Mahogany (Swietenia Mahagoni), a tree of the natural order meliacew, a native of South America, Honduras, and the West India islands, and among the most valuable of tropical timber trees. The genus is named in honor of Baron Gerard van Swieten. The mahogany is a large, spreading tree, with pinnate shining leaves. The trunk often exceeds 50 ft. in height and 4 or 5 ft. in diameter. The flowers, in axillary panicles 3 or 4 in. long, are small and greenish yellow, and are succeeded by fruit or capsules of an oval form and the size of a turkey's egg. Though the growth is very rapid, the wood is hard, heavy, and close-grained, of a dark, rich, brownish red color. The so-called Spanish mahogany, which includes all the above, except that from Honduras, is imported in logs ahout 10 ft. long and 2 ft. square. The Honduras mahogany is usually larger, the logs being from 12 to 18 ft long, and from 2 to 3 ft. square. It is chiefly obtained upon low moist land, and is generally soft and coarse. The trees which grow on rocky elevated grounds are of smaller size, but the wood is .harder and more beautifully veined.
The collection of mahogany for commerce is a most laborious business, often involving the construction of a road through a dense forest and in a most difficult country, upon which the wood may be drawn to the nearest watercourse; the logs are roughly squared to prevent them from rolling off of the low rude trucks upon which they are drawn. The natives make this wood serve many useful purposes, as canoes and handles for tools. Some have supposed the Honduras to be a different species from the Spanish, from its being lighter in color, as well as porous in texture; but it is now ascertained that these differences arise from the different situations in which the trees are found. The largest log ever cut in Honduras was 17 ft. long, 57 in. broad, and 64 in. deep, measuring 5,421 ft. of inch plank, and weighing upward of 15 tons. The mahogany brought from Africa and the East is decidedly inferior to either of the above; but a tine specimen sent from Calcutta to the London exhibition of 1851 proves that the best quality may be raised in the East Indies. The Spanish mahogany is one of the most useful of all woods for household furniture, for which it is adapted especially by its durability, beauty, hardness, and susceptibility of polish, though of late years it has been less fashionable than some other woods.
The finer kinds of furniture are of solid mahogany, but the greater part of that in use is made of cheaper woods covered with a thin veneer of mahoganv. Alkalies are often applied to the lighter colored wood in order to deepen the shade, bat the best effect is produced by using a colorless varnish, which brings out in fresh beauty the rich veins, and leaves its natural tints unchanged. The grain, or curl as it is called, is sometimes so beautiful, that it increases the value of the log to an enormous price several logs have been sold for over $.5,000 each; in one instance three loirs, each l5 ft. long and 38 in. square, produced from a single tree, brought $15,000. It is usually a difficult matter for dealers to judge with pre-cision of the worth of the wood in lop by in-spection of the exterior. Mahogany is said to have been employed about the year 1595 in repairing some of Sir Walter Raleigh's ships, but it was not used for cabinet work till 1720, when a few planks from the Wot Indies were given to Dr. Gibbons of London. A man named Wollaston, employed to make some articles from this wood, discovered its rare qualities, and it was soon in high repute. - See Hooker's "Botanical Miscellany," vol. i. (London, 1830).