Khaya anthotheca

Khaya antotheca tree
Khaya antotheca tree

Family: Meliaceae

In Swahili this species is called mkangazi, and in English it is known as African mahogany, although many other trees get called mahogany.

Scientists used to identify two separate species, and the other name Khaya nyasica is still widely used. Like related species it requires a good supply of moisture. In Kilwa District it is largely confined to damp areas of tall groundwater and riverine coastal forest where it grows into a huge buttressed tree. The tree can often be recognised by the characteristically dimpled bark. There are few such areas in the District, so this tree is a scarce resource. The trunk can attain a diameter of over 2m, with an unbranched harvestable length of 20m and a height of 40m. Atop this there is a branched crown of almost evergreen leaves made up of huge, glossy, leathery leaflets in 2-7 pairs. The tree produces sweet-scented white flowers in the short rains, which are rarely seen owing to their height. The fruit take almost a year to mature into a dry, round woody capsule that splits into a star shape releasing many pale brown winged seeds. These empty capsules can be seen fallen beneath the tree. Only large trees flower and the tree only reproduces by seed.

This species produces a fine-grained, reddish brown export timber, which can be harvested in very long lengths. It is used for high quality joinery. The timber is not very hard and only moderately durable but its properties are well known so it remains popular. The wood is pale pink when cut but turns darker red-brown on exposure.