotic wood is referred to as Mexican Royal Ebony. Builders choose this heartwood dark wood with shades of reds, browns, black, and purples for its high resistance to termites and rot, and of course, its gorgeousness.

16. Jarrah

  • Scientific name: Eucalyptus Marginata
  • Growing range: Australia
  • Tree size: 100-130-feet tall, 3-5-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Flooring, veneer, heavy construction, outdoor furniture, and cabinetry

Jarrah’s color range is light red to dark brick red, with vibrancy. Australian homeowners and builders rely on Jarrah for indoor and outdoor projects. It is a highly durable exotic wood and is water-resistant and fire-resistant.

17. Canary Wood

  • Additional common name: Canary
  • Scientific name: Centrolobium spp.
  • Growing range: South America (Panama to Southern Brazil)
  • Tree size: 65-100-feet tall, 2-3-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Construction, veneers, boat building and boat parts, railroad crossties, cabinetry for entertainment systems, and furniture

Woodworkers and hobbyists are drawn to Canary’s wide range of coloring. Its heartwood shades extend the spectrum of the ranges from yellow to orange to dark red streaking and darkens with age. In boat construction, Canary is utilized for keel, planking, and trim. Canary Wood is also a great material for speaker enclosures due to its strong acoustic traits.

18. Ebony

  • Scientific name: African Ebony is from the genus Diospyros and Ebenacae family, and Ceylon Ebony is from the Diospyros Ebenum species.
  • Growing range: African Ebony is from West Africa and Ceylon Ebony is native to the west of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka
  • Tree size: 59-79-feet tall, 8-10-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Cabinets, inlaying, piano keys, violins, mandolins, guitars, knife handles, and woodturning

This jet-black exotic wood is one sought-after material for so many beautiful handcrafted items. These woods are very strong and dense. When polished the wood is wonderfully brilliant. Note piano keys made from Ebony. Ancient history tells that Ebony was highly cherished. The wood adorned tombs of Egyptians, the handles of Samurai swords, and the kings of India chose Ebony wood for drinking cups and wands.

19. Cocobolo

  • Additional common names: Cocabola, Cocobola
  • Scientific name: Dalbergia Retusa
  • Growing range: Highlands of Central America, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua
  • Tree size: 45-60-feet tall, 1.5-2-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Musical instruments, writing instruments, fine furniture, music boxes, jewelry boxes, and woodturning

Found in an array of colorings, Cocobolo woods can be yellow, black, pink, and often accented by natural streaks of green, blue, and purple. Woodworkers find Cocobolo to be a bit challenging to work with for its inability to hold glue.

20. Leopard Wood

  • Scientific name: Roupala Montana
  • Growing range: Central and South America including Brazil and Chile.
  • Tree size: 100-130-feet tall, 2-3-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Guitars, furniture, cabinets, veneer, and turnings.

The light and dark brown flecks within the grain are the best clues when identifying Leopard Wood. These contrasting grain patterns are lovely accents for musical instruments, fine furniture, and decorative veneer.

21. African Padauk

  • Additional common name: Vermillion
  • Scientific name: Pterocarpus Soyauxii
  • Growing range: Central and tropical West Africa
  • Tree size: 100-130-feet tall, 2-4-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Musical instruments, tool handles, flooring, veneer, and fine furniture.

African Padauk is a highly durable and dependable wood material when used for flooring and furniture. Protected against termites and decay, the heartland of African Padauk is typically red-orange. Some heartland varies from pink-orange to brown-red. African Padauk is one of the more affordable exotic woods.

22. Spanish Cedar

  • Additional common name: Cedro
  • Scientific name: Cederla Odorata
  • Growing range: Central and South America, Caribbean, and Mexico
  • Tree size: 65-100-feet tall, 3-5-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Humidors, classical musical instruments, boatbuilding, cabinetry, veneer, and plywood

Spanish Cedar has a lovely rose, red and brown undertone which darkens with age. Its cedar aroma is ideally used for cigar humidors. And its constitution ensures that the wood weathers well and resists insects, termites, and decay. Spanish Cedar is a beautiful wood for constructing Flamenco and classical guitars.

23. Purpleheart

  • Additional common names: Amaranth, Violet Wood, Roxinho, Violeta
  • Scientific name: Peltogyne spp.
  • Growing range: Tropical rainforests of Central and South America
  • Tree size: 100-170-feet tall, 3-5-feet diameter
  • Popular uses: Floor, boats, furniture, construction, inlay and carvings, and heavy construction

When Purpleheart’s cut heartwood shows as a purple-brown. Once the wood is exposed to UV light, that dullish purple transforms into a deep eggplant hue. But as the wood continues to age and absorbs the light, Purpleheart takes on a dark brown shade. Purpleheart is a great flooring material. It weathers well, it is hard and can handle the everyday household traffic. Homeowners can maintain Purpleheart’s unique coloring with a finish to protect from UV light exposure.

24. Teak

  • Additional common name: Burmese Teak, Genuine Teak
  • Scientific name: Tectona Grandis
  • Growing range: Teak is native to Southern Asia, but also grown in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America
  • Tree size: 100-130-feet tall, 3-5-feet diameter
  • Common uses: boat and shipbuilding, outside construction projects, veneer, flooring, furniture, woodturning, carving, and decorative objects

Teak’s heartwood is golden brown and darkens with age. Teak is a highly desired lumber known for its durability and workability. Builders enjoy building outdoor patios and creating flooring with teak. The teak will not rust when metal touches it.  woodworking as a hobby and are looking into making something special and unique, then you might be considering exotic varieties of wood.

Why You Should Use Exotic Lumber for Your Next Project

Exotic woods are precious

There are dozens of exotic tree species in the world reflecting a versatile palette of colors and grains. Exotic woods are hard, dense, and strong, which is one of the many factors woodworkers and homeowners choose them for projects. While the lumber is super durable woodworkers and wood hobbyists know that they need to utilize specialty tools such as carbon-tipped saw blades (or carbide-tipped). Basic saw blades aren’t strong enough to penetrate the wood, and the hardness of the wood can damage basic saw blades and tools. Also, these hardwoods contain natural oils, which poses another challenge and glue just doesn’t adhere well to them.

When exotic hardwoods are left out in the sun their coloring naturally fades to a silver patina. Many folks prefer this natural patina. However, if maintaining the wood’s natural brown shading is the priority homeowners can treat the wood with a stain and sealer as needed.

Best in durability

Exotic hardwood offers homeowners a lifetime of undeniable durability. When maintained properly throughout the year, especially after the cold wet winter seasons and the hot dry summer seasons, most exotic wood will thrive. It can handle all sorts of weather and its natural hardiness repels moisture naturally.  It’s suitable for the outdoors because the composition of the wood is both hardy and stable. This means the wood won’t warp or crack.

Exotic hardwoods also absorb impact very well, which is why homeowners choose exotic woods for outdoor deck flooring. Based on the Janka scale, which is the industry’s standard system of measuring wood’s hardness. The industry mean is 1200, which represents the number of pounds of force the wood can absorb. To give you a sense of the scoring, teak ranks in at 1000 and Brazilian Ipe at 3684.

Additionally, exotic woods produce natural oils that work as a natural repellent to insects and termites.

Expensive materials

Exotic wood tends to be more expensive than domestic lumber for a few reasons. One being the most obvious is the wood is imported. Spanning $50 per board foot to $100 per board foot and sometimes, even higher, some consumers choose these woods for smaller projects. Additionally, today, there is a surge in construction in the United States so the demand for raw materials is higher. African Blackwood is known to be the most expensive.

Shopping for Exotic Woods responsibly

Exotic woods are highly regarded in the sustainable foresting community and the home building industry. It’s why the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC International) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) exist. These organizations certify sustainable forest management. FSC specializes in certifying tropical and subtropical forests to assist smaller landowners and indigenous communities in sustainability through replanting endeavors, for example. Their certifications help consumers to shop responsibly.

People who work with exotic woods know that they need to take extra caution when working with them. Known to cause some physical reactions, exotic woods and their dust do have natural toxins that can cause some respiratory symptoms, skin rashes, and other ailments. Wear safety gear when sawing, cutting, and touching exotic lumber.

Exotic woods in everyday life.

The versatility of using exotic woods for outdoor flooring and outdoor furniture, yard fencing, decorative arts, and musical instruments is expansive.

You’ll also see exotic woods used for indoor flooring (it’s a natural insulator), dining tables and coffee tables, chairs, kitchen cabinetry, bookshelves, and indoor paneling.

Luthiers and musicians love to use exotic woods for electric and acoustic guitars, violins, lutes, and other strings.  Much of the decisions that go into selecting the right and most high-quality wood are based on what acoustics the wood and grain can offer.

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