Honduran rosewood is a highly prized timber species from southern Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. The largest remaining populations of the species are scattered across the Toledo district of southern Belize, mostly in water-logged forest between the Sarstoon and Monkey Rivers.
Reaching a height of up to 30m, the species has yellow flowers, papery bark and hard timber. The tree produces fruits in July, although large numbers of these succumb to predation by caterpillars, limiting levels of natural regeneration.
Like the African zebrawood, and other members of the pea family (Fabaceae), rosewood species play an important role in the forest ecosystem, enhancing soil fertility through nitrogen-fixing nodules in its roots.
The Honduran Rosewood produces an incredibly dense timber making it ideal for the production of musical instruments, especially xylophones and claves. Its durability also makes it attractive for making fingerboards for violins, veneers for fine furniture, knife handles and much more.
Rosewood timber has been exported from Belize since 1841. However a recent spike in international demand led to a surge in illegal logging in 2011 and 2012, decimating stocks across southern Belize. Although its conservation status has not been evaluated by the IUCN Red List, it has almost certainly suffered an extreme population decline over the last decade.
The Government of Belize is tackling the threats to rosewood head on. In July 2012 it issued a temporary moratorium banning all logging of the species, allowing a re-assessment of the remaining stocks. It then took a series of measures to demonstrate its no-tolerant stance, including the burning of a stock-pile of illegally harvested timber.
In March 2013, the species was listed on CITES Appendix II, meaning exporting countries will need to provide data proving that timber has been harvested sustainably. This should support more sustainable management of the species, more accurate trade data and an increase in the knowledge of population sizes and trends.
The Global Trees Campaign is supporting its partner, the Ya’axché Conservation Trust, to improve the conservation status of the Honduran Rosewood and a host of other tree species in Belize. Ya’axché are working in two protected areas to ensure the rosewood trees species within them are well protected from illegal logging.
Flynn, J.H. (Ed.) 1994. A guide to useful woods of the world. King Philip Publishing Co., Portland, Maine
Did you know?
One species of rhododendron (R. kanehirae) would be extinct if were not for collections made by botanic gardens.