Ipe, pronounced ee-pay, is an impressive looking tree that grows in Brazil as well as throughout Central and South America and some of the Lesser Antilles.
Ipe is one of many commercial names used for the imposing Lapacho group of trees from the various species of Tabebuia. The trees generally grow from 140 to 150 feet but some can reach heights of 200 feet. Some other common names for the trees from this group include bethbara and lapacho, and a host of names used in the countries where the trees grow.
According to the book Tropical Timbers of the World, produced by the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, in Mexico the tree is called amapa and in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica it is called cortez. In Ecuador the trees are known as madera negra and in Peru, tahuari. Lapacho negro is the name for the tree in Paraguay and Argentina; in Surinam, it is called greenheart; in Venezuela, flor amarillo; in Colombia, guayacan polvillo. Other commercial names for ipe include Brazilian walnut and ironwood.
Decorative and Durable
Other uses for ipe include railroad crossties, heavy construction, exterior construction, tool handles, turnery, boardwalks, bridges, benches, trellis, fencing and industrial flooring. Ipe is also used as an accent wood and for specialty items such as billiard cues, walking sticks, archery bows and fishing rods.
At Home Outside
Sarafa says he buys his material from a dealer in New York but the supplies come from Brazil and he uses only Tabebuia species of the Lapacho group. "The wood is dark, reddish-brown in color and it weathers to a silvery gray, much like teak. Ipe has the durability of teak plus strength and is one-third of the price."
Sarafa says he considers the material a much better choice than cedar for decking because "cedar peels, changes color and sometimes develops black spots."
Sarafa used ipe for his lake house deck and dock. "It stands up well to weather and wetness. It's been in place for eight years and it's frequently washed over by waves, but it looks like it did when it was first built," he says.
Prized for Durability
Ipe's heartwood is olive brown to black and usually features striping. The sapwood is much lighter, usually white or yellow. The wood can be oily and is sometimes covered in a yellow powder. Cutting or planing of ipe generates a fine, yellow wood dust that can produce allergic reactions in those who breathe it in and is also responsible for contact dermatitis.
Ipe is prized for its hardness, but that also makes it difficult to cut and plane. Experts recommend a reduced cutting angle and also suggest using extremely sharp tools. Preboring is necessary for nails.
Ipe trees from Brazil and other regions are known for their beauty, as well as their lumber. Constantine writes "growing in the forest of Brazil, the tree presents a beautiful appearance. It is one of the tallest trees of the Amazon region, reaching a height of 170 to 200 feet."
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