Melia volkensii

This species belongs to the Meliaceae or mahogany family, which with a few exceptions, belongs to tropical regions, like Central America and West & Central Africa. The traditional mahogany species (Swietenia, Entandrophragma, Cedrela etc) naturally occur in rainforests. Species like Khaya anthotheca and certainly K. senegalensis grow in already drier circumstances, while Melia volkensii is as dry as it gets regarding mahogany species. Nevertheless it is a true mahogany, as is proven by analysis by wood technologists of the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (see the two tables below).

Some physical properties of mukau (Melia volkensii), mahogany (Khaya spp) and teak (Tectona grandis)
Property Melia Mahogany Teak
Average density (kg/m3)-[air dry] 620 (Moderately heavy) 685 (Moderately heavy) 650 (Moderately heavy)
Heartwood and sapwood colour Pale brown sapwood to Pale red heartwood Pale brown sapwood to Pinkish brown to deep red heartwood Light golden with dark markings
Texture and grain Coarse textured with straight grains Coarse textured with straight or interlocked grains Uneven coarse textured with straight grains

Some mechanical properties of mukau (Melia volkensii), mahogany (Khaya spp) and teak (Tectona grandis).
Property Melia Mahogany Teak
Bending strength (MOR) [N/mm2] 74-96 50-110 81-196
Bending stiffness (MOE) [KN/mm2] 5.8-9.2 7.8-10.3 7.6-17.5
Crushing strength [N/mm2] 42-56 24-53 34-70
Shear strength (parallel to grain) [N/mm2] 14-18 8-14 5-16
Hardness [N/mm2] 3.5-5.1 3.4-5.7 3.8-4.8

Somehow, the species is an oddity, able to grow fast and produce a high-value timber, in quite dry areas (Mean Annual Rainfall 350-900mm). Indigenous to East Africa, it is mainly found in Kenya, where it grows in semi-arid and warm regions. It tolerates a variety of soil types, with preference for sandy soils. One of its local names is "mukau", under which it is highly valued by farmers in Kenya's Eastern Province. Due to its quality timber, fast growth rate and ability to grow in dry places, it has been subject to a breeding programme executed by KEFRI and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), over a period of almost 20 years, and resulting in the establishment of provenance and progeny trials since 2015. The latter double as seed orchards, where KEFRI organises seed harvesting for sale.
Better Globe Forestry counts on a rotation length of maximum 20 years, which may be less in areas of sufficient rainfall or in agroforestry lay-out.

Melia volkensii Gallery






Melia azedarach

Botanically, this species is closely related to M. volkensii, the main difference being that it is less drought-hardy. It needs some more rainfall. Hence, it is also a mahogany-type tree, able to produce high-value timber, as confirmed by preliminary timber analysis by KEFRI's wood technology scientists. The species is widely found is countries in the tropics and subtropics, but originates from SE Asia and Northern Australia.
Better Globe Forestry plants it with farmers in Northern Uganda, where due to higher rainfall it is expected to be mature in 12-15 years. There, the species is well known by farmers and is called "Giant Lira". Silvicultural management (spacing, pruning) is similar to that applied to M. volkensii, but seedling production is less complicated.

Melia azedarach Gallery