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Wood Species: Mahogany (Santos)

Scientific Name: Myroxylon Balsamum

Trade Name: Santos Mahogany, balsam of Peru, Peruvian balsam

Family Name: Fabaceae – Papilionoideae

Common Names: Peru balsam, tulu balsam (English); balsamo, Balsamo de Sonsonate, palo de balsamo (Spanish).

Regions of Distribution: South America

Countries of Distribution: Native to Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Peru,
Venezuela; exotic in India and the United States.


Color: Dark reddish brown with a deep red heartwood and slight color variation between different areas of wood cut from the same tree, and between trees.  Sapwood is usually white and easily distinguished from the heartwood.  Wood may turn deep purple upon exposure.

Grain: Interlocked grain; striped figuring in quartersawn selections with an even, very fine texture. 

Variations within species and grades: Color variation is moderate.


Hardness/Janka: 2200 (extremely hard, 51% harder than hard maple, 71% harder than red oak, 200% harder than Douglas fir).

Dimensional stability: 6.2 (above average, 28% more stable than red oak).

Origin: South America.

Availability: Readily available.

Average and maximum lifespan: The tree can live for two hundred years in the ideal environment; 100 years is average.

Sawing/Machining: Hardness makes sawing moderately difficult; carbide-tipped tools are recommended. Tool-dulling is likely to occur when working with mahogany.

Sanding: Sands well, excellent natural polish. There is potential for respiratory irritation or allergic reaction.

Nailing: No known problems, although more force is needed than with most woods due to extreme hardness.

Finishing: It is recommended to wipe with 100% pure solvent prior to applying sealer in order to avoid oil residue problems.

Common Uses: Flooring, furniture, interior trim; scent in perfumes.  Also railroad ties. The trees are usually not large enough to be harvested for wood until at least their 15th year; they are also a source of gum.  Gum harvesting can begin when a tree is 20-30 years old.  It often results in injury or death of the tree.   The gum can be used as flavoring in ice cream, chewing gum, cough syrup, and soft drinks.  An oil extracted from the gum can be used in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes, as well as in baked goods.  The seeds are used to flavor aguardiente, a Latin American alcoholic beverage.  In South and Central America, extracts are also used as an expectorant and an inhalant to treat bronchitis.  It can also be used as an ointment or antiseptic in treating some skin conditions and is thought to inhibit tuberculosis.  Balsam oil is also used as incense in churches.  The tree provides good shade.

Detailed Description

Plant habit and life style: Flowering occurs from July to September; seeds are set in October and November in South America.  Seeds germinate after approximately one month and are successful more than 50% of the time.  Seedlings are typically 2.5 meters tall after two years.  The fully grown tree is approximately 30 meters tall and 1 meter in diameter.  Bark is a gray color with yellow spotted regions.  The primary pests of the tree are fungi, including Peckia pereirae, phomopsis sp., Meliola xylosmae, and Tabutia xylosmae.

Stems: No notable characteristics.

Buds: Small, green, opening into white flowers.

Leaves: Evergreen pinnate leaves, approx. 15 cm long, each with 5-13 leaflets.  Scattered opaque, glandular oil dots or lines.

Flowers: The five-petaled white flowers have yellow stamens, which are produced in racemes.

Fruits: 7-11cm pods, each containing a single seed.  Distributed by wind.

Habitat: Requires annual precipitation between 1350-4030 mm, temperatures between 27-32 degrees Celsius, and mildly acidic soils (pH 5-8).  Grows in altitudes up to 700 meters.

Special Diagnostic Characters:  Freshly cut, santos mahogany releases a spicy scent, and the wood is highly durable.  Also highly resistant to fungi.