West Indian or Spanish Cedar is a fast-growing timber tree native to a wide expanse of tropical America, its natural range extending from Central America and the Caribbean south into much of South America, to as far south as northern Argentina.
It may reach heights of up to 30 m (98 ft) in its natural habitat, though is more commonly 15 to 20 m (50 to 65 ft) tall with a sturdy, straight trunk supporting a densely leafy, rounded crown. The bark is light grey or light-brown, smooth when young, becoming rough and furrowed with age.
The leaves are large, up to 80 cm (2.6 ft) long and feather-like, made up of ten to twenty-eight deep green oval to lance-shaped leaflets, each 8 to 15 cm (3 to 6 in) long and arranged in pairs along the length. They fall off the tree in the dry season to conserve water, leaving the branches bare until the rainy season, when the new leaves emerge.
Tiny or inconspicuous white flowers soon follow the new leaves, borne in loose clusters at the tips of the branches. They are succeeded by small egg-shaped, woody capsules that turn brown when mature then split and open inside-out to expel their seed, which are winged for wind dispersal.
It is a well-known timber species and is highly regarded for its sweetly aromatic, versatile and naturally pest repellent wood. The wood weight ranges from 400 to 650 kgs per cubic meter (25 to 41 lbs per cubic ft) and its natural durability, or resistance to decay and termites varies depending on the growing conditions, with slow-growing trees from the low rainfall areas tending to develop a heavier, more durable wood than fast-growing trees from high rainfall areas.
The heartwood is pinkish- to red-brown, sometimes with a purple tinge and is sought after for crafting wooden cigar boxes and for building interior cabinets and shelves. Selected roundwood lengths are sliced for decorative veneer and for making plywood.
An essential oil is steam-distilled from waste-wood material collected from sawmills. Known as 'Cedrela oil', it is a greenish-yellow to olive-coloured liquid with a pleasing and powerful dry-woody aroma, reminding of cedarwood oil, a commercially important essential oil derived from various cold-climate conifers. It is used mainly as a fragrance for soaps, disinfectants and air-fresheners.
West Indian Cedar's overexploitation for its wood has led to it being listed as a vulnerable tree species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), which brings attention to the need to protect the dwindling number of trees in the wild.
Grows naturally and makes good development as a timber tree in moderately humid subtropical and tropical climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 15 to 25 °C, annual highs of 25 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 1200 to 2600 mm and a dry season of 6 months or less.
Areas with annual rainfall of 2000 mm or more are preferred for timber plantations, as the trees are fast-growing under such conditions and tend to produce long straight trunks. However, this is usually at the expense of natural resistance to rot, decay and wood-boring insects.
In Jamaica, West Indian Cedar is found growing naturally at elevations from near sea level of up 1025 m (3360 ft), where the average low of the warmest month does not fall below 17 °C (63 °F).
New plants are usually raised from seed, which have a high germination rate. Seedlings and trees grow quickly, performing best on free-draining clay, loam and limestone soils of a slightly acid to alkaline nature, generally with pH of 6.0 to 8.0, and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. It has poor tolerance to slow-draining or waterlogged soils.
The thin paper-like seed germinate readily and are designed for dispersal on the wind, which can carry them afar. This ability to spread outside cultivation has contributed to it becoming a problem weed in some areas, particularly where it is an introduced species and can disrupt the natural ecology. It is assessed as a high weed risk species for Hawaii by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment project (HPWRA).
Adams, C. D. 1972, Flowering plants of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, Mona, Greater Kingston
Arctander, S. 1960, Perfume and flavor materials of natural origin, Elizabeth, New Jersey
Barwick, M., et al. 2004, Tropical & subtropical trees : a worldwide encyclopaedic guide, Thames and Hudson, London
Burns R.M., Mosquera M.S. & Whitmone J.L. 1998, Useful trees of the tropical region of North America, North American Forestry Commission Publication (Number 3), Washington D.C.
Burns, R.M. & Honkala, B.H. 1990, Silvics of North America (Volume 2) : Hardwoods, Agricultural Handbook 654, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.
Croat, T. B. 1978, Flora of Barro Colorado Island, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 1986, Databook on endangered tree and shrub species and provenances, FAO Forestry Paper 77, Forest Resources Division, Rome
Francis, J. K. 1998, Tree species for planting in forest, rural, and urban areas of Puerto Rico, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Piedras, Puerto Rico
Francis, J. K. et al. 2000, Silvics of Native and Exotic Trees of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands, Technical Report IITF-15, USDA Forest Service, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Howes, F. N. 1949, Vegetable gums and resins, Chronica Botanica Company, Waltham, Massachusetts
Kukachka, B. F & Forest Products Laboratory (U.S.) 1970, Properties of imported tropical woods, United States, Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, forest Products Laboratory, Madison
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Louppe, D. & Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (eds). PROTA, Plant Resources of Tropical Africa, Volume 7(1) : Timbers 1, PROTA Foundation, Backhuys Publishers, Leiden
Liegel, L. H. 1987. A technical guide for forest nursery management in the Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans
McGregor, Samuel Emmett n.d., Insect pollination of cultivated crop plants, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service : for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off, Washington
Nair, P. K. R. 1993, An introduction to agroforestry, International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht
Patino Valera, Fernando 1997, Genetic resources of Swietenia and Cedrela in the neotropics : proposals for coordinated action, Forest Resources Div., Forestry Dept., Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome
Reyes, G. 1992, Wood densities of tropical tree species, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans, Louisiana
Scheffer, T. C & Morrell, J. J. 1998, Natural durability of wood : a worldwide checklist of species, Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
Streets, R. J & Troup, R. S. 1962, Exotic forest trees in the British Commonwealth, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England
Vázquez, Y. C. 1999, Potentially valuable Mexican trees for ecological restoration and reforestation, Institute of Ecology, Database SNIB-REMIB-CONABIO, Project J084, Mexico
Vozzo, J. A 2002, Tropical tree seed manual, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service, Washington D.C.
Webb, D. B. 1984, A Guide to species selection for tropical and sub-tropical plantations, 2nd ed., Unit of Tropical Silviculture, Commonwealth Forestry Institute, University of Oxford, Oxfordshire
Commonwealth Forestry Institute, Department of Forestry, University of Oxford, Fast growing timber trees of the lowland tropics (No. 1-6; 1968-1973), Oxford, U.K.
This website is provided for general information only. Iplantz makes no statements, representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this website and does not accept any liability to you or any other person for the information which is provided or referred to on this website.
In particular, Iplantz does not represent or warrant that any dataset or the data it contains is accurate, authentic or complete, or suitable for your needs. Changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of datasets and their contents.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, Iplantz accepts no liability whatsoever to any person arising from or connected with the use of or reliance on any information or advice provided on this website or incorporated into it by reference, including any dataset or data it contains. No responsibility is taken for any information or services that may appear on any linked websites.