Copaia (Para para): Lightweight wood often used in imported products.
Copaia para para grain sample

Copaia (Jacaranda copaia) 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 is 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 over 50 feet. The overall height exceeds 100 feet and the diameter is often more than 2 feet, not counting the swollen butt. It is this long straight stem that makes this tree suited for local use (where it grows) as roof poles and timbers with a long span.

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.

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. This wood is a “local use” species; uses include furniture components, interior construction, boxes and crates, matchsticks and matchboxes. Reports are that much of the lumber from this tree is exported to China; it is then imported to various countries as an exposed wood in furniture and cabinets. Nevertheless, it does offer some manufacturing opportunities in the U.S. for furniture.

Processing suggestions and characteristics
Density. The density of para para varies, but averages about 17 pounds per cubic foot at 7 percent MC.

Drying. Para para is subject to rapid blue staining (a fungal activity), so it is critical that the lumber be dried promptly after sawing. Kiln drying is probably better than air drying to control this staining risk. The wood dries very rapidly and with little risk of checking, splitting or warping. 

Gluing and Machining. Gluing is easy. However, there is a risk of the liquid in the glue being adsorbed too rapidly. So, either increase the liquid content of the adhesive or move quickly after the glue is spread. Machining is also easy, but, if the tools are not sharp, the fibers will fuzz and not cut cleanly.

Stability. This wood is quite stable. It will take nearly a 7 percent moisture content change to result in a 1 percent size change radially. It will take nearly a 5 percent change tangentially to result in a 1 percent size change.

Strength. The strength varies with density. A typical strength value (MOR) is 7,040 psi. The stiffness is 1.3 million psi. Hardness is 350 pounds; these are all quite low. Comparable values for hard maple are 15,800 psi, 1.8 million psi and 1450 pounds.

Color and Grain. Heartwood and sapwood look similar and cannot easily be separated. The color is dull white with a slight hint of a pinkish hue. The vertical vessels show up as darker lines, giving the wood a coarse grain appearance. The luster is high.


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About the author
Gene Wengert

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 45 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.