Top 15 Exotic Wood Types: A Guide to Rare Species

Exotic woods, also known as tropical hardwoods or rare woods, are types of wood that originate from trees found in tropical regions around the world. These woods are prized for their unique and often striking characteristics, including rich colors, intricate grain patterns, and exceptional durability. Exotic woods typically come from species of trees not native to temperate regions and are known for their rarity, beauty, and high value.

Each exotic wood type possesses unique characteristics, from stunning grain patterns to vibrant hues, offering a wealth of possibilities for craftsmen, artisans, and designers. This article will explore 15 distinct varieties of exotic woods, exploring their origins, features, and applications.

Different Exotic Wood Types in Detail

1. Purpleheart

Originating from Central and South America, Purpleheart boasts a rich purple hue that deepens over time, adding a touch of luxury to any project. It possesses natural oils that enhance its resistance to decay and insect infestation, making it suitable for indoor and outdoor applications.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Peltogyne spp.
Native Place: Central and South America
Grain Pattern: Straight, sometimes interlocked, with a fine texture
Janka Hardness Rating: Very hard (1860 lbf)
Cost: Moderately expensive
Uses: Ideal for fine furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and decorative turnery.

2. Zebrawood

Zebrawood is another rare wood known for its distinctive dark brown stripes on a golden-yellow background, which serves as a natural camouflage in its native habitat. It is prized for its bold aesthetic appeal and durability with good resistance to warping and twisting. Moreover, it has natural oils that make it resistant to decay and insect damage, making it suitable for furniture, flooring, and outdoor use.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Microberlinia brazzavillensis
Native Place: West Africa
Grain Pattern: Distinctive dark brown stripes on a golden-yellow background
Janka Hardness Rating: Moderately hard (1575 lbf)
Cost: Moderate to high
Uses: veneers, cabinetry, furniture, and decorative items.

3. Rosewood

Rosewood is exceptionally stable and warped resistant, making it ideal for intricate carvings and fine furniture. It contains natural oils that protect it from decay and fungal growth, ensuring longevity even in humid environments. Some rare species of Rosewood, such as Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), are now listed as endangered due to overharvesting, leading to restrictions on their trade and use.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Dalbergia spp.
Native Place: Brazil, India, Southeast Asia
Grain Pattern: Varied, often with intricate patterns and swirling grains
Janka Hardness Rating: Varies by species (e.g., Brazilian rosewood – 2690 lbf)
Cost: Expensive
Uses: Highly valued for high-end furniture, musical instruments, and luxury items.

4. Teak

Teak wood is known for its high strength, stability, and natural resistance to moisture, rot, and pests. It is prized for its golden-brown to deep-brown color and straight, uniform grain. Its natural oils protect against decay and insect infestation, making it the preferred choice for outdoor furniture, decking, and boat building.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Tectona grandis
Native Place: Southeast Asia
Grain Pattern: Straight, with a coarse texture
Janka Hardness Rating: Moderately hard (1155 lbf)
Cost: Moderate to high
Uses: Popular for outdoor furniture, boat building, decking, and flooring due to its natural resistance to rot and decay.

5. Ebony

Ebony is one of the densest and heaviest woods in the world. Originating from Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, Ebony wood is prized for its jet-black color and smooth, lustrous finish. Furthermore, its dense structure and high oil content make it highly resistant to moisture, making it suitable for humid environments.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Diospyros spp.
Native Place: Africa, India, Southeast Asia
Grain Pattern: Fine and uniform
Janka Hardness Rating: Very hard (3220 lbf)
Cost: Expensive
Uses: Preferred for high-end cabinetry, musical instruments, ornamental objects, and small specialty items.

6. Mahogany

Mahogany wood is moderately stable and resistant to warping and shrinking. While not as naturally resistant to decay as some other woods, proper sealing and maintenance can enhance its durability for indoor applications. Mahogany’s warm reddish-brown tones and straight, interlocking grain lend a timeless elegance to fine furniture, interior trim, and architectural millwork.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Swietenia spp.
Native Place: Americas, Africa
Grain Pattern: Interlocking, with a straight or wavy grain
Janka Hardness Rating: Moderate (800 lbf)
Cost: Moderate
Uses: Versatile wood suitable for fine furniture, interior trim, paneling, and architectural millwork.

7. Bubinga

The next type of exotic wood on our list is Bubinga sometimes referred to as “African Rosewood” it is a highly stable wood with minimal movement and excellent resistance to decay and insect infestation. Bubinga’s varied colors and pronounced figures create a visually captivating appearance also, its dense and durable nature makes it suitable for a wide range of indoor & outdoor applications.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Guibourtia spp.
Native Place: Tropical Africa
Grain Pattern: Varied, often with a pronounced figuring and chatoyance
Janka Hardness Rating: Very hard (1980 lbf)
Cost: Moderate to expensive
Uses: Prized for high-end furniture, cabinetry, joinery, and decorative veneers.

8. Wenge

Wenge’s distinctive dark brown to black streaks and straight grain lines contribute to its modern aesthetic, making it a popular choice for contemporary furniture and flooring. This exotic wood type is moderately stable and resistant to warping and twisting. While it is naturally resistant to decay and insect damage, proper sealing and finishing are recommended for outdoor applications to enhance its longevity.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Millettia laurentii
Native Place: Central Africa
Grain Pattern: Straight, with distinctive dark brown to black streaks
Janka Hardness Rating: Very hard (1630 lbf)
Cost: Moderate to expensive
Uses: Popular in contemporary furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and decorative accents.

9. Cocobolo

Cocobolo is another exotic wood type that is highly stable and resistant to warping and cracking. It displays vibrant colors ranging from reddish-orange to deep purple. It consists of natural oils that provide excellent protection against decay and insect infestation, ensuring durability even in humid conditions. Cocobolo’s vibrant colors and swirling grain patterns make it a favorite among woodworkers for creating unique and eye-catching turnery, knife handles, and musical instruments.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Dalbergia retusa
Native Place: Central America
Grain Pattern: Varied, often with swirling patterns and color variations
Janka Hardness Rating: Very hard (2200 lbf)
Cost: Expensive
Uses: Ideal for fine woodworking, turnery, knife handles, and musical instruments.

10. Bocote

Bocote is moderately stable with good resistance to warping and cracking. It contains natural oils that enhance its resistance to decay and insect damage, it’s striking light to dark brown colors with black striping caused by the presence of resin canals in the wood, evoke a sense of natural beauty, making it a versatile choice for furniture-making, cabinetry, and specialty items.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Cordia spp.
Native Place: Central and South America
Grain Pattern: Varied, with striking light to dark brown colors and black striping
Janka Hardness Rating: Moderately hard (2200 lbf)
Cost: Moderate
Uses: Suitable for furniture making, cabinetry, flooring, and specialty items.

11. Tigerwood

Tigerwood’s rich orange-to-reddish-brown color and dark striping resemble a tiger, adding a touch of exoticism to flooring, decking, and outdoor furniture. It is moderately stable and resistant to warping and twisting. It possesses natural oils that protect it from decay and insect infestation, making it suitable for outdoor decking, flooring, and furniture.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Astronium spp.
Native Place: South America
Grain Pattern: Varied, with rich orange to reddish-brown color and dark striping
Janka Hardness Rating: Very hard (1850 lbf)
Cost: Moderate
Uses: Commonly used in flooring, decking, outdoor furniture, and decorative items.

12. Padouk

Padouk, originating from tropical Africa and Asia, features a vibrant orange to reddish-brown color that deepens with age and exposure to light. It is moderately stable with good resistance to warping and splitting. Its natural oils protect against decay and insect damage, making it a popular choice for outdoor applications where durability and aesthetics are paramount.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Pterocarpus spp.
Native Place: Africa, Asia
Grain Pattern: Interlocking, with a fine texture
Janka Hardness Rating: Moderately hard (1725 lbf)
Cost: Moderate
Uses: Suitable for furniture making, cabinetry, flooring, and decorative veneers.

13. African Blackwood

African Blackwood, native to Africa, boasts a deep black color with occasional dark purple streaks, creating a dramatic contrast. Prized for its density and stability, it is known for its exceptional tonal qualities, producing a clear, focused sound prized by musicians, particularly in wind instrument construction like clarinets, oboes, and bagpipes.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Dalbergia melanoxylon
Native Place: Africa
Grain Pattern: Fine and uniform
Janka Hardness Rating: Extremely hard (2940 lbf)
Cost: Expensive
Uses: Highly sought after for musical instrument making, particularly clarinets, oboes, and bagpipes.

14. Snakewood

Snakewood is an exotic wood found in Central and South America, it features a reddish-brown color with distinctive black “snakeskin” patterns, creating a visually striking appearance. Snakewood is highly stable with minimal movement and excellent resistance to decay and insect damage. Its dense structure and unique grain patterns make it highly prized for decorative woodworking projects.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Piratinera guianensis
Native Place: Central and South America
Grain Pattern: Distinctive black “snakeskin” patterns on a reddish-brown background
Janka Hardness Rating: Very hard (3880 lbf)
Cost: Expensive
Uses: Valued for high-end woodworking, knife handles, and decorative items.

15. Lacewood

Lacewood’s name is derived from the lace-like patterns created by the contrasting flecks in its grain, which add depth and visual interest to finished pieces. Lacewood is moderately stable and resistant to warping and twisting. While it is not as naturally resistant to decay as some other woods, proper sealing and finishing can enhance its durability for both indoor and outdoor applications.

Properties:

Scientific Name: Panopsis spp.
Native Place: South America
Grain Pattern: Light brown with prominent dark brown flecking
Janka Hardness Rating: Moderately hard (840 lbf)
Cost: Moderate
Uses: Suitable for furniture making, cabinetry, decorative veneers, and turnery.

What Is the Most Exotic/Rare Type of Wood?

Determining the “most exotic” type of wood can be subjective and dependent on various factors such as rarity, unique characteristics, and cultural significance. However, some woods are commonly considered highly exotic due to their distinctive appearance, scarcity, or unusual properties. One such wood is:

Pau Amarello (Brazilian Satinwood)

Pau Amarello, also known as Brazilian Satinwood, is renowned for its vibrant yellow to golden-brown color and striking figures, including streaks, swirls, and burl patterns. Native to Brazil and other parts of South America, Pau Amarello is prized for its rarity and unique visual appeal, making it a sought-after choice for high-end furniture, cabinetry, and decorative veneers. Its scarcity and distinctive characteristics contribute to its reputation as one of the most exotic types of wood.

Other highly exotic wood types include Sandalwood, Lignum Vitae, Ziricote, and Amboyna Burl, each prized for its rare beauty, unique grain patterns, and cultural significance. These woods are often used in specialty woodworking projects, musical instruments, and luxury items, adding a touch of exoticism and elegance to any design.