Dalbergia latifolia (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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1, tree habit; 2, flowering twig; 3, leaflet; 4, fruit. Source: PROSEA
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section

Dalbergia latifolia Roxb.


Protologue: Pl. Coromandel 2: 7, t. 113 (1799).
Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 20

Vernacular names

  • Indian rosewood, East Indian rosewood, Bombay blackwood (En).
  • Palissandre de l’Inde, palissandre d’Asie (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Dalbergia latifolia is native to tropical Asia, from Nepal to India and in Java (Indonesia). It is planted in tropical Asia, and locally also in tropical Africa, e.g. in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and also in Réunion and Mauritius. However, in tropical Africa it is only planted on a small scale and usually as an ornamental plant, especially in botanical gardens.

Uses

The wood of Dalbergia latifolia from tropical Asia is well known for its applications in high-class furniture, cabinet making and as a decorative wood used, for example, in passenger ships and for instrument cases. It is suitable for high-grade plywood and, owing to its beautiful colour and figure, for decorative veneer. Because of its strength and durability, it is suitable for all kinds of constructional work, doors, window frames and wagon building. It is also used for handles of heavy-duty hammers and axes and for agricultural implements such as ploughs, harrows and rollers. In cart and carriage building, it is used for wheel rims, spokes, poles and shafts. It is one of the most popular woods for carving and engraving. It is suitable for turnery and is excellent for high-class bentwood furniture, walking sticks, umbrella handles and other bentwood articles. It is also used for making musical instruments and sports equipment.

Dalbergia latifolia is used as a shade tree in agroforestry in India and Indonesia, for afforestation of eroded soils, and as a soil improver fixing nitrogen and providing mulch. It is also planted as a roadside tree and shade tree in coffee plantations. The foliage is used as fodder. Dalbergia latifolia yields a dark amber, strong flavoured honey. The bark is used in traditional medicine in India, to treat diarrhoea, indigestion and leprosy, and as a vermifuge.

Production and international trade

In India Dalbergia latifolia timber is one of the most valuable timbers, with an average price higher than that of teak. In Java the price is comparable with that of teak. Plywood is exported.

Properties

The heartwood is golden brown to dark purplish brown with very dark brown to black streaks, and distinctly demarcated from the 3–5 cm thick whitish to yellowish sapwood. The grain is straight, sometimes wavy or interlocked, texture moderately fine to rather coarse. The density of the wood is 750–880 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. Air drying should be done carefully and slowly because the wood splits easily at the ends during drying. The rates of shrinkage from green to oven dry are 2.3–2.9% radial and 5.6–6.4% tangential. Once dry, the wood is exceptionally stable in service.

At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 92–121 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 10,000–11,900 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 48–65 N/mm², shear 8–9 N/mm², cleavage 85 N/mm radial and 91 N/mm tangential, Janka side hardness 6970 N and Janka end hardness 8015 N.

The wood is rather difficult to work with hand tools, but it is quite easy to machine. It can be planed to a smooth surface. Turning, screwing, polishing and gluing give good results, and the wood can be peeled or sliced to make decorative veneer and plywood. The heartwood is durable, being resistant to dry-wood termites and wood-rotting fungi; it is difficult to treat with preservatives. The sapwood is perishable but readily treatable. The wood can cause allergic contact dermatitis in people working with it.

Description

  • Deciduous or evergreen medium-sized to large tree up to 40 m tall; bole straight or slightly twisted, branchless for up to 12(–24) m, up to 80(–150) cm in diameter, often with prominent buttresses; bark surface whitish to grey, thin, becoming flaking; crown rounded to dome-shaped.
  • Leaves arranged spirally, imparipinnately compound with (3–)5–7(–9) leaflets; stipules small, caducous; petiole and rachis glabrous; petiolules up to 1 cm long; leaflets alternate, broadly obovate to elliptical-oblong, 4–12 cm × 2.5–9 cm, obtuse, rounded or notched at apex, papery or thinly leathery, glabrous.
  • Inflorescence a terminal or axillary panicle 5–15 cm long, laxly branched, almost glabrous, many-flowered.
  • Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous, 6–8 mm long, distinctly pedicellate; calyx campanulate, c. 4 mm long, lobes shorter than tube, lower lobe longest, upper lobes fused; corolla whitish, with obovate standard and clawed wings and keel; stamens usually 9, fused into a tube, but free in upper part; ovary superior, with distinct stipe at base, style short.
  • Fruit a flat, elliptical to oblong, papery pod 4–10 cm × 1.5–2.5 cm, with stipe up to 1 cm long, glabrous, reticulately veined, indehiscent, 1–3(–4)-seeded.
  • Seeds kidney-shaped, 7–10 mm long.

Other botanical information

Seedlings of Dalbergia latifolia have a strong taproot and are practically devoid of any secondary roots when young. Initial growth of seedlings is slow. Nodules which are the result of symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria are already found on the roots of seedlings. Young trees are also relatively slow growing, but reported growth rates differ considerably. In Java (Indonesia) an annual height growth of 2 m and an annual volume increment of 15 m³/ha have been recorded for young plantations on favourable sites, but in India 10-year-old stands had an average height of 6 m with a bole diameter of 4–5 cm. In India the average age of reaching a diameter of 60 cm has been estimated at no less than 240 years! Dalbergia latifolia trees are often surrounded by numerous root suckers. Dalbergia latifolia is a moderate light demander and seedlings can withstand moderate shade. In too open locations it tends to become crooked and branchy. In Nigeria trees flower in September–October and January–February. The thin pods are dispersed by wind.

Dalbergia is a large pantropical genus comprising about 250 species. Tropical Asia and tropical America have about 70 species each, continental Africa about 50 and Madagascar slightly over 40.

Ecology

In its native area of distribution in tropical Asia Dalbergia latifolia occurs scattered in deciduous forest in periodically very dry localities, up to 900(–1500) m altitude. It is successfully cultivated as high as 1000 m altitude. Older trees are very drought resistant. Dalbergia latifolia thrives in areas with up to 6 dry months with mean monthly rainfall of less than 40 mm. It tolerates minimum temperatures of 0–6°C. It is only moderately fire resistant. It grows well on deep, permanently moist but well-drained soils, but also attains large dimensions on vertisols.

Management

The weight of 1000 seeds is 25–55 g. Seeds remain viable for up to 6 months. They have no dormancy. Pre-treatment of seeds is not necessary, although soaking in water for 12–24 hours accelerates germination. Germination of fresh seed takes 7–25 days, and the germination rate is 45–80%. Under natural conditions regeneration is generally satisfactory, with seeds germinating at the beginning of the rainy season. However, seedlings should be protected against fire and grazing.

For planting, seeds are sown in well-raised seedbeds of porous sandy loam or in polythene bags. However, Dalbergia latifolia is often propagated from root suckers of 1–2.5 cm diameter. Root and stem cuttings can also be used. The buds of root suckers and stem cuttings start to sprout about 9 days after planting, and those of root cuttings about 15 days after planting, but after 2 months all young plants have more or less the same height. Stump planting is very successful using stumps from 2–3-year-old seedlings with a collar diameter of 5–15 mm, a root length of about 15 cm and a shoot length of about 5 cm. In India successful methods of tissue culture have been developed.

Dalbergia latifolia is generally grown in pure stands, usually managed by clear felling followed by artificial regeneration, but sometimes it is mixed with other timber species such as mahogany (Swietenia sp.). In agroforestry systems it is intercropped with annual crops or fruit trees. In pure stands, spacing is 1.2–2.5 m × 1.0–1.8 m, but in India an initial spacing of 5 m × 5 m, followed by thinning of alternate trees, is recommended. Regular weeding is necessary for several years. Pruning and thinning are recommended at 5–10 years after planting. Trees can be coppiced and pollarded.

In Java Fusarium solani has caused widespread damage to plantations over 15 years old. The symptoms are inward rolling of young leaves, dieback and discoloration of other leaves, and red streaks formed on outer layers of the sapwood. Root suckers of affected trees should not be used for propagation. Seedlings often suffer seriously from damping-off; the mortality rate may be up to 60%. Up to 12 years old, Dalbergia latifolia is susceptible to Phytophthora attack. The trees are attacked by various insects such as leaf-miners, defoliators and stem-borers, but this causes no real problems for trees grown under favourable conditions.

Genetic resources

In tropical Asia natural stands of Dalbergia latifolia have been depleted considerably, and in many areas large trees have become rare. The species is included in the IUCN Red list as vulnerable. A germplasm bank has been established at the Kerala Forest Research Institute (India).

Prospects

Dalbergia latifolia is suitable for incorporation in agroforestry systems, but to obtain straight boles close spacing is desirable, and for timber production the establishment of monoculture plantations is recommended. Although the timber is much in demand and expensive, Dalbergia latifolia is too slow-growing to be a preferred timber plantation species for tropical Africa at present. Breeding programmes aimed at fast-growing trees with straight boles may result in profitable plantations in the future, but for the time being it seems more rational to focus on proper management methods of the African Dalbergia species producing valuable timber. An advantage of Dalbergia latifolia over most Dalbergia spp. indigenous to Africa is the larger bole size of mature trees.

Major references

  • Prawirohatmodjo, S., Suranto, J., Martawijaya, A., den Outer, R.W. & Sosef, M.S.M., 1993. Dalbergia L.f. In: Soerianegara, I. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(1). Timber trees: Major commercial timbers. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 155–161.
  • Ramesh Rao, K. & Purkayastha, S.K., 1972. Indian woods, their identification, properties and uses. Volume 3. Leguminosae to Combretaceae. Manager of Publications, Delhi, India. 262 pp.
  • Tewari, D.N., 1995. A monograph on rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia Roxb.). Dehra Dun, India. 74 pp.

Other references

  • Asian Regional Workshop (Conservation & Sustainable Management of Trees, Vietnam), 1998. Dalbergia latifolia. In: IUCN. 2006 Red list of threatened species. [Internet] http://www.iucnredlist.org. January 2007.
  • Athavale, P.N., Shum, K.W., Gasson, P., & Gawkrodger, D.J., 2003. Occupational hand dermatitis in a wood turner due to rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia). Contact Dermatitis 48(6): 345–346.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
  • CSIR, 1952. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials and industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 3: D-E. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 236 pp.
  • Farmer, R.H., 1972. Handbook of hardwoods. 2nd Edition. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, United Kingdom. 243 pp.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1989. Trees of Nigeria. A revised version of Nigerian trees (1960, 1964) by R.W.J. Keay, C.F.A. Onochie and D.P. Stanfield. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. 476 pp.
  • National Academy of Sciences, 1979. Tropical legumes: resources for the future. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., United States. 331 pp.
  • Piletta, P.A., Hausen, B.M., Pasche Koo F., French, L.E., Saurat, J.H. & Hauser, C., 1996. Allergic contact dermatitis to East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia Roxb.). Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 34(2): 298–300.
  • Polhill, R.M., 1990. Légumineuses. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 80. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Office de la Recherche Scientifique Outre-Mer, Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 235 pp.
  • Ravishankar Rai, V. & Jagadish Chandra, K.S., 1988. In vitro regeneration of plantlets from shoot callus of mature trees of Dalbergia latifolia. Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture 13: 77–83.

Sources of illustration

  • Prawirohatmodjo, S., Suranto, J., Martawijaya, A., den Outer, R.W. & Sosef, M.S.M., 1993. Dalbergia L.f. In: Soerianegara, I. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(1). Timber trees: Major commercial timbers. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 155–161.

Author(s)

  • R.H.M.J. Lemmens, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2008. Dalbergia latifolia Roxb. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 13 November 2018.