Wood of the Month:

Tough, Resistant Greenheart Timber Is a Marine and Shipbuilders’ Favorite

By Jo-Ann Kaiser


Ocotea rodiaei of the family Lauraceae.


Greenheart, bibiru, sipiri, kevatuk, beeberoe, demerara greenheart, demerara groenhart and sipiroe; also known by color, with names such as green, black, brown or white greenheart.


Height varies from 70 ft to 130 ft, with long, straight, cylindrical boles 50 ft to 80 ft long, with average diameters of 3 ft. Average weight is 64 lbs per cubic foot.


Texture is fine and uniform. Wood has no odor or taste when dry. Wood splinters can cause poisonous reaction. Wood dries slowly; checking and end splitting may be a problem. Preboring is necessary for nailing or for screws. Wood has medium movement in service. Wood is extremely durable, but very resistant to preservative treatment. Grain varies from straight to interlocked with a fine, uniform texture.

Among the many timbers suitable for marine construction and shipbuilding, greenheart (green·heart) earns very high marks.

Its heartwood is highly resistant to attack by fungi, marine borers and dry-wood termites, and that makes the wood popular for marine and ship construction.

In ships, the wood is used for everything from planking and gangways to engine bearers, stern posts, fenders, and sheathing.

Greenheart (Ocotea rodiaei) is also used in docks, piling, revetments, lock gates, handrails and jetties, wharves, canal locks, marinas and breakwaters. It is also used for mine work and decking of all kinds.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, Timbers and Forests of the World, by Herbert Edlin and Maurice Nimmo, offers information on why greenheart is so highly rated for these uses.

“In the sea there are several animals that burrow into and live in wood under the water; the commonest of these are the teredo, or shipworm, and the gribble,” Edlin and Nimmo say. They write that some trees, including greenheart, produce wood that is naturally fairly resistant to the animals.

Albert Constantine Jr., in Know Your Woods, says greenheart rates a “close second to teak in resisting the white ant. Occasionally worms may attack the sapwood, but they do not penetrate into the heartwood.”

A Popular Export

Greenheart is one of the most popular woods exported from Guyana. It also grows in Surinam, Venezuelan Guiana, French Guiana and northern Brazil.

The wood’s exceptional density and strength, with high bending and crushing strengths, makes it ideal for heavy work. It is suitable for bridge work and commercial flooring.

Greenheart is also used for commercial flooring, filter press plates and turnery, and has very unique uses. The wood is used to make fishing rods, billiard cue butts and longbows.

Varied Colors

Greenheart’s heartwood varies in color. It ranges from yellowish green to light olive to dark green, and orange green to orange brown to dark brown. Sometimes it has black streaks.

The variation in color leads to a long list of names based on the hue of the heartwood, such as black greenheart, yellow greenheart, brown or white.

The sapwood is usually a pale, yellowish green. The color is not supposed to change the wood’s properties. Greenheart has a fine texture and lustrous grain.

Drying Tips

Greenheart dries very slow. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Products Laboratory, recommends that lumber more than 1 inch thick be air-seasoned prior to kiln drying. They suggest kiln schedule T2-C2 for 4/4 stock and T2-C1 for 8/4 stock. Movement in service is rated medium.

The wood is rated moderately hard to work with both hand and machine tools, due in part to the density of the wood. It will dull cutting edges quicker than other woods, but it can be finished to a lustrous sheen.

A Popular Name

Greenheart appears to be a popular name for a variety of species.

Tabebuia serratifolia is a tree native to Brazil. It is called pau d’arco, greenheart, iron tree, ironwood, Surinam, lignum vitae and sometimes ipe. The tree is no relation to Ocotea rodiei.

Cyclicodiscus gaburensis is also known as African greenheart.

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