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What Is a Mahogany Tree?

By Lisa Chinn
People use mahogany for furniture and other wooden items.

The mahogany tree is also called "Swietenia mahagoni" and "West Indies mahogany," and it grows natively in North America and the Caribbean. It is a popular landscaping tree in the warmer parts of North America. People grow mahoganies for shade around the house and also use the trees for their strong wood.

Physical Appearance

Mahogany trees grow up to 75 feet tall and spread as wide as 50 feet. However, their average height is closer to 50 feet. The trees have large round canopies, which provide shade while still allowing enough light for grass to grow underneath. Young mahogany trees have gray bark, and older ones have scaly reddish brown bark. Mahoganies keep their leaves year-round, except in areas with extreme droughts. They grow green flowers, which are not very noticeable or decorative.


People use mahogany trees to add some greenery to the home landscape, to provide shade and for their hard wood. In poor countries, people also cut them to use their wood as fuel. Their wood has a rich color and is very durable, which makes mahogany furniture popular and valuable. Since it tolerates a wide range of soil types and salt spray from the ocean, gardeners who live in coastal areas or areas with poor soils favor the tree.


Swietenia mahagoni grows natively in areas of the Caribbean, including Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Bahamas. In the U.S., it grows natively in Florida. Nowadays, it also grows in India, the Philippines, Fiji, parts of Northern Africa, Puerto Rico and Indonesia, because humans introduced the tree to new places. It grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 10b through 11, which have minimum winter temperatures of 35 and 40 F, respectively.


The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences suggests planting mahogany in areas with good water drainage and rich soil. Fertilization also helps the trees grow in poorer soils. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences also recommends pruning young mahoganies to make sure they have just one central trunk, rather than multiple leader stems, which helps the tree to remain stable during storms.


Mahogany trees have problems with several pests, including mahogany web worms, mahogany shoot borers, coffee tree beetles and caterpillars. The tree is also endangered, because people cut so many of them down to use their wood.


About the Author


Lisa Chinn developed her research skills while working at a research university library. She writes for numerous publications, specializing in gardening, home care, wellness, copywriting, style and travel. Chinn also designs marketing materials, holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology and is working toward a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.