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Lesser-Known Timber Species













Good for Business, Good for Forests



We’re all familiar with the beauty and durability of tree species such as afrormosia, mahogany, ipe, meranti and Spanish cedar. However, the high commercial demand for these species has put pressure on available stocks. In an effort to preserve biodiversity, countries around the world have agreed to place restrictions on trade in some of these species, while others are either hard to find in the marketplace or their sourcing can be cost prohibitive. The effort to find the “next big thing” is leading many companies to pursue so-called Lesser-Known Species (LKS) to meet and surpass their customers’ needs.


IWPA sat down with Amy Smith, Manager of Wood Sector Engagement at the World Wildlife Fund, to talk about the benefits of sourcing LKS.

Why should businesses choose to invest in sourcing Lesser-Known Species?

A: There are hundreds of species in the world with similar physical and mechanical properties as traditionally harvested species, such as eveuss (Klainedoxa gabonensis), cherek and jatoba (Hymenaea courbaril), to name a few. In Cameroon, for example, 500 of the 630 tree species that have actual or potential commercial value are categorized as LKS.


This is good news for wood products companies, as it allows access to a wider variety of woods that offer similar aesthetic appeal and perform just as well as many species that are already highly sought after in the marketplace. Companies benefit financially too since the cost for LKS is relatively low given that they are under-utilized and abundant.


What are some of the environmental benefits of sourcing Lesser-Known Species?


A: Companies that utilize LKS can feel good about protecting the environment because harvesting and sourcing a wider portfolio of species reduces pressure on species with high market demand. Fewer vulnerable and threatened species means higher biodiversity in forests. It also raises the value of the standing forest, which not only helps to keep it from being cleared and converted to other uses with fewer environmental values, but will also be crucial to meeting wood demand in the long term.


Sourcing LKS with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification sustains ecological, carbon, nutrient and water cycles in forests and reduces the susceptibility of tree species to diseases and fire. In order to achieve the environmental objectives of FSC certification, forest managers might have to reduce the volume of wood extracted from the forest each harvesting cycle if only high market value species are utilized, which in turn could reduce revenues in the short term. But using LKS can help managers to reach a certain threshold of wood extraction per acre that makes responsible forest management economically viable.


What is WWF doing to promote LesserKnown Species?


A: The Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) is one of World Wildlife Fund’s initiatives to combat illegal logging and drive improvements in forest management while transforming the global marketplace into a force for saving the world’s valuable and threatened forests. GFTN works with more than 200 companies at all levels of the wood and paper supply chain in 25 countries, providing structured technical support in legal and responsible forestry and trade. One of the goals of GFTN is to enhance market uptake of LKS from credibly certified forests.

To help buyers identify and locate viable alternatives to traditionally-used species, GFTN has published A Guide to Lesser Known Tropical Timber Species. The guide includes information on the key mechanical and physical properties and potential suitability of 75 LKS from Central and West Africa, Central and South America and Southeast Asia. It also shows the FSC availability of these LKS from GFTN producer participants.


Describe some of the Lesser-Known Species that have been identified in the GFTN Guide as viable alternatives to species in high commercial demand?


A: Garapa (Apuleia leiocarpa) is an attractive, durable, workable and moderately stable alternative for decking and rain screen. This species is found in abundance in the Amazon and can be used to replace species like ipe or cumaru, which have long growth cycles. GFTN Bolivia and Peru participants offer FSC certified garapa, which ensures the buyer that the wood comes from a responsibly managed forest.


The species known as “tigerwood” or “zebrawood” (Astronium spp.) is a great option for making an architectural statement. This striking and durable LKS from Central and South America is used for flooring, decking, cabinetry, furniture and rain screen and can provide an alternative to ebony (Diospyros spp.), a species that is listed on CITES Appendix II, which places certain restrictions on its trade. GFTN participants in Panama offer tigerwood/zebrawood harvested from FSC certified forests.


Another species to consider is “morado” (Machaerium scleroxylon) from Bolivia that offers an alternative to the much sought-after Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), a CITES Appendix I species, which means it is illegal to trade. Often referred to as Bolivian Rosewood, morado is a very durable wood that can be found in a dark violet brown with beautiful dark brown stripes and streaks. In addition to use in high end furniture, in recent years morado has been a popular choice for guitar manufacturers as a wonderful fingerboard wood, as it is stable, abrasion resistant and attractive. FSC-certified morado is available from GFTN Bolivia participants.


Anything else you would like to share with us?

A: Lesser-Known Species from FSC certified forests can offer companies cost-effective, aesthetically attractive and high performing replacements for species that are commercially in-demand. This has obvious business benefits and less obvious but highly significant environmental benefits.


For more information, contact Amy Smith, World Wildlife Fund:


Learn More About Lesser Known Species: