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A classic rosewood surface (Dalbergia nigra)

Rosewood refers to any of a number of richly hued timbers, often brownish with darker veining, but found in many different hues and colours.[1]

True rosewoods

Chess pieces in Dalbergia latifolia rosewood

All genuine rosewoods belong to the genus Dalbergia. The pre-eminent rosewood appreciated in the Western world is the wood of Dalbergia nigra.[2] It is best known as "Brazilian rosewood",[3] but also as "Bahia rosewood". This wood has a strong, sweet smell, which persists for many years, explaining the name rosewood.[4]

Another classic rosewood comes from Dalbergia latifolia, known as (East) Indian rosewood or sonokeling (Indonesia). It is native to India and is also grown in plantations elsewhere in Pakistan (Chiniot).

Madagascar rosewood (Dalbergia maritima), known as bois de rose, is highly prized for its red color. It is overexploited in the wild, despite a 2010 moratorium on trade and illegal logging, which continues on a large scale.[5]

Throughout southeast Asia, Dalbergia oliveri is harvested for use in woodworking. It has a very fragrant and dense grain near the core, but the outer sapwood is soft and porous. Dalbergia cultrata,[6] variegated burgundy to light brown in color, is a blackwood timber sold as Burmese rosewood. Products built with rosewood-based engineered woods are sold as 'Malaysian rosewood' or as D. oliveri.[citation needed]

Some rosewood comes from Dalbergia retusa, also known as 'Nicaraguan rosewood' or as cocobolo.[7] Several species are known as Guatemalan rosewood or Panama rosewood: D. tucerencis, D. tucarensis, and D. cubiquitzensis.[8][9] Honduran rosewood, D. stevensonii[10] is used for marimba keys, guitar parts, clarinets and other musical and ornamental applications.[11]

Not all species in the large genus Dalbergia yield rosewoods; only about a dozen species do. The woods of some other species in the genus Dalbergia are notable—even famous—woods in their own right: African blackwood, cocobolo, kingwood, and Brazilian tulipwood.

Some species become canopy trees (up to 30 m high),[12] and large pieces can occasionally be found in the trade.[citation needed] In rare cases, more than 60 meters of individuals and colonies were found around the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.


The timber trade sells many timbers under the name 'rosewood' (usually with an adjective) due to some (outward) similarities. A fair number of these timbers come from other legume genera; one such species that is often mentioned is Bolivian Machaerium scleroxylon sold as 'Bolivian rosewood'. Another that may be found in market from Southeast Asia is Pterocarpus indicus, sold as 'New Guinea rosewood' (and related species). Dalbergia sissoo is a rosewood species from India and Bangladesh, usually known as sheesham or North-Indian rosewood. Its timber is extremely dense and has mild rot resistance but is porous, and its exterior is soft and susceptible to wood-boring insects. It is used for making cabinets and flooring, and for carving. It is exported as quality veneers. Due to its after-work quality when sealed and dyed, it is often sold as genuine rosewood or as teak. It has no discernible qualities of a genuine rosewood. Its strength is comparable with teak, but it has lower quality and price than teak or Dalbergia latifolia.[citation needed]

Although its wood bears no resemblance whatsoever to the true rosewoods, the Australian rose mahogany (Dysoxylum fraserianum, family Meliaceae) and Australian blackwood, (Acacia melanoxylon) are also sold as rosewood. Acacia excelsa is also commonly known as ironwood or rosewood.[13] Australian rose mahogany, due to the strong smell of roses from freshly cut bark, is more mistakenly termed a "rosewood".[14]


Back of guitar made with East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia)

All rosewoods are strong and heavy, taking an excellent polish, being suitable for guitars (the fretboards on electric and acoustic guitars often being made of rosewood), marimbas, recorders, turnery (billiard cues, fountain pens, black pieces in chess sets, etc.), handles, furniture, and luxury flooring, etc.

Rosewood oil, used in perfume, is extracted from the wood of Aniba rosaeodora, which is not related to the rosewoods used for lumber. Rosewood is also used for bracelets and necklaces.


The dust created from sanding rosewood is known to be a sensitizing irritant and can trigger asthma and other respiratory ailments. Continual or heightened exposure can increase sensitivity.[15]

Status as an endangered species

In general, world stocks are poor through overexploitation.[16] Rosewood is now protected worldwide. At a summit of the international wildlife trade in South Africa, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) moved to protect the world's most trafficked wild product by placing all 300 species of the rosewood tree under trade restrictions.[17] At CITES meetings in 2013, 2016, and 2019, additional rosewood species were listed for protection, triggering market booms in China.[18][19]


A Chinese Ming Dynasty compound wardrobe made of huanghuali rosewood, latter half of the 16th century.
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List of rosewoods

From Dalbergia species:

Other than Dalbergia species


  1. ^ "rosewood tree - Memidex dictionary/thesaurus". Retrieved 2016-04-02.
  2. ^ "Rosewood From Around the Globe – Woodworkers Source Blog". Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  3. ^ "Rosewood | tree and timber | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  4. ^ "Distinguishing Brazilian Rosewood, East Indian and Other Rosewoods - The Wood Database".
  5. ^ "In search of Madagascar's rosewood mafia". BBC News. 20 February 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  6. ^ "Dalbergia cultrata Benth. — The Plant List".
  7. ^ "Cocobolo". Forest Legality. Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  8. ^ "Panama Rosewood Sets". Garnut Guitars.
  9. ^ "TAXA: Data on a specific chosen botanical species Dalbergia cubiquitzensis ". Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  10. ^ "Honduran Rosewood | The Wood Database (Hardwood)". Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  11. ^ "Honduran Rosewood | The Wood Database - Lumber Identification (Hardwoods)". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  12. ^ "Brazilian Rosewood | The Wood Database (Hardwood)". Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  13. ^ "Acacia excelsa". World Wide Wattle. Western Australian Herbarium. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  14. ^ Boland, D.J.; et al. (1984). Forest Trees of Australia (fourth ed.). CSIRO Australia. p. 120.
  15. ^ "Wood Allergies and Toxicity". Eric Meier. January 2009. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  16. ^ "Dalbergia". ICUN Red List of threatened species. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  17. ^ "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved 2023-01-17.
  18. ^ Zhu, Annah Lake. "Restricting trade in endangered species can backfire, triggering market booms". The Conversation. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  19. ^ Zhu, Annah Lake (January 2, 2020). "China's Rosewood Boom: A Cultural Fix to Capital Overaccumulation". Annals of the American Association of Geographers. 110 (1): 277–296. doi:10.1080/24694452.2019.1613955.