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Swietenia is a genus of trees in the mahogany family Meliaceae. It occurs in the Neotropics, from southern Floridamarker, the Caribbeanmarker, Mexicomarker and Central America south to Boliviamarker. It is usually taken to consist of three species, geographically separated. They are medium-sized to large trees growing to 20-45 m tall, and up to 2 m trunk diameter. The leaves are 10-30 cm long, pinnate, with 3-6 pairs of leaflets, the terminal leaflet absent; each leaflet is 5-15 cm long. The leaves are deciduous to semi-evergreen, falling shortly before the new foliage grows. The flowers are produced in loose inflorescences, each flower small, with five white to greenish-yellowish petals. The fruit is a pear-shaped five-valved capsule 8-20 cm long, containing numerous winged seeds about 5-9 cm long.

The three species are poorly defined biologically, in part because they hybridize freely when grown in proximity.

Species
  • Swietenia humilis - Pacific Coast Mahogany. Pacific coast of Central America and Mexico.
  • Swietenia macrophylla - Honduras Mahogany. Atlantic coast of Central America, South America south to Bolivia.
  • Swietenia mahagoni - West Indian Mahogany. Southern Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola.


Uses

19th century illustration
The genus is famed as the supplier of mahogany, at first yielded by Swietenia mahagoni, a Caribbean species, which was so extensively used locally and exported that its trade ended by the 1950s. These days almost all mahogany is yielded by the mainland species, Swietenia macrophylla.

Swietenia mahagoni is widely cultivated as an ornamental tree in its native range and in southern Florida, and similarly S. macrophylla in Hawaiimarker and in other countries.

The fruits of Swietenia macrophylla are called "sky fruit", because they seem to hang upwards from the tree. The "sky fruit" concentrate is sold as a natural remedy that is said to improve blood circulation and skin. It is also said to have Viagra-like qualities regarding erectile dysfunction. Consumption of the sky fruit concentrate is approved by Malaysia Ministry of Health.

A somewhat comparable wood is yielded by the related African genus Khaya. This is traded as African mahogany.

CITES

All species of Swietenia are CITES-listed. Swietenia timber that crosses a border needs its paperwork in order. International environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Rainforest Action Network have focused on Swietenia so as to expose illegal traffic in the wood, notably from Brazil.

References




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