Posted on 5/17/2012 9:19 AM by Grace Jeffers

Earlier this month, we featured Peter Glassford’s amazing wood assemblages.

Above: Peter Glassford's booth at the 2011 Miami HD Boutique trade show

We are still so taken with his work, that we thought we would dig a little deeper into the species of tree he selects for his art. The two types of wood he uses most, Parota and Rosa Morada, are both indigenous to Central America. Both of these trees are not commercially available.

Parota wood comes from the Guanacaste tree (Enterolobium cyclocarpum).

The Guanacaste tree (above left); tree pods have a unique shape that resembles an elephant ear (above right); a close-up of Parota wood.

If you have ever looked out onto a cattle pasture in Central America, chances are the big umbrella shaped tree that the animals are using for shade is a Guanacaste. The trees are planted alongside coffee so that they may shade the coffee. The trees reach majestic heights and sizes. Perhaps it is the impressive presence of the tree that inspired Costa Ricans to make it their national tree. Guanacaste is known in North America as the Elephant Ear tree because of the unique shape of its pods. The seeds from the pods are edible and are also attractive enough to be used for jewelry. 

In tropical ranges, the tree grows very large very quickly and seedlings often reach over one meter in height their first year. The species is tolerant of a wide range of rainfall levels, temperatures and soil conditions, and can thrive in most low-elevation, tropical habitats. The trees are common from the Tropic of Cancer South throughout Central America. The wood of the Guanacaste is called Parota and it features a distinct feathery grain of wispy dark reddish brown and ash layers, similar to the striations in sedimentary rock. Parota is also esteemed for its brilliant lustre.

The wood is lightweight, easier to work than oak and incredibly rot resistant, much like redwood. These qualities, plus the fact that it is very water-resistant, make it the ideal wood for dug out canoes, for which it is commonly used in Central America. Parota has also started to replace Hawaiian Koa as the wood to use for surfboards. In Mexico it's common to see this wood used for doors, windows, furniture and cabinets. Parota is extremely termite and boring-insect repelant – perhaps, as Peter Glassman explained, because the dust is as noxious as pepper or tear gas (so be careful if you are a wood worker)!

As mentioned above, Parota is a preferred wood for dug-out canoes; in a true partnership, Rosa Morada is used for oars!

The Rosa Morada tree (Tabebuia rosea) is also a neotropical flowering tree, that produces prolific, large flowers ranging in hue from pink to purple.

The Rosa Morada tree and two closeups of the wood grain.

The name translates to “purple rose”, and another of its common names is “Pink Trumpet Tree”;  it is often used as an ornamental tree. Its wood strongly resembles oak and in Costa Rica it is actually called “Roble de Sabana,” which translates to “Savannah oak.” Rosa Morada has a beautiful color, grain and resistance to decay.

Closely related to (and often mistaken for) Rosa Morada is Amapa wood, Tabebuia impetiginosa.  Amapa is a widespread hardwood tree of the New World tropics, extending from southern Sonora to Argentina. In Sonora it grows 15 to 50 feet tall with a straight trunk that rises without branching for about half the tree's height. It is unusually long-lived for a tropical tree, perhaps up to 300 years.

Amapa is one of the showiest trees in the tropical deciduous forest of Sonora.

The Amapa tree and the wood's close-up.

It flowers twice a year, for about two weeks per flush. Its wood is similar to ash, and is usually an off-white color, with the addition of little black flecks (from the tight cell structure) in the grain. Like Parota and Rosa Morada, Amapa is a great cabinet wood locally known and widely used in Mexico. Despite its proliferation throughout Central and South America, it is hard to find and not commonly used in North America. 

In the United States all three of these distinctive woods are available through Tropical Exotic Hardwoods of Latin America, a distributor based in San Diego. They are famous as a source for Cocobolo, Bacote and Primavera wood, as well as for Parota.