Rosewood By Any Other Name

Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


 Rosewood By Any Other Name

Most everyone agrees that truth in advertising is a policy that should be followed simply because everyone wants to know what they are getting and to get what they are paying for.  Consumers are unanimously in favor of knowing the truth about the products and services that they pay for.  When it comes to the producers, manufacturers, and wholesalers, however; the whole truth is seldom a part of the policy.  Debatably, nowhere in the field of marketing is the lack of complete transparency more deficient than in the production stream of furniture woods.

Starting with the logging of specialty woods, particularly tropical hardwoods; the procurement, wholesaling, and retailing of both sawn and unsawn logs destined for veneers and furniture manufacture tend to lose their native identities and take on trade names that may or may not be helpful in identifying what the potential consumer will be paying for.  It may be a wild exaggeration to suggest that all dark colored automobiles that are on display in a car dealer’s showroom should be advertised as merely dark colored cars, of putative equal value and manufactured quality, if those similarly colored cars are Kias, Chevys, Cadillacs, BMWs and Mercedes.  But an advertising brochure or showroom display of rosewood furniture is akin to advertising specified dark colored furniture wood without its true identity.  The trade name Rosewood covers a multitude of furniture woods derived from several botanical genera and species, logged from the forests on several continents.

In the timber trade, the Rosewood family refers to over 100 species of tropical woods from all over the world.  Presumably, according to some literature, all belong to the botanical genus Dalbergia. In marketing practice, however; various tropical hardwoods of several genera are marketed and sold as Rosewood.



Roundwood and sawn timber known as Brazilian Rosewood

(Dialium giuanense) or tamarindo is logged from tropical forests in several countries in South America.



Santos Rosewood, also from the Americas, is either Machaerium scleroxylon or Balsamo myroxylon balsamo, depending on who is doing the advertising. 

There are a few, such as Mexican Rosewood and Cocobolo Rosewood that are not generally given botanical names.  One species from Central America and specifically logged in Honduras is simply described as Rosewood and has the scientific name Dalbergia stevensonii. Then, there is a Bolivian Rosewood.  Finally, rounding out the representatives from the Americas is Patagonian Rosewood with the botanical nomenclature Piptadenia macrocarpa.

African Rosewood likewise comes from several countries in Africa where tropical forests are exploited for furniture woods derived from several genera.  No need to go further into taxonomic nomenclature to make the point regarding the influence of marketing that obscures their legitimate identities. In Southeast Asia, as well, there are a few furniture woods that are marketed as Rosewood.  But on the Indian sub-continent where Dalbergia sissoo, a species that has been cropped in plantations and marketed as Rosewood for almost 200 years, is ironically in dispute as an “official” member of the family of Rosewoods.


Slabs of Dalbergia sissoo

The problem with branding Rosewood as a tropical timber with the same common name is that all the various genera and species cannot have the same name if they are not the same species; furthermore, they should not command the same sales price if they are not all equally valuable; and they should not be touted as equals in working qualities, durability, and market celebrity if they are essentially different.  Among the characteristics marketers mention are durability, hardness, strength, flexibility, color variations, and figure.  Obviously, there are differences.  If you are asked to pay for a Mercedes from an auto dealer, he/she should not give you the keys to a Chevy.

For whatever reason, furniture manufacturers and retailers have persisted in using the name Rosewood as a marketing point and sales ploy, although they could insist on and get a fuller description of the woods that have long been a part of the timber trade.  It ain’t rocket science but it should start at the source, as a gesture in good faith marketing and truth in advertising.  Besides, foresters and landowners get a bad name when presumably endangered species are being cut from tropical forests.  Some people presume that Rosewood is an endangered species.  If that were true for one species, it cannot be true for all species being marketed as Rosewood because the name is too non-specific to be meaningful.

Consumers know enough about the characteristics of Chevys vs. Mercedes cars to decide what they are willing to pay, but they know almost nothing about the Rosewood that is being touted in veneer specialty shops and upscale furniture stores. A Rosewood by any other name would definitely not be as sweet.   

Pani Pulau
Street Trees and Village Shade

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