Brazilian Rosewood: Dalbergia nigra

Brazilian Rosewood is a tree endemic to the central regions of the Atlantic Forest, a tropical and subtropical broadleaf forest that traces the south eastern coast of Brazil. This forest is one of the most diverse regions in the world, and though less famous than the Amazon it is much more at risk. By 2003 it was estimated that 92% of the Atlantic Forest had been lost, with the remnants largely consisting of small separate areas which at the time it contained approximately 11,000 endangered species [1].

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Of the roughly 22,000 plant species native to the Atlantic Forest [2] the distinctive Brazilian Rosewood, at around 40m, is amongst the tallest [3]. It is listed Vulnerable on the ICUN list of threatened species and in 1992 it was given the highest level of protection offered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It currently only grows in small, fragmented populations, and attempted regeneration of the species so far has had a very low level of success.

Why is it in danger?

Much of the damage to the Brazilian Rosewood population comes from the general destruction of the Atlantic Rainforest, which began centuries ago when Europeans began to colonise South America. Recently this has been spreading due to, amongst other things, the large scale conversion of native forest into monoculture such as soy or tobacco plantations, and the the Atlantic Forest’s unfortunate situation alongside two of the biggest cities in the word, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

This widespread habitat loss is not however the only thing endangering this important species, and for a long time the Brazilian Rosewood has been the victim of targeted logging. The timber of his species has many desirable characteristics. Besides it’s beautiful grain, colour and the rose-like scent of it’s heart wood, which have made it a popular furniture material since the 18th century, it is highly resonant, emitting a metallic ring when cut correctly, and it is this property that has made it one of the most highly sought after materials for the creation of stringed and woodwind instruments, and now the guitar, since as long ago as the late Renaissance.

It is for these reasons that there has long been a trade in Brazilian Rosewood from South America to Europe, and that over time this trade has resulted in the Brazilian Rosewood population dropping to a vulnerable level.

What is being done about it?

Trade in any Brazilian Rosewood has been highly restricted since its addition to CITES in 1992, and any logging of the species is now illegal. This has not however proved enough to stop the trade, which is still ongoing, and there are still vendors in the UK claiming to sell the wood with no mention of the need for documentation. The European Commission is working closely internationally, particularly with the USA, to reduce the illegal trade as far as possible, and the conservation status of this species is now well known amongst luthiers (the makers of stringed instruments), and there are other high quality alternative species available that are not restricted by CITES.

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Beyond this, there are organisations in Brazil attempting to create sustainable plantations of this species to simultaneously address the demand for the wood, thus protecting the remaining trees, and to provide the local community with income.

Between these local and international efforts, and the increasing protections of what remains of the Atlantic Forest, the fate of this species is my no means sealed already, but it will likely take a continued and strengthened effort, as well as the regeneration of much of its broken and fragmented habitat.

 

References

[1] Galindo Leal, Carlos, and Ibsen de Gusmão Câmara. 2003. The Atlantic Forest of South America: biodiversity status, threats, and outlook. Washington: Island Press.

[2] Atlantic forest | ARKive

http://www.arkive.org › Eco-regions › Atlantic forest

[3] http://globaltrees.org/threatened-trees/trees/brazilian-rosewood/

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