Sweetenia: What Is This Type Of Wood?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 5, 2022

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Sweetenia is a type of wood that comes from Southeast Asia. It’s known for its distinctive color and grain, and it’s used to make furniture, musical instruments, and woodcrafts.

As a wood lover, you might have seen this name before. So let’s dig a little deeper and find out exactly what it is and what it looks like.

What is swietenia

The Majestic Mahogany Tree

Mahogany trees are a sight to behold! These large, semi-evergreen trees form a loose, rounded canopy and cast light, dappled shade, making them a great choice for a lawn. Plus, they’re one of the most popular trees in south Florida.

Reaching New Heights

Mahogany trees can reach up to 75 feet in height and 50 feet in spread, but they’re usually seen at 40-60 feet tall and wide. Plus, their dense, strong wood makes them resistant to wind-damage, making them a great choice for a shade tree or street tree.

Fruity Fun

In winter, mahogany trees produce five-inch-long, brown, woody fruit capsules that hang from slender, fuzzy stalks. When ripe, these capsules split open to release winged seeds. It’s a sight to behold!

The Perfect Pick

If you’re looking for a beautiful, majestic tree to add to your landscape or street, mahogany is the perfect pick! With its strong wood, resistance to wind-damage, and stunning fruit capsules, it’s sure to make a statement in your yard.

Everything You Need to Know About Mahogany

Scientific Name

This majestic tree goes by the scientific name Swietenia mahagoni, but you can just call it mahogany.

Where it’s From

Mahogany is native to the sunny states of South Florida, the Bahamas, and the western Caribbean. So if you’re looking for a tropical feel in your backyard, this is the tree for you!


Mahogany is a great choice for:

  • Reclamation
  • Streets without sidewalks
  • Screens
  • Shade
  • Parking lot islands (100-200 sq ft)
  • Tree lawns (4-6 ft wide)
  • Urban tolerant
  • Highway medians

So if you’re looking for a tree that can handle a variety of conditions, mahogany is the way to go!

Mahogany: A Global Trade

Where Does Mahogany Come From?

Mahogany is a popular wood used in furniture, and it’s sourced from all over the world. Most of the mahogany we see today comes from plantations in Asia, like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Fiji, Philippines, and Singapore.

Why Is Mahogany So Popular?

Mahogany is a durable wood that’s easy to work with and looks great. It’s also relatively affordable, making it a great choice for furniture makers. Plus, it’s not restricted in trade like mahogany from its native locations.

What Else Can Mahogany Be Used For?

Mahogany is a great choice for a variety of projects. Here are some of the most popular uses for mahogany:

  • Furniture
  • Cabinetry
  • Flooring
  • Musical instruments
  • Decorative items
  • Boat building
  • Carving

The Different Types of Mahogany Trees

What are they?

Mahogany trees are part of the Plantae kingdom, Tracheophyta phylum, Magnoliopsida class, Sapindales order, Meliaceae family and the Swietenia genus. These trees are native to Latin and South America, with American mahogany being found in the northern part, Honduran in the southern part, and Bigleaf in the middle, from Mexico to Bolivia.

The Three Species

There are three main species of mahogany tree:

  • Swietenia mahagoni (American/Cuban Mahogany): This fast-growing semi-evergreen tree can reach 40-60 feet tall and have a canopy just as wide. Its bark is grey when young but darkens to a brown as it matures. Its leaves come in clusters, with each leaflet being around 1/4 inch long, and its green and white flowers are 3-6 inches long.
  • Swietenia humilis (Honduran/Dwarf Mahogany): This species is native to the south of Mexico and can only reach about 20ft tall, with a trunk circumference of 3 feet. Its leaves are smaller than the Bigleaf but larger than the Cuban.
  • Swietenia macrophylla (Bigleaf Mahogany): This species can reach heights of over 130 feet with a trunk circumference of 15 feet. It can be found in pine savannas and in rainforests and provides an essential part of a habitat for many animals.

True Mahogany

Although not scientifically mahogany, the timber industry considers several species within the genus Khaya, Shorea and Cercocarpus, as well as Myroxylon balsamum (Santos Mahogany) from southern Mexico to Argentina, as ‘true mahogany’. This is because all three species of mahogany are endangered, and so alternatives allow people to get furniture and music instruments that have a reddish-brown look without endangering the trees.


Mahogany has been used for centuries, from patching up Hernando Cortez’s ships back in 1514 to being a big part of historical architecture all throughout Central, Latin, and southern America. It’s considered one of the best woods and is becoming increasingly rare, making it even more valuable.

Environmental Impact

Excessive harvesting has caused damage to the river banks where the otters live, and the damage also makes the rivers more unstable and more prone to flooding and drought, which endangers local human communities as well. This is why it’s important to use alternatives to mahogany to avoid endangering these trees.

Characteristics of Mahogany Wood

  • Pink or Reddish-Brown
  • Big Leaf Mahogany Tree (Swietenia macrophylla)
  • 800 on the Janka scale

Common Uses

Mahogany wood is often used in:

  • Paneling
  • Furniture
  • Cabinets
  • Flooring
  • Carvings

Environmental Impact

Unfortunately, harvesting and transporting Mahogany wood has a huge environmental cost. Traditional Honduran Mahogany is nearly extinct due to illegal logging of the Amazon and surrounding forests. African Mahogany, which is grown in orchards in parts of Africa, still has to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to US consumers.

Boards and Size

Mahogany trees can grow to epic proportions, sometimes reaching six feet in diameter. This means you can get exceptionally large boards of Mahogany wood. It was once quite common to see mahogany paneling in high-end design, as well as furniture and cabinetry.

Types of Mahogany Wood

There are many imitators and varieties within the Meliaccae family, but genuine mahogany only comes from the genus Swietenia. This includes three types of trees:

  • Swietenia humilis (Mexican mahogany, Pacific Coast mahogany, Honduras mahogany)
  • Swietenia mahogani (Cuban mahogany, American mahogany, small-leaved mahogany, West Indian mahogany)

Is Mahogany Wood Endangered?

Yes, all genuine mahogany is classified as either vulnerable to extinction or endangered. Illegal harvesting is a major problem, contributing to the destruction of rainforests, devastating the homes of indigenous people, threatening wildlife, and feeding international crime rings.

Alternatives to Mahogany

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly alternative to Mahogany, consider Cherry or Walnut wood. They look similar and have a lower ecological footprint.

Mahogany Tree: A Historical and Economic Powerhouse

Historical Significance

Back in 1514, Hernando Cortez was in a bit of a pickle. His ships were in need of some patching up and he was in desperate need of a material that could get the job done. Lucky for him, he was in the right place at the right time, because Central, Latin, and Southern America had a secret weapon: mahogany. This wood was so strong and durable that it was used to build ships, furniture, caskets, musical instruments, flooring, and paneling, among other things. It’s no wonder that it’s been a part of historical architecture for centuries!

Environmental Importance

Mahogany trees are a vital part of the ecosystem, providing homes for birds and helping to maintain soil stability. Unfortunately, these trees are being harvested at an alarming rate, leaving local populations struggling to protect them from illegal harvesting. Plantations are also being hollowed out by wood poachers, making it hard to maintain a healthy population of mahogany trees. To make matters worse, it takes over 20 years for a mahogany tree to mature, so poachers will harvest any tree, regardless of age or health.

Economic Significance

Mahogany is so valuable that it’s often illegally harvested, driving up its price and making it even more desirable. Its unique wood color makes it a sought-after material for furniture, caskets, musical instruments, flooring, and paneling, among other uses. This has led to the development of “true mahogany” alternatives, which are becoming increasingly profitable. So if you’re looking for a way to make a buck, mahogany might just be the way to go!

Finding Alternatives to Mahogany

The Environmental Cost of Mahogany

Mahogany is a beautiful wood, but it comes at a cost. Not only is it expensive, but it also has a hefty environmental impact. That’s why it’s important to look for alternatives that are just as beautiful, but don’t come with the same hefty price tag.

Indoor Alternatives to Mahogany

If you’re looking for an indoor alternative to mahogany, consider cherry wood. It’s just as beautiful and comes with a much lower environmental impact. Plus, it’s easier on the wallet.

Outdoor Alternatives to Mahogany

When it comes to outdoor furniture, you have a few options. Cedar is a great choice as it grows domestically and is relatively affordable. Another option is POLYWOOD outdoor furniture, which is made from recycled HDPE plastic. It’s a great way to get the look of wood without the environmental impact.

Finding Quality Alternatives

If you’re looking for quality alternatives to mahogany, look no further than Vermont Woods Studios. They have a great selection of natural wood furniture that’s built in the United States by talented craftsmen. Plus, they offer a quality guarantee and top-notch service, so you can be sure you’re getting the best of the best.


If you’re looking for a unique and beautiful wood to use for your next project, you can’t go wrong with Sweetenia. Not only is it strong and durable, but it also has a gorgeous reddish-brown hue that will make your project stand out. Plus, it’s a sustainable option since it’s not endangered like some other types of mahogany. Just remember to use proper woodworking techniques and tools to get the best results. And don’t forget to have some fun while you’re at it – after all, woodworking is supposed to be enjoyable! So go ahead and give Sweetenia a try – you won’t regret it!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.