Ebony wood (sometimes also referred to as zebrawood) is the most expensive, rarest, and most exotic type of wood in the world. It belongs to the genus Diospyros. For centuries, especially the past 500 years, ebony wood has been the most prized possession at royal courts. It is a wood that has been used as decoration pieces by kings, princes, and dukes throughout Europe and Asia.
Moreover, the royals of Asia used it as a drinking cup as well because they believed it could neutralize poisons. Back in the day, countries would use ebony wood as the main tribute for the greedy conquerors.
Ebony wood, in its realist form, is heavy, dense, and pitch black. It is attractive, precious, and the “must have” wood for many individuals. Since it possesses so many wonderful qualities, it is important to take a deeper look into this wood type and fully understand everything about it.
Table of Contents
- Important Features of Ebony Wood
- Types of Ebony Wood
- 1. Ceylon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros ebenum)
- 2. African Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros mespiliformis)
- 3. Gaboon Ebony or Gabon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros dendo)
- 4. Macassar Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros celebica)
- 5. Pale Moon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros malabarica)
- 6. Coromandel Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros melanoxylon)
- 7. Mauritius Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros tessellaria)
- 8. Mun Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros mun)
- 9. Myrtle Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros pentamer)
- 10. Queensland Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros humilis)
- Use of Ebony Wood
- Price of Ebony Wood
- Final Word
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Important Features of Ebony Wood
Ebony wood is attractive to the eye but it is quite difficult to carve into. The high demand of this wood and limited and slow growth has caused this wood type to be categorized amongst the rarest wood species in the world, hence, causing it to become one of the most expensive wood types in the world as well. Depending on what type of ebony wood it is, how black it is, and its uses, the prices for the wood are remarkably high.
Looking from afar, this wood has a striped appearance. The body is the perfect combination of reds and browns, while brown is the most dominant color in the species. The color of the stripes is usually pitch black or a dark brown shade that looks black.
An adult tree reaches the height of at least 20 meters, but some of the trees have the potential to grow bigger, going above 30 meters. The younger trees have crowns that are cyclical and the older ones have a crown that is made of different branches that stretch horizontally.
The tree is considered to be hard and dense. Known to have more than 3200 Janka, this wood is one of the hardest wood on the planet. The life expectancy is also unknown, but what is known is that it can reach the maturity of a minimum of 1 century. The tree can easily live for half a millennia or more.
Because this tree has the insane ability to resist any sort of rot, it is highly durable. In addition, since it has such hardness and density, it is also considered as one of the few kinds of wood that does not float on top of the water. The ebony tree produces female and male flowers that bud during the springtime. Although the flowers are small in size compared to other ones, they have a strong scent.
Another reason why this jet-black wood is considered to be so valuable is that the roots have medicinal properties. In the past, the roots have been used to cure different kinds of infectious diseases and parasites.
The fruits that grow on the tree feed different monkeys and apes. The leaves are food for big animals like elephants.
Types of Ebony Wood
1. Ceylon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros ebenum)
Apart from being evergreen, this tree has the ability to grow from 20 to 25 meters. It is also considered to have big leaves that reach the length of 20 centimeters. Whereas the fruits on the tree are quite and barely grow a few centimeters. The interior of the wood is jet-black with a subtle sheen while possessing a perfectly smooth texture.
This ebony wood tree typically grows in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India. It gained its popularity and reached its highest peak during the 16th and 19th century, when almost all of the high quality, valuable furniture was being made with this wood. Since it has such high demand and risk of getting extinct, Sri Lanka and India have put ban laws on exporting Ceylon ebony.
2. African Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros mespiliformis)
Being an habitant of the African Savannah, the mespiliformis is considered to be a large, evergreen tree. It is also referred to as the jackalberry because it provides jackals with fruits they feed off on.
On average, this tree is smaller in size compared to the other trees of this family because it only reaches 5 meters even though other trees that reach at least 4 to 5 times that height. The flowers bud on this tree during heavy rainfalls and they are cream colored.
Again, unlike the other trees in this family, the African Blackwood tree grows only one set of flowers on a tree. When the heavy rain stops and the dry season begins to approach, the female tree starts to grow fruits.
When the fruits get ripe, they are red and yellow. Then, various wild animals (including jackals) start to feed off these fruits. The best quality of this wood is that it is growing with termite but it is termite proof.
3. Gaboon Ebony or Gabon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros dendo)
This ebony tree grows on the equator on the west side of Arica. It can grow up to 18 meters in height and the diameter of the trunk is almost a meter. When looking at the tree’s wood, you can see think dark brown streaks or dark grey stripes on it which is quite a rare sight. This wood is often used to make sensitive and small musical instruments.
4. Macassar Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros celebica)
This ebony species are grown in Sulawesi which is an island in Indonesia. It got its name from Macassar, the main part of the island. This tree has the ability to grow up to 20 meters. As compared to the other trees in the ebony family, this tree has wider brown streaks. The color of the streaks is usually brown, mixed in with black.
Japan is the country that is known to have the tradition of importing this wood. It is commonly used for wood posts that are in front of the houses. In addition, it is also used to make fingerboards in guitars. Since it is a wood that is easy to work with and carve, woodworkers are able to create beautiful furniture with this wood.
5. Pale Moon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros malabarica)
Being a native to the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, this tree is one of the tallest ones in the ebony tree family. It can grow up to 35 meters. The ripe fruits of this tree are yellow in color. The leaves and fruits that are not ripe are usually used to extract black dye so clothes can be dyed.
6. Coromandel Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros melanoxylon)
This ebony tree grows in Sri Lanka and India. The name of the tree is derived from the coast of East India. The leaves of this tree as commonly used as tobacco wrappings. Since it is so highly known and popular, the sales have skyrocketed in India. The leaves and the bark of this tree have medicinal properties. They are known to cure malaria and other similar diseases as well.
7. Mauritius Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros tessellaria)
As the name suggests, this ebony tree is an habitant of Mauritius. It has the ability to grow up to 20 meters. The leaves on this tree are dark green, while some of the others are a lighter shade of green. This tree has small white flowers that have a strong scent to them.
Because it is located in the Indian Ocean, the tree has been exploited by the British and Dutch empires.
8. Mun Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros mun)
Known as one of the smallest members of the ebony tree family, this tree type is only available in Vietnam and Laos. The wood has black and brown stripes, even red ones occasionally. The wood of this tree is used for carving and inlays.
9. Myrtle Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros pentamer)
Grown in the tropical part of Queensland, Australia, this tree grows beautiful white and red flowers during the springtime. It is also the rarest rainforest tree that belongs to the family. This tree can grow at least 40 meters tall and the fruits it produces are food for the birds in the Queensland rainforest.
10. Queensland Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros humilis)
Considered a shrub instead of a tree, the Queensland ebony is found on the coast of Queensland, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory. It grows fruits that are orange and sometimes yellow. The wood of this tree is used to make the best and highest quality cabinets.
Use of Ebony Wood
Ebony wood has been carved and used for many years. There are many Egyptian pharaohs that have been buried with valuables that were made with ebony wood. In addition, there has been a long tradition in native African art that has used this wood to create exotic carved art from the African Blackwood tree.
The most common uses of ebony wood have been for musical instruments. The reason for this is that the wood has the ability to create high-quality tones and clear tonality. The common things created with this wood would be mandolins, violas, violins, fingerboard for cellos and guitars, and black piano keys.
Expensive black chess board pieces have also been made with black ebony wood. The parts of the world where this tree grows have used it for charcoal, but this is now banned because the trees are endangered.
Now, the amount of ebony that grows as compared to the old times has decreased, which is why the wood is only used to create small objects such as knife handles and more.
Price of Ebony Wood
As times are going on, the price of this wood is getting higher. The population of the trees is going downhill, but the demand is still very high.
For example, if you are thinking of purchasing sawn logs made of ebony wood, the price will around give figures. On the other –lower- end of the spectrum, you can purchase a sawn log for $10,000 per cubic meter. However, the best quality, rarest, and the most expensive wood logs can cost you $15,000 easily.
If you compare these prices with white oak or other types of wood, you can buy the same thing for less money. If you are buying it according to per board foot, the prices vary from 50 to 100 American dollars. Similar to the demand of ebony furniture in the old times, the furniture made with this rare black wood is still in high demand. Just a normal drawer made with ebony wood can cost $30,000. Tables made with this wood range from 10,000 to 15,000 American dollars. A bed made of this wood costs up to $5000. A sculpture made with original ebony wood can range from $200 and go way above $1000.
Black ebony wood is the perfect example of how natural valuables can get endangered quickly because of the greediness and desires in humans. The tree species that has been spread to the three largest continents around the world are not fighting for survival. The saddest part is that the demand for this wood is still not lessening even though there are very limited trees left in the entire world.
This is the biggest reason why countries are not putting legislation on these trees so they grow slower and the tree population can recover. Countries like Sri Lanka and India has been the export of the most famous ebony tree, the Cylon Ebony. Other countries have taken inspiration from this and are working ok their laws.
Since ebony is so rare, the prices are rising. Moreover, the illegal trading market is flourishing with the sales of ebony wood. Luckily, wildlife preservation is allowing ebony trees to recover. The reason is that more and more people are making ebony wood growth a priority. With so much care and attention provided to this species, they are making a comeback. Once again, the world will be blessed with these beautiful wood trees.