Copaia ( Jacaranda copaiba ) is probably more commonly known in North American trade as para para. However, the common name of lumber from this tree varies from country to country. In fact, in Panama, it's sometimes called "elephant's foot" as the corrugated trunk near the ground looks somewhat like an elephant's foot.

The tree is found in Central and South America, from Belize to Brazil. It grows rapidly and is known for its ability to regenerate quickly in open clearings. It has a straight stem that can be free of branches for more than 50 feet. The overall height exceeds 100 feet and the diameter is often more than 2 feet, not counting the swollen butt.

The foliage resembles an arboreal fern; the leaves when broken have a somewhat obnoxious odor. The tree does have showy flowers that are a deep violet color, with blooms from February through April. In fact, because of this flower, the tree is sometimes planted as an ornamental. One reference indicates that in a native population in Guyana the leaves of this tree, when a baby is born, are thrown in the fire to ward off the evil spirits that might attack the newborn.

Because of the low density of the wood, because of its susceptibility to insects and decay, which is especially important in tropical countries, and because of its creamy color without much "pretty grain," the wood is not highly regarded. (In many ways, it reminds me of the properties and treatment that northern aspen lumber receives.)

This wood is a "local use" species; uses include furniture components, interior construction, boxes and crates, match sticks and matchboxes. Prices are quite low. Nevertheless, it does offer some opportunities in U.S. furniture manufacturing.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.