What Is Ivory Wood?

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What Is Ivory Wood?
Any carved wood product can be made with ivory wood. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Berchemia zeyheri is the scientific name of the tree known commonly as pink ivory wood or red ivory wood. This evergreen or semi-deciduous tree or shrub produces a beautiful hardwood prized for its pinkish colouration. The wood is artistically carved into decorative luxury objects. The plant has medicinal properties traditionally employed to treat people's various aches and pains, and diseases in cattle. The tree is native to Africa.

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Ivory Wood

Pink ivory wood is a hard wood with a specific gravity averaging 0.90. The wood has a fine grain and polishes to a bright finish. The pinkish colouring of the wood eventually fades to a duller brown, especially in relation to sunlight exposure. Pink ivory wood tree trunks rarely grow more than 1 foot in diameter, producing raw material suitable for carving small or medium sized products. Special permits are required to harvest the wood in South Africa, a primary commercial supplier.


Ivory wood trees are widely distributed in Africa. Pink ivory wood is called rare, although it is a common tree in certain areas of South Africa. These attractive trees grow as high as 50 feet in some areas and as small 10 feet high elsewhere. They grow in forests, along waterways, and in open woodlands, and are often found growing on termite mounds. Swaziland, Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe host the pink ivory wood tree. The scattered distribution of trees makes commercial lumber harvest prohibitively costly.

Ivory Wood Products

Ivory wood provides raw material for any luxurious or practical item that is carved from hardwood. Pink ivory heartwood ranges in colour from light pink to very dark rose pink. Traditional and modern sculptures are carved from pink ivory wood. Bowls, knife handles, pens and chess sets made from ivory wood are produced by professional artists and hobbyists alike. Small pieces of wood are cut for inlaying into rings, necklaces and bracelets. Billiard cues and musical instruments are carved from the beautiful hardwood of the pink ivory wood tree.

Interesting Facts

Pink ivory wood was known as the "royal wood" of the Zulus. Zulu royalty exclusively possessed this uniquely coloured wood and its products throughout the nineteenth century. Possession of the wood by other than members of the royal family warranted the death penalty. Only Zulu chiefs carried ivory wood knob-sticks. Ivory wood trees produce sweet fruits enjoyed by birds, animals and people. Livestock consumes the foliage, and the leaves and bark have medicinal properties used traditionally to treat various ailments in animals and people.

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