Where Indigenous.—Its Primitive Nativity.—Its General Physique Described.— Its Floral Productiveness.—Peculiarity of its Seed.—A Reason for its Dispersed Existence.—Season of Felling.—Varieties, and Renowned Uses of its Wood.—Unseasonable Felling, and Precautionary Measures to Prevent Imperfectness.—Date when Introduced into England.—An Interesting Account of its Introduction. —Effect of Soil and Climate on the Texture of'its Wood.—Its Durability.—Its Present Uses.—Dimensions of Exported Logs and their Value.—Method of Test for Soundness in Logs.—How the Mahogany became Naturalized to the Eastern Hemisphere.—A Species of the Burman Forests.—Its Characteristics Compared with those of its American Cousin.
The mahogany-tree is indigenous to the southern parts of Florida, and is found in its primitive nativity in the warmest parts of the American continent. It is an intertropical tree and grows plentifully in the "West India Islands, though the principal supply to the United States is received from Central and South America. In physique it is one of the most beautiful and magnificent of trees, and as a growth it is considered one of the most valuable of the vegetable kingdom. Its trunk often reaches to the height of forty feet, with a diameter of six feet; and its proportionately large and numerous branches, covered with a dense, glossy foliage, form a wide-spreading summit which extends over a considerable area and throws a shade pleasantly cool and impenetrable. It bears variously-colored flowers, some whitish, others red or saffron color. Its seed, which is enclosed In a shell or thick husk, ripens about the middle of summer, and disperses itself over extensive areas by means of its winglike appendages, some falling into crevices or clefts of rock, others upon more nutritious soil, but all or many germinating, and after years at length attain immense proportions, and reproduce in turn. The flight of the seed of the mahogany-tree accounts, to a great extent, for its dispersed existence, it never being found growing in groups or clusters, as might be supposed. The usual season for felling this tree is spring or autumn. If felled in the intermediate months the wood is liable to crack in seasoning; but as a precautionary measure to this event, if immersed in water as soon as possible after being felled, or until shipment kept in a moist atmosphere, no damage need be expected, as the temperature during transportation and the gradual seasoning of a more temperate climate than its own prevent the cracking which might otherwise be occasioned.
The wood of the mahogany-tree has long been known for its excellence of qualities for all domestic furnishings. Its introduction into England dates back to 1724, and an interesting account of the use to which it was first put in that country is given in Browne's " Trees of America." He says: " Dr. Gibbons, an eminent physician in the beginning of the last century, had a brother, a West India captain, who brought over some planks of this wood as baUast. As the doctor was then building a house in King Street, Covent Garden, his brother thought they might be useful to him, but the carpenters finding the wood too hard for their tools, they were laid aside as useless. Soon after, Mrs. Gibbons wanted a candle-box; the doctor called on "WoUaston, his cabinet -maker, in Long Acre, and requested him to make one of some wood that lay in his garden. "Wollaston also complained that it was too hard; the doctor said that he must get stronger tools. The candle-box at last was made, and so highly approved of that the doctor insisted on having a bureau made of the same wood, which was accordingly done; and the fine color, polish, etc., were so pleasing that he invited all his friends to come and see it. Among them was the Duchess of Buckingham, who begged some of the wood of Dr. Gibbons, and employed "Wollas-ton to make a similar bureau." From this introduction it came into general use throughout the civilized world.
The wood of the mahogany-tree is of various degrees of shade, though its most common color is a reddish and yellowish brown, often mottled and veined with darker hues; there are also several special varieties much admired for their beauty and variety of coloring. The wood of the branches is closer grained, more rich and variegated, and therefore more adapted for ornamental purposes, than that of the trunk, which is considered more valuable. The texture, however, varies according to the soil and situation upon which it is grown: that which grows upon rocky ground or elevated places being heavy, close-grained, of small dimensions, and variously tinted; while the light and porous descriptions are produced upon low-lying and rich soil. It is a very strong and durable wood when kept dry, and was formerly used in ship-building, for which purpose its strength and solidity well fitted it. It is at present most generally used in cabinet-making, for which purpose it is universally admired.
Of the exported wood from Central America there are some logs of immense size and value on record. The largest measured seventeen feet in length, fifty-seven inches in breadth, and sixty-four inches in depth. Another log of seven tons realized on sale in England a rate of £210 per ton; from this we may imagine the extraordinary value of this wood. The trunk of the tree, from its size, is deemed the most valuable portion, and on being felled is subjected to a test to ascertain its soundness. The usual method resorted to in this test is that by which the unimpeded transmission of sound becomes discernible (or otherwise) throughout the log. In the case of an impediment or faulty part the sound produced by a tap on one end of the log is not conveyed throughout its length to the other end, and so it becomes known if the wood be in a state of decay.
The mahogany has become naturalized to the Eastern Hemisphere by its introduction into India,where it thrives luxuriantly, and in many parts grows abundantly. A species of this tree is found growing profusely in the forests of British and Independent Burmah, where it is known by the name of " Pingado," and is used as railroad ties, and in bridging and buildings, as beams and piles. It is largely exported from that country, and is considered a strong, serviceable, and durable timber, and bears many characteristics in common with its fellow of the American continent.