Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mahogany Bombs

When the fruit fell from the tree it clanged on the hood of the car with the force of a well hit baseball. It rolled off the grill, falling to the pavement with the sound of the crack of a bat. The rock hard exterior of the fruit had cleaved into four neat quarters, each maintaining a slim connection to the adjacent quarter. Inside, several dozen reddish-brown, winged seeds had separated from the core, while a few had been ejected out upon impact. Today, this is a commonplace occurrence in department store and grocery store parking lots of South Florida where the West Indian Mahogany (Swietenia mahagon) has been planted.

The long sought-after hardwood is native to many islands in the Caribbean as well as extreme South Florida. Over harvesting has reduced the range and abundance of this tropical species, which most likely found its way to Florida millennia ago on the winds or waves churned up by tropical storms or hurricanes.

© Pete Corradino
Shoppers might find it hard to believe that the seemingly ubiquitous tree that has been planted prolifically is recognized as a threatened species. Most wild specimens are found on the hardwood hammocks (aka tree islands) of the Everglades. Mahogany can grow to fifty feet in height with a sixty foot spread. It’s an excellent shade tree and as landscapers recognize the importance of using native species, the mahogany is found  more and more in urban areas.

The adage “never park beneath a coconut tree”, which is understandably a useless sentiment for most of North America, should apply to the West Indian Mahogany as well. The problem though, is the popularity of this species in parking lots and the inability of most people to identify it. The main telltale clue is the brown mahogany fruit growing upright on a tufted stalk. At this time of the year, a good sized tree could have fifty or more. They don’t all fall at once. Some ripen, split and expel their seeds while still attached to the tree. But the rest? Bombs away. 


  1. We have 2 African Silk Pod Trees in our yard - massive trees that where there when we built the house. Probably came from seeds of the trees at Busch Gardens or Lowery Park Zoo. Definately not native!Huge pods and covered with thorns. We do our best to remove every pod and seed but some to escape when pod opens on tree. In the wind seeds are just carried away. would cost over 3K to have just 1 tree removed, this is not an option. Beautiful when in bloom, but as you said after the flowers avocado size pods make tree dangerous to walk under!

  2. Good post, Pete. Dave and I picked up a few seeds from a boardwalk in the Everglades last time we were there, in 1978. I didn't get to see the pods, so I love seeing and hearing about them here.