Ebony Tree: (Last Chance to Save It?)

A lot of people prefer dark colored woods, so the demand is quite high all over the world. However, the issue is that some of this type of wood grows really slowly, and this is how the issue begins. If we don’t allow it to grow and replenish until we use it for something, then we might as well call it extinct. This is the case with the Ebony tree that grows in East Africa and that has environmentalists concerned that it will go away soon. Today, we are going to talk about the this hardwood-supplier, where it grows, why it is so precious, and what we should do to save it.

Where Does the Ebony Tree Grow?

You can usually find Ebony trees in places where the soil is infertile and rocky. That is why not many plants grow next to it. You won’t find this tree growing in thick stands, but rather on its own. This is partly because it cannot compete with other plants. It grows incrementally, and it barely reaches maturity in 70 to 200 years. Its roots are massive, which is what helps it survive during the African dry season. Despite its roots, the Ebony tree is rather small, barely reaching 30 feet in height and 1 foot in diameter.

How Does the Ebony Tree Look?

Of course, the most important characteristic of the Ebony tree, and the one that everyone seems to find appealing, is the fact that it is extremely dark. It has many branches and stems and it loses foliage during the dry season. It also grows flowers (which are actually white, creating a beautiful contrast) and which have a sweet smell. Its fruits are in the form of a blunt pod that contains between 1 and 4 seeds. You should expect an irregular looking crown, but heavy and rounded nonetheless. The ebony wood is very dark and many consider it to be very beautiful. This is one of the reasons it is so sought after. While it may be a beautiful type of wood, it may not last for very much longer. It is highly regulated and companies have gotten in quite a bit of trouble for illegally importing it.

the black inside of an ebony tree log

Species of Ebony Trees and Their Status

There are many different species of Ebony trees, and they don’t all have the same dark color. The darker the color of the wood is, the more value people place on it. Which is why the “purest” one has almost become extinct. In order for an Ebony tree to be pitch black, it has to be at least 150 years old. Below are four species of the Ebony tree that are close to becoming extinct:

  • The Ceylon Ebony is barely available for use today, and all exports are now banned. Specialists do not yet consider it a threatened species, but people have exploited it so much that India and Sri Lanka can’t afford to export any more of it. This is one of the huge downsides to the demand of ebony wood.
  • The Gaboon Ebony is considered endangered. That is because, in the past 3 generations, exploitation has reduced its population drastically. This ebony tree is slowly disappearing from out planet due to over harvesting.
  • Mun Ebony is another one of the species that is critically endangered. In its case, there has been an 80% population reduction. Numbers are dropping and it may be extinct soon.
  • The Macassar Ebony is a striped type of Ebony. However, this hasn’t stopped people from exploiting it, which is why it is now vulnerable. Many people like the striped nature of this ebony wood. Even though it is not as pure, people are still harvesting it and exporting it for things like furniture and guitars.

What Was Ebony Used for in the Past?

Natives used to exploit the Ebony tree in the past and use it for carvings, charcoal, combs, cups, needles, and so on. Since Ebony is really hard and sturdy, it is perfect for making all sorts of tools. The parts of the tree that were not used for this purpose, such as bark and leaves, were used as mulch, fodder, and even medicine. It was not just discovered and people have been taking advantage of the gorgeous ebony color for generations.

What Do We Use It for Today?

As stated above, the Ebony tree is endangered precisely because of its many uses. People use it for making instruments, furniture, and woodcarvings. This reduces the available resources and drastically decreases the population of all different species of ebony trees.

Instrument Industry

The U.S., Europe, and Japan all use Ebony to make woodwind instruments. Apparently, this type of wood is the best option when making oboes, clarinets, or bagpipes. Similarly, people make a large number of guitars from Ebony. Precisely because a lot of people want so much of it, its price is an impressive $17,000 for each cubic meter. It is obviously considered a valuable resource and very prestigous wood. This makes it desirable even at a very high price.

Furniture Industry

Furniture manufacturers are also on the lookout for Ebony. That is because furniture made from this distinguished type of wood is considered high-quality and luxurious at the same time. Not many people can afford Ebony furniture and those who have it preserve the items with great care. You will not typically see ebony furniture in your friend’s house. It’s price limits the amount it will show up in houses, but as we stated before, price does not me it does not sell. It is still in high demand due to it beautiful color and high quality.

large chest made of the wood of an ebony tree

Woodcarving Industry

Finally, people in Tanzania and Kenya rely on Ebony because they use it for woodcarvings that they sell to tourists. The cravings are truly beautiful and often represent intricate wildlife depictions. However, one should ask at what cost we produce and buy these figurines. It is definitely a beautiful wood to use for carvings, but we are running out of available trees to harvest it from. Is it worth it?

What Is the Real Issue?

The reason why the Ebony tree is facing extinction is because the demand is too high. At the same time, the trees grow too slow and are too small to be able to face these demands. This means that people cut more and more trees in certain regions. Then, they move on to the next without considering the fact that the earth will eventually run out of Ebony trees. Specialists believe that it only takes 15 more years for Black Ebony to be completely extinct. The main issue is that neither the industries that need Ebony nor the government that should regulate the way we use this type of wood, are able to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, manufacturers still cut and use Ebony trees. Simply put, we are using ebony wood faster than we can grow more.

Is There a Solution to Save the Ebony Tree?

Until the government and the industries can reach an agreement, people have discovered that they can grow Black Ebony as a bonsai tree. Which means that they can grow it in pots which will protect the bonsai from outside threats. Even though they won’t grow too big, growing Black Ebony in a greenhouse or indoors will prevent the extinction of the species.

Summing It All Up

In conclusion, the Ebony tree is an extremely beautiful and precious type of tree, that is unfortunately so desired by people all over the world that is now facing extinction. Ideally, people could find replacements such as Black Walnut or Black Palm if they really want to protect our environment but you still like items made of dark wood.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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