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Conservation status

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Caesalpinioideae
Genus: Caesalpinia
Species: C. echinata
Binomial name
Caesalpinia echinata

natural range

Brazilwood or Pau-Brasil, sometimes known as Pernambuco (Caesalpinia echinata syn. Guilandina echinata (Lam.) Spreng.) is a Brazilian timber tree. This plant has a dense, orange-red wood (which takes a high shine), and it is the premier wood used for making bows for string instruments from the violin family. The wood also yields a red dye called brazilin, which oxidizes to brazilein.


When Portuguese explorers found these trees of a deep red hue inside on the coast of South America, they used the name pau-brasil to describe them. Pau is Portuguese for "wood", and brasil is said to have come from brasa, Portuguese for "ember". This name had been earlier used to describe a different species of tree which was found in Asia and other places and which also produced red dye; but the South American trees soon became the better source of red dye. Brazilwood trees were such a large part of the exports and economy of the land that the country which sprang up in that part of the world took its name from them and is now called Brazil.

Botanically, several tree species are involved, all in the family Leguminosae (the pulse family). The term "Brasilwood" is most often used to refer to the species Caesalpinia echinata, but it is also applied to other species. This Caesalpinia echinata is also known as Pau-de-Pernambuco (Named after the state of Pernambuco in the Nordeste [north-east] region of Brazil).

In the bow making business, the best-quality wood bows are made from Caesalpinia echinata, commonly known in the trade as "Pernambuco Wood"; bows of lesser quality wood are made from other tropical species, often called "Brazilwood". Thus, the terms "Pernambuco" and "Brazilwood" — as used in the stringed instruments bows — refer to completely different species. Examples of "Brazilwood" species used for bows include "ipê" (Tabebuia avellanadae) and "massaranduba" (Manilkara bidentata).

Historical importance

    In the 15th and 16th centuries, brazilwood was highly valued in Europe and quite difficult to get. Coming from Asia, it was traded in powder form and used as a red dye in the manufacture of luxury textiles, such as velvet, in high demand during the Renaissance. When Portuguese navigators discovered present-day Brazil, on April 22, 1500, they immediately saw that brazilwood was extremely abundant along the coast and in its hinterland, along the rivers. In a few years, a hectic and very profitable operation for felling and transporting by shipping all the brazilwood logs they could get was established, as a crown-granted Portuguese monopoly. The rich commerce which soon followed stimulated other nations to try to harvest and smuggle brazilwood contraband out of Brazil, or even corsairs attacking loaded Portuguese ships in order to steal their cargo. For example, the unsuccessful attempt of a French expedition led by Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, vice-admiral of Brittany and corsair under the King, in 1555, to establish a colony in present-day Rio de Janeiro (France Antarctique) was motivated in part by the bounty generated by economic exploitation of brazilwood. In addition, this plant is also cited in Flora Brasiliensis by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius.


Excessive exploitation led to a steep decrease in the number of brazilwood trees in the 18th century, causing the collapse of this economic activity. Presently, the species is nearly extinct in most of its original range. Brazilwood is listed as an endangered species by the IUCN, and it is cited in the official list of endangered flora of Brazil. The trade of brazilwood is likely to be banned in the immediate future, creating a major problem in the bow-making industry which highly values this wood[citation needed]. The International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (IPCI), whose members are the bowmakers who rely on pernambuco for their livelihoods, is working to replant it. IPCI is advocating the use of other woods for violin bows as it raises money to plant pernambuco seedlings. The shortage of pernambuco has also helped the carbon fiber bow industry to thrive.

Tree of Music, a feature-length documentary on the plight of this species is currently in production.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Brazilwood". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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