How It All Began

“As well as a flourishing library, the school by 1909 had a wood collection containing specimens of nearly all of Pennsylvania’s native trees and large shrubs. For each species, cross sections and radial and tangential sections had been prepared to show the gross appearance of the wood. The next step was the preservation of samples in alcohol and glycerin so that sections suitable for microscopic examination could be cut. These latter sections were to be especially useful in the study of timber physics (wood technology)." E.H. Thomas, “A History of the Pennsylvania State Forestry School, 1903 – 1929.” p. 67

Friday, March 17, 2017

My New Favorite Wood Species

As I confirmed the specimens in the collection with their Accepted Names, I ran across one I had not noticed before, and instantly liked it. The species?

Chukrasia tabularis A.Juss.

Why, you ask? Well, look at that genus name again, and then consider my name. I've got to like a genus named after me, don't I?

Well, maybe it wasn't named after me, but that is a distinguished genus, at any rate. And better yet, C. tabularis is the only accepted species in the genus. The Plant List cites thirteen species of Chukrasia, but the other twelve are all synonyms of C. tabularis.

Now, I halfway expected that any species coincidentally named after me would be some lowly, undistinguished little bush. But not so! Chukrasia tabularis in fact a fine wood. One of its more common names in English is Indian mahogany, and it has many characteristics of the true mahoganies, the Swietenia. In fact, it is a member of the same Meliaceae family.

Chukrasia tabularis (Penn State Xylarium)
Unfortunately, the similarity to Swietenia has caused it to have another more vulgar common name: bastard cedar. We'll ignore that one. It is also called White cedar, East-Indian mahogany, Indian redwood, Burma almond wood, Chickrassy, and Chittagong wood, depending on who is calling it.

From Wikipedia:
The Indian mahogany (Chukrasia tabularis) is a deciduous tree in the family Meliaceae. It is native to Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Also introduced to many western countries such as Cameroon, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, South Africa, and United States. The plant is widely used in Ayurveda as an important medicinal plant.
The trees are tall with a cylindrical bole and spreading crown. C. [tabularis] leaves are abruptly pinnate or bipinnate with leaflets that alternate or are subopposite, entire and unequal at the base. The erect, oblong flowers, which are rather large and born in terminal panicles, possess four to five petals. Mature fruits are a septifragally three to five valved capsule.
Chukrasia [tabularis] is the provincial flower and tree of Phrae Province, Thailand.
The wood has a texture and weight very similar to cedar and mahogany, with a sweet but slightly distinct odor. Instead of a cedary smell, I get cinnamon and chocolate. So not only is it beautiful, and workable, but it smells like a bakery confection! Can't get better than that.

Chukrasia tabularis, a wood worthy of its name.