Species of the week

Learn more about African blackwood. A tree with an high value in African traditional music and in African manufacturing.

Common name: African Blackwood or Zebrawood

Scientific name: Dalbergia melanoxylon

Class: Magnoliopsida

Order: Fabales

Family: Leguminosae

Genus: Dalbergia

Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Size: Is a species of small length, rarely exceeding 10 m of height and less than 120 cm of diameter when adult.   


Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is a small tree with many branches and thorny buds on the branches. It has deciduous leaves grouped in lateral and composed sprouts, white and small flowers and a heartwood with dark color (almost black), which gave rise to its name. The fruit is a pod having a length ranging from 3-7 cm and typically has one or two seeds inside.

Dalbergia melanoxylon is known as a nitrogen fixer (possibly is a pioneer species) and grows in poor soil ecosystems.

It is a species with long life, and which requires about 70 to 100 years to reach the proper size to get its timber.



Dalbergia melanoxylon has a wide distribution; it can be found at least in 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this wide distribution, is only in eastern African countries that individuals of this species reach a viable size and in sufficient abundance for trading. This species is considered of Tanzanian origin and is found in northern Mozambique until Ethiopia, Senegal and from west to east Africa.


The African blackwood occurs in variety of woodlands habitats with different environmental conditions, as, miombo open forest, rocky outcrops and areas with termite mounds.

 Cultural Aspects

Locally, this species is used for various domestic and cultural purposes. Among them are the manufacture of important traditional sculptures and ornamentation for local culture, wooden crutches, walk sticks, medicine (roots), building floors and manufacture of typical musical instruments for traditional music.



This species is considered by The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened, due to the excessive exploration of its timber. This happens because of its high commercial value for manufacturing and for traditional musical instruments.

The African Blackwood present a limited natural regeneration, since the individuals of this species, usually are raised by seeds, which have a poor germination potential and slow growth. Thus, it is thought that the regeneration of this species does not return its levels of exploitation.


  • Besides the interest that government and population has for African blackwood, its use in musical instruments facilitate fundraising in its country of origin.
  • The African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) has been adopted as one of the focal species of conservation programs as the SoundWood Program – of Fauna & Flora International.


  • IUCN Red List
  • Ball, S. M. (2004). Stocks and exploitation of East African blackwood Dalbergia melanoxylon: a flagship species for Tanzania’s miombo woodlands?. Oryx,38(03), 266-272.
  • Amri, E., Lyaruu, H. V. M., Nyomora, A. S., & Kanyeka, Z. L. (2010). Vegetative propagation of African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon Guill. & Perr.): effects of age of donor plant, IBA treatment and cutting position on rooting ability of stem cuttings. New Forests39(2), 183-194.
  • Van Wyk, B & Van Wyk, P.,(2013). Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Nature. South Africa