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Exotic Wood of Southeast Asia

Updated on April 25, 2016

Planting Exotic Wood in Southeast Asia

About fifteen years ago just after we had started working internationally, we really began to notice how beaten-up old mother earth has become.

Europe and North American greenies huff and puff about a dropped handkerchief or candy wrapper whereas in a raft of countries where we were working, the massive and eponymous crud that lines every gutter and chokes every drain is at the epic end of the proportion scale and the smell of slow decay is everyday's universe.

Guilt leaped beyond mild conscience pricking to massive soul drop kicking, so we thought of getting some land as close to original forest cover as possible without going so far into the boonies that we could never see it. Just buy it, walk through it infrequently, put up threatening signs, and let nature take its course. This worked well near our place in a western country, but in much of Asia, that opportunity is virtually gone.

So our idea there was to buy some abused land, plant a mass of trees and see if we could help reduce erosion and mud slides. Easy to plant, but tough to keep as the demand for wood seems insatiable and often the poachers are protected by those in power. Still, we could try.

Tree in Angkor
Tree in Angkor | Source

Know more about exotic hard wood - Top books on exotic trees

Hardly had we been taught anything about exotic trees when I studied as a little girl in Asia. I am only starting to educate myself now and I am amazed at how interesting these exotic trees are.

I remembered very well when my cousin working in a lumber company brought me samples of the various hard woods of Asia but at that time, it was not yet in my sphere of interest.

Pakenham's book is a must read. He unfolds for us the trees that have survived and grown to what we would call remarkable. He has fine quality pictures to show these trees which are worth seeing even just in pictures.

Planting Mahogany and Teak

Young Mahogany
Young Mahogany | Source

Planting Mahogany and Teak

We did and started planting mahogany and teak, two of Southeast Asia's high demand hard wood. We could only visit every few years as the plot was remote and really inaccessible during rainy season. City people (us) really don't know what mud is like in Asian rains but it is the most glutinous substance I have ever found. Because we were hardly there, many of our trees "migrated" to our neighbor's land and only a few were left in our place.

But in many places in Southeast Asia, when you leave the land untouched, the jungle reclaims it in a few seasons and so we found a volunteer army of hard wood trees growing all over our place. They are of different variety as well and they are indigenous to the place which is better as they tend to "be migrated" less often. When we went there last, the devastated hillside we had bought was once more a surface saving forest holding onto moisture longer and becoming a bulwark agaist landslides. The satisfaction we felt was deep and it really cost almost nothing.

Stopping the destruction of the forests - Ability to do so

Are we doing enough right now to save our many exotic hard wood trees?

Yes, we are

Yes, we are

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    No, we really are not

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      • Anthony Godinho 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Unfortunately not...I think the balance is way off and there needs to be a more concerted effort.

      • IncomeFromHomeT 4 years ago

        As a fiddler I love to play with a pernambuco bow, but I would never buy a new one, only an antique one. Why? Because the pernabuco species in South America is fast disappearing. It isn't the only one.

        Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars has decreed that they're not using just black ebony anymore. Why? Because to find one black ebony tree they have to cut down a bunch. Here's a video he did about the subject:

        Thank you for helping to bring this issue to everyone's attention!

      Southeast Asia: Still Home to Luxury Hard Woods - High Demand for Exotic Asian HardWood


      Poaching of hard wood

      Although, Southeast Asia is still home to many varieties of luxury hard woods, it's hard to find the big guys anymore. In the few areas that haven't been savaged yet, despite draconian laws, exotic hard woods are poached in masses, at times, by those whose job it is to enforce the law! And the harder they are to find, the more expensive they have become. Prices have skyrocketed as the demand for exotic hard woods for furniture has exploded with the growth of the Asian middle class. Veneers are too expensive to create, so great heavy timbers are converted into intensely ugly largely unusable monoliths jamming rooms with the appurtenances of wealth.

      Most of the forests have been pillaged so the importance of volunteers replanting some of these glorious hardwoods cannot be overstated. It takes at least 15 years before you can harvest a few but some friends in Southeast Asia have shown us the wooden furniture and trim in their homes coming from their own trees.

      The Famous Narra Hardwood - One of Southeast's Asia's Top Hardwood


      The Narra Tree

      Narra is one of the most prized hard wood for fine furniture and homes. I remembered choosing the narra wood for our house years ago when narra was still plentiful in the Philippines where it is now vulnerable. It is considered threatened in Indonesia and almost extinct in others areas of Southeast Asia. Singapore has made it the centerpiece of its tree planting. It is called Angsana there as well as in Malaysia. In Indonesia, it is known as sonokembang and in Thailand, pradoo.

      This picture was taken in the Old Quarter of Hanoi where these narra trees line the avenue by Hoan Kiem lake. Hanoi has really preserved most of the trees in the heart of the city so it has avenues lined with them. It makes the city green and charming.

      Here's a good link on narra for those who are keen in knowing more about this valuable tree.

      How well do you know Southeast Asia? - Here's a wonderful take on this place

      This is a very interesting book. Oppenheimer gave us evidence of how this area has been flooded and buried. Its land area used to be twice than that of India but the flood that followed the Ice Age buried most of it. We don't want another flood to do this same thing today.

      Get this book and get a vision of what will become to Southeast Asia if we don't stop denuding our forests.

      Efforts at Forest Conservation

      Spung Tree in the Angkor Temples - Ta Phrom Temple

      Spung Tree in Angkor
      Spung Tree in Angkor | Source

      Spung Trees in the Temples of Angkor

      Some of the Spung Trees in the temples of Angkor in Cambodia are about 900 years old. What is interesting is that they grow up and down. It is said that the birds eat the fruits from the tree and drop some of the seeds on the temples. Some of these seeds get into places in the temples where the conditions make them grow. As they grow down, they also take over these temples as you can often see in the pictures of Angkor. While it is very artistic for photography, it is a problem for archaeology.

      Forests Declared as National Parks - To Protect the Exotic Hard Wood


      National Parks

      In some countries where these forests have been despoiled remaining ranges have been declared national parks to protect what's left. But the trees are still very young. It will take lifetimes before those towering mature monoliths of the forest are seen again. But earth is forever and planting now will be wondered at by humans in a thousand years. Check the great redwoods that remain, or a few oaks in the north, or even olive trees near deserts. Exotic they have been and exotic they will remain, if someone takes the trouble to plant and protect them. Here's the first of such parks in Cambodia.

      Why are these hard wood so desired?

      You can see in the pictures the beauty of some of these species that have lasted for centuries.

      Old Wood Furniture - Preserved for Centuries


      Hard Wood Furniture

      Asians prize hard wood for furniture not only for its beauty but also for its durability. Old furniture made from hard wood are still strong today.

      Beams in Old Houses - Hard Wood is Best

      Hard Wood Beams of Old Houses in Hoi An
      Hard Wood Beams of Old Houses in Hoi An | Source

      Hard Wood Furniture - Lasts for Many Years

      Hard wood furniture in Hoi An
      Hard wood furniture in Hoi An | Source
      Mahogany Plantation
      Mahogany Plantation | Source

      Hard Wood now Farmed

      Harvests Take Place in 15 Years

      For those of us who really admire the beauty of hard wood, there is no cause for despair. Many of these trees are now farmed and after 15 years, harvests can already be had. How about you? Tucked in an acorn lately?

      New studies are showing that over planting of trees can create its own problems and that thinning the forest may just be the answer to some of our problems of rain and flood.

      I still remember the advice of the wise owner of one of the most successful lumber companies. He advised to enforce a forest line and let the forest renew itself. We found that in our last visit in the area where we planted, local varieties have grown and taken over that we could not even get through. We are happy to see this. Let the forest grow again.

      The Beauty of Hard Wood Furniture - Tell us what you think

      An Old Exotic Hardwood Fruniture
      An Old Exotic Hardwood Fruniture | Source

      Do you think hard wood furniture are beautiful?

      See results

      Owning Hard Wood Furniture - Let us know

      Exotic Wood Furniture in Hoi An
      Exotic Wood Furniture in Hoi An | Source

      Do you own hard wood furniture?

      See results

      Solid Hard Wood or Veneer? - Which one do you prefer?

      In furniture, do you prefer solid hard wood or veneer?

      Solid hard wood

      Solid hard wood

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        • Anthony Godinho 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

          I prefer the real thing as well, but wouldn't mind settling for Veneer depending on what furniture it is.

        • KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

          I like the real thing, but it doesn't have to be brand new.

        • savateuse 5 years ago

          wood can be sooooo beautiful

        • Laraine Sims 5 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

          We recently purchased a kitchen set made out of hard wood. It is beautiful!

        • sandi_x 5 years ago

          I prefer hard wood, it looks beautiful


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          • IncomeFromHomeT 4 years ago

            Most of my antique furniture is veneered. This is better, actually, since it uses less of the rare wood. Much of my furniture was made in the 1800's.

          • Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

            Veneer...just because nobody has voted for it and it appears to be lonely on this side.

          Rosewood Furniture of Burma - Aren't they exotic?

          Most exotic wood in Southeast Asia are used in the past to build wooden homes. As presently this is no longer the taste of many Southeast Asians, most wood are really used to make beautiful hard wood furniture that are valued in most parts of the world. Southeast Asian rosewood, teak and mahogany are the favourites of furniture makers. Burma or Myanmar still has plenty of rosewood as it has been closed to international trade for some time. Nowadays, these trees are farmed in many countries but for many Southeast Asians, the wood of the older trees are most prized.

          Here's a video of Burmese Rosewood Furniture

          More on exotic wood furniture - Watch these videos

          Please share what you know of hard wood - Or just let me know you were here

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            • Rachel L Alba profile image

              Rachel L Alba 23 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

              It is sad to see our forests being destroyed. I guess the more people there are, the more room we need and chopping down trees is inevitable. It's still sad though, I love nature and I used to love going for nature walks before I developed arthritis. There is no place to vote anymore or I would give you a thumbs up for sure.

              Blessings to you.

            • sukkran trichy profile image

              sukkran trichy 4 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

              trees are the only source to produce oxygen on our planet . but trees are constantly cut down to build buildings, and other articles we need. it is simply a harakiri. thanks for an important message.

            • WriterJanis2 profile image

              WriterJanis2 4 years ago

              We really need to do more to protect nature.

            • ajgodinho profile image

              Anthony Godinho 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

              Very interesting lens on an important topic. Growing up in Goa, India I came across a lot of hardwood furniture including the ones my family has owned. There was much more greenery and natural land 20 to 30 years ago when I was a kid. The place is now become crowded with housing and commercial structures everywhere in the name of development, but I guess it's happening pretty much everywhere. Although I think there is still much we can all do to protect our environment.

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              vaigavenugopal 5 years ago

              Really enjoyed and involded in each and every post. There are different places where we can read the story of culture and history of places. Some of them are still preserved. I am happy to read some of them here. Really appreciatable effort...Keep moving..:)..

            • tvyps profile image

              Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

              I don't like oak but love cherry and walnut. I am amazed, however, at how fast bamboo grows and will probably have a floor made out of it one day. Blessed!

            • KimGiancaterino profile image

              KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

              I enjoyed your photographs very much. The Spung trees are new to me. I hope they are allowed to live, even if they take over the buildings.

            • norma-holt profile image

              norma-holt 5 years ago

              Great lens and it brings tears to my eyes to think that we have to destroy nature to create man made concepts of beauty, The most beautiful thing in the world is a tree in nature. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2 and also on Why Are There Trees? Hugs

            • LaraineRoses profile image

              Laraine Sims 5 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

              Another beautiful lens by you, my friend, and using the new theme! Clever lady!


            • gypsyman27 lm profile image

              gypsyman27 lm 5 years ago

              I don't know much about hard wood, except it is beautiful. This is a visually appealing and informative lens, well done. See you around the galaxy...

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              mumsgather 5 years ago

              Hardwood furniture are beautiful. This new theme is perfect for your lens!

            • LouisaDembul profile image

              LouisaDembul 5 years ago

              Another fantastic lens by you! Man has destroyed a lot of forests, we've already lost a lot. Protecting this exotic wood is important.

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              anonymous 5 years ago

              I grew up in the north woods where wood is harvested regularly for the paper industry and of course other traditional uses of wood. A clear cut or slashing is a heartbreaker to most of us but reforestation does work in forest cropland areas and in 15 years, as you say, the forest will be gone again. I guess there is some advantage as ares can maybe break a forest fire up or slow it down. A wonderful view into the exotic hardwoods of southeast Asia and perfect for the wood theme! You just do everything with such love!

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              Spikey64 5 years ago

              Great lens. I love the picture of the temples of Angkor in Cambodia the trees remind me of something from a horror movie.

            • lynnasafriend profile image

              lynnasafriend 5 years ago

              I always thing hard wood floors are cleaner than carpets, people want carpets all the time though. I don't understand, they are easier to clean and less dust and all different types of germs.

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              cleanyoucar 5 years ago

              Lovely lens, thanks for sharing these wonderful information about these lovely trees

            • aesta1 profile image

              Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

              @rallo-smith: If you see the destruction first hand you just have to.

            • aesta1 profile image

              Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

              @anonymous: Thanks for visiting. You have a very beautiful teak palace in Bangkok.

            • aesta1 profile image

              Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

              @anonymous: They do and you feel like hugging them.

            • aesta1 profile image

              Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

              @allenwebstarme: India is assigned the renovation of this particular temple. Maybe because they have more experience dealing with that.

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