Get to know about the different types of ebony wood and discover why this pitch black wood is the world's most expensive, rarest, and most exotic type of wood.
Ebony wood, species Diospyros crassiflora, (sometimes also referred to as zebrawood) is the most expensive, rarest and most exotic type of wood in the world. For centuries, especially the past 500 years, ebony wood has been the most prized possession at royal courts. It has been used as decoration pieces by kings, princes and dukes throughout Europe and Asia.
Table of Contents
- An Exotic History
- What is Ebony Wood and what Are Its Features?
- 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)
- How to Identify Ebony
- What Is Ebony Wood Used For?
- Working With Ebony
- Final Word
- Ebony FAQs
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An Exotic History
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.
What is Ebony Wood and what Are Its Features?
The wood of the ebony tree is both slow-growing and highly in demand, which makes it one of the most sought-after wood species in the world. This makes the price of ebony relatively high, compared to other commercial woods.
A. The Wood
Ebony has a striped grain. 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 ranges from black to dark brown. Ebony is hard and dense. In fact, ebony wood is one of the hardest woods on the planet.
B. The Tree
An adult ebony tree reaches a height of about 30 feet. 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 life expectancy of the ebony is unknown but it can easily live for half a millennia or more.
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, the Ceylon grows from 60 to 85 feet tall. It also has big leaves that are almost eight inches long. The interior is jet-black with a subtle sheen and a perfectly smooth texture.
This ebony typically grows in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. This ebony tree gained its popularity and reached its highest peak during the 16th and 19th century, when almost all of the high-quality, valuable furniture was made with this type of ebony. Since it has such high demand and because there is risk of the trees becoming extinct, Sri Lanka and India have put ban laws on exporting Ceylon.
2. African Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros mespiliformis)
Found in the African Savannah, the mespiliformis is an evergreen tree. It is also referred to as the jackalberry because it provides jackals with fruits they feed on.
On average, this ebony is smaller in size compared to the other trees of this family because it only reaches heights of about 16 feet. Cream-colored flowers bud it during heavy rainfalls. When the fruits get ripe, they turn red and yellow.
The wood of the African ebony is termite-proof.
3. Gaboon Ebony or Gabon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros dendo)
Gabon ebony grows on the equator on the west side of Africa, near Ghana. It can grow up to 60 feet tall with a trunk diameter of about three feet. When looking at the wood, you can see think dark brown streaks or dark grey stripes, a rare pattern. This dark wood is often used to make sensitive and small musical parts and instruments.
The population of this ebony has halved in the past three generations, making it an endangered species.
4. Macassar Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros celebica)
This ebony species grows in Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia. It got its name from Macassar, the main part of the island, also spelled Makassar. This species has the ability to grow up to 65 feet tall. Compared to the other trees in the ebony family, this tree has wider brown streaks in the wood grain. The color of the streaks is usually brown to black.
Japan has a tradition of importing Macassar lumber. It is commonly used for posts for houses. In addition, it is also used to make fingerboards in guitars. Since this ebony is easy to work with and carve, woodworkers are able to create beautiful furniture with it that’s highly sought-after.
5. Pale Moon Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros malabarica)
Native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, the pale moon ebony is one of the tallest trees in the genus Diospyros. It can grow up to 115 feet tall. The ripe fruits are yellow in color. The leaves and fruits that are not ripe are usually used to extract black dye used for making clothing.
6. Coromandel Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros melanoxylon)
The Coromandel ebony grows in Sri Lanka and India. The leaves are commonly used as tobacco wrappings. This tree is known to cure malaria and other similar diseases as well. Since the Coromandel ebony is so highly known and popular, sales of it have skyrocketed in India. The leaves and the bark have medicinal properties.
7. Mauritius Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros tessellaria)
As the name suggests, the Mauritus ebony is an habitant of Mauritius. It grows up to 65 feet tall. The leaves range from dark to light green. The Mauritus ebony has small, white flowers that have a strong scent.
Because this Diospyros genus tree is located in the Indian Ocean, the Mauritius ebony has historically 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 family, the mun ebony only grows in Vietnam and Laos. The exquisite wood has black and brown stripes, even occasional red streaks. This tree is often used for carving and inlays.
9. Myrtle Ebony (Scientific name: Diospyros pentamer)
Grown in the tropical part of Queensland, Australia, the myrtle ebony grows beautiful white and red flowers during the springtime. It is also the rarest rainforest tree in the ebony genus. The myrtle ebony can grow 130 feet 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 the Queensland ebony is used to make the best and highest quality cabinets.
How to Identify Ebony
Ebony’s heartwood is completely black and has a very fine and even grain pattern. Sometimes, you’ll see an interlocking grain pattern. The wood itself has a natural sheen to it and it is very hard.
What Is Ebony Wood Used For?
Ebony has been carved and used as lumber for many years. There are many ancient Egyptian pharaohs that have been buried with valuables that were made with black ebony. There has been a long tradition in native African culture of creating exotic carved art from the wood of the African Blackwood tree, Dalbergia melanoxylon.
The most common use of ebony has been for making musical instruments. Ebony has the ability to create high-quality tones and clear tonality when instruments and musical instrument parts are carved from it. Mandolins, violas, violins, fingerboard for cellos and guitars, and black piano keys have all been commonly made from ebony’s black wood.
Expensive black chess board pieces have also been made with black ebony wood. People in the parts of the world where ebony grows have used it for charcoal but this is now banned because the trees are endangered.
- Practical Uses
Ebony is frequently used to make items that need to be both practical and decorative, such as sword and knife handles. This is a popular material for artisan crafters in all fields.
Working With Ebony
Many work with ebony by hand, experimenting with the heartwood that is near the center of trees, always the hardest woods to work with for making carved pieces and other intricate details.
Ebony is frequently paired with rosewood and brass accents by artisans because all these materials are high end and they play very well against each other, bringing out a natural warmth and richness in all three materials. If you find a piece containing this combination, expect it to be pretty expensive!
Ebony wood is the perfect example of how natural valuables can get endangered quickly because of the greediness and desires in humans. The species that has been spread to the three largest continents around the world are now fighting for survival. The saddest part is that the demand for ebony is still not lessening.
This is the biggest reason why countries are not putting legislation on these trees so they grow slower and the population can recover. Countries like Sri Lanka and India has been the exporter of the most famous ebony, the Ceylon. Other countries have taken inspiration from this and are working on new laws.
Since ebony is so rare, the prices are rising. Moreover, the illegal ebony market is flourishing. Luckily, wildlife preservation is allowing ebony trees to recover. With care and attention provided to this species, the trees are making a comeback. Soon, the world will be blessed with beautiful indigenous ebony wood trees once more.
If you still have questions about ebony, you aren’t alone. Get the answers to the most common questions about ebony to become an expert.
1. Why is ebony wood so dense and black?
Ebony’s hardness and coloring are simply the nature of the trees that produce this type of wood. All types of wood-producing trees have their own distinct features that make the specific types of wood highly identifiable. Ebony’s main characteristics are in the strength and color of the wood.
2. Is ebony wood waterproof?
Ebony is extremely durable wood with a very fine wood grain. Some types of ebony are resistant to decay. So in effect, ebony wood is about as water-resistant as any wood can be. However, you will still need to apply a protective coating to wood to make it completely waterproof.
3. How do I polish ebony?
Ebony can be cleaned and polished with lemon oil and diluted vinegar. You can also clean ebony with simple dish soap and water. Standard furniture can be cleaned with hardwood furniture polish but instruments cannot, particularly pianos, as this may damage the mechanisms inside.
How to Clean Stuff recommends using a solution of lemon oil and water with a cotton cloth or swab to clean intricate ebony wood carvings and perform other detail work on this wood.
4. Why is ebony so expensive?
Not only is ebony becoming harder and harder to find, but it’s also very hard to work with. Because ebony is also so highly in demand, it can demand a strong price. Furnishings and other items made from ebony are durable and they’re beautiful, qualities that people are willing to pay more to have.
Another reason why this jet-black wood is considered to be so valuable is that the roots have medicinal properties. Ebony roots have been used to cure different kinds of infectious diseases and parasite infections.
5. Where does ebony wood come from?
True ebony wood is in the Diospyros tree group. These woods are Ceylon ebony, Gabon ebony, Makassar ebony and Mun ebony. These trees grow naturally in Sri Lanka and India (Ceylon), Western Africa (Gabon), Indonesia (Makassar) and Vietnam and Laos (Mun). Other types of ebony look very similar but have a variegated wood color, rather than a completely black color.
6. How is ebony wood harvested?
Ebony trees are harvested through selective logging, because the trees typically grow in small groupings of five or fewer trees at a time in evergreen forest environments.
7. Is ebony sustainable?
Technically, all types of wood-producing trees are sustainable because trees are a renewable resource. However, the trees are not always grown and harvested sustainably, meaning in a way that allows the trees to grow back quickly enough to replace the harvested population. Because ebony is still being harvested to the point of extinction, you could say this is not the most eco-friendly choice, when you’re considering different woods.
8. How much does ebony cost?
Because ebony is so highly prized but also so hard to get, it is one of the most expensive woods you can buy. The price is usually more than $100 per board foot.
On the lower end of the spectrum, you can purchase a sawn log for $10,000 per cubic meter. However, the best quality, rarest and most expensive ebony logs can cost you $15,000 easily. Tables made with ebony range from $10,000 to $15,000 USD. A bed made of ebony costs up to $5000. A sculpture made with real ebony can range from $200 and go way above $1000.
9. Is ebony wood endangered?
Gabon ebony and Makassar ebony are considered to be “vulnerable” by conservation groups because of unsustainable harvesting practices used to get ebony wood. Ceylon ebony is endangered and cannot be legally exported. Mun ebony is also endangered and banned from being exported. Ebony that was exported before the bans were in place can still be legally sold.
10. Can’t I just use a stain for a dark wood look?
You can absolutely choose to use a stain, rather than real ebony. This allows you to make a more affordable wood, like oak, look like ebony. You can get the look of ebony for a lot less. However, you won’t have the hardness and strength of real ebony, so keep that in mind if you choose to fake it with a stain.
- How to apply stain to ebony wood?
Stain is applied very much in the same way as paint. Using a standard paintbrush, stain is painted directly onto the wood in long, even strokes. Stain typically needs 24 to 48 hours to fully dry. In some cases, multiple coats of stain may be needed to achieve the desired look.
- How to lighten wood stain:
There are multiple ways to lighten a wood stain but all are labor-intensive, according to WikiHow. You can scrape off the existing stain and paint a bleach solution onto the stain to lighten it. It’s also possible to use steel wool to scrub off the existing stain.
11. What are some alternatives to ebony?
If you want the look of ebony without paying for ebony, there are some good choices out there. Just about any wood can be stained to resemble ebony but there are several types of wood that are naturally dark.
- Katalox is very dark and very hard, like ebony, and also has a fine grain.
- Black palm has a brown color with black fibers in it. This wood has a medium to fin grain and it’s decay-resistant.
- Black walnut, a tree native to the U.S., is dark brown in color and has a medium grain. This wood also resists decay, making it popular with woodworkers.
- Purpleheart has a purplish tone to it and a pretty, natural shine like ebony. This wood also has a very straight grain pattern.
12. Where can you buy ebony wood?
It is possible to purchase ebony online through well-known etailers, including Amazon and eBay. Specialty lumber and rare lumber sellers also have multiple types of ebony wood available for purchase.
Solutions for Dreamers – Endangered Woods: What You Need To Know Before You Buy Your Next Acoustic Guitar
The Wood Database – Ebony: Dark Outlook for Dark Woods?
tmbr. – Ebony Wood : Identifications, Origins and Current Uses
Earlywood – Mexican Ebony
Forest Legality Initiative – Ebony Diospyros Crassiflora
Rare Woods USA – Ebony-Gabon