Exotic usually refers to expensive and increasingly rare hardwoods from tropical regions, including Africa, Polynesia, Southeast and South Asia, Central and South America and Australia. A broader definition would also include unusually figured woods and burls from more common species. The beauty of unusual grain patterns in common American woods can bring prices comparable to those of the tropical imports.
Depletion of ecologically important virgin forest worldwide has resulted in restricted harvests in many areas. Increased demand and the availability of deforested lands now makes commercial reforestation possible. As a consequence, many native species, like teak, are no longer restricted to their native range and have been successfully cultivated in other climatically suitable locations. Tropical American Tree Farms in Costa Rica now nurtures more than 50 varieties of exotic hardwood trees on 7,000 acres of reclaimed land. Tree farms are planned in many other areas, such as the Philippines, where native forests have been depleted.
In their natural ranges many species with high commercial value are now at risk. Honduran rosewood, important especially to the musical instrument industry, has a limited range in Belize, Guatemala and southern Mexico. In the wild, rosewood trees of harvestable size are now rare. Brazilian rosewood, native to the Amazon basin, is now protected by an international trade ban because of over-harvesting.
One general type of exotic hardwood may include many species and subspecies spread throughout one climatic zone, worldwide. Mahogany, for example, is known under nearly 60 different common names and is harvested from Africa's Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Brazil, Cuba and many other countries.
Another important commercial species, teak, has less than nine named varieties but a wide range that spans many different nations in tropical Asia. Variety names may refer more to location than to distinctive characteristics. Once a major exporter of teak, Thailand imposed a ban on exports in 1991 and since has begun a major reforestation effort. Burma and Zimbabwe presently harvest teak commercially, and in Central America teak is now a commercially cultivated species. Australia's New South Wales region is also home to established teak plantations.
Burlwoods---tumorous growths that occasionally form in many different species of trees---also count as important exotic woods. Though not available in great quantity, good quality burls of maple, walnut, myrtle and many other North American species can yield worthwhile amounts of stock for inlays, gun stocks, turnery and knife handles. Causes of burl growths are not well understood, but environmental stresses and injuries are thought to be contributing factors.