Finca Leola Costa Rica Reforestation
Ipe (EspaƱol)

by Lucía Rodríguez Sánchez


Tabebuia guayacán as Part of the Ipe (or Lapacho) Group

Tabebuia guayacan, T. impetiginosa, T. ochracea, and T. chrysantha jointly are known as the imposing lapacho group and are all traded as ipe (Tabebuia spp.) in the Brazilian market. Therefore, wood sold as ipe is not of a single species; that’s why it has a wide color range.

Tabebuia spp.  is known by these common names: amapa (Mexico), cortez (Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica), guayacán (Panama), guayacán polvillo (Colombia), flor amarillo (Venezuela), greenheart (Surinam), madera negra (Ecuador), tahuari (Peru), ipe (Brazil), lapacho negro (Paraguay, Argentina), bethabara, ironwood, and Brazilian walnut.

Tabebuia guayacan’s wood is considered extremely heavy, with a specific gravity of 0.85 to 0.97 and a density of 66 to 75 lbs/cu ft. The tangential movement is 8.1% and the radial movement is 6.0% (Flores & Obando[1]).

The sapwood is light orange when dry; the heartwood is dark brown with some olive-green traces. The grains are very intercrossed in narrow bands, and the wood has a medium texture and poor luster. The figure consists of fine stripes in the radial surface, and the pores are primarily solitary and inconspicuous. The wood dries quickly with severe to moderate defects in the ends. It is quite difficult to work, especially with hand tools, because it has a blunting effect on cutting edges (Carpio, I., 1992 [2]). The wood finishes smoothly except where the grain is very intercrossed. Wood surfaces are reported to be often covered with a yellow powder. The fine yellow dust produced in most operations may cause dermatitis in some workers ( [3]).

Ipe generally refers to some species of the Tabebuia genus. The physical hardness of ipe is remarkable. The ratings from the Janka test[4] are 3680 for ipe and 1155 for teak; that means that ipe’s wood is more than 268% harder then teak ([5])!

Ipe is the heaviest wood that is available for commercial use. It is super-dense, as measured by the weight of the wood in pounds per cubic foot. Ipe wood is 69 to 75 lb/cu ft—65% heavier than teak and 53% heavier than white oak ([6]). Its high density makes it extremely resistant to preservation treatments, but it has good natural durability; left to nature, the sun’s UV rays and traditional weathering will change the ipe to a nice consistent light grey. Finishes applied on an annual basis can be used to hold ipe's original color. If it has been allowed to grey, ipe can be powerwashed back to its original appearance ( [7]).

Ipe’s clearly distinct sapwood is yellowish white or whitish in color. The heartwood is olive-brown in color, with lighter or darker streaks. It has the durability and strength of teak, for a lot less money. The US Department of Agriculture and Forestry rates ipe as very resistant to attack by decay, fungi, and termites ( [8]).

Ipe’s strong, tough, resilient properties make it an excellent material and an increasingly popular choice for commercial/residential decking and outdoor furniture. It is prized for its stability, durability, strength, and natural resistance to decay, wet conditions, and infestation by termites and borers. Ipe has a Class A fire rating, the same rating given to concrete and steel ( [9]).

It is ideal for any kind of urban furniture and wood flooring where durability and high shock resistance are needed, such as in industrial environments, boardwalks, decks, bridges, and park benches, particularly for any project near a sea resort. Any other type of wood would rot away over time with the salt from the ocean, but ipe is incredibly resistant to the elements. It is also used in railroad crossties, heavy construction, tool handles, and decorative veneers, marinas, seaside resorts, golf courses, and outdoor facilities, and even in roofing ( [10]).

The trees generally grow from 140 to 150 feet, but some can reach heights of 200 feet and 40 to 60 cm DBH; but they sometimes grow to 2 m DBH. The trees are mostly found in Brazil as well as throughout Central and South America and some of the Lesser Antilles (Fournier, L.[11]).

In Costa Rica, Tabebuia guayacan grows on both slopes, on the Pacific side from Esparza to the Osa Peninsula and also in the northern zone, mainly in Upala and Guatuso, where it is more common in elevations between 100 and 600 m. In the northern zone, small plantations have been established in combination with other species, and growth seems fairly satisfactory, especially in well-drained soils (Jiménez, et al[12]).

[1] Flores, E. & Obando, G. Árboles del Trópico húmedo: Importancia socioeconómica. Editorial Tecnológica de CR. 2003. 719-721.

[2] Carpio, Isabel. Maderas de Costa Rica: 150 especies forestales. 1era Edic. San José, Costa Rica, Edit. Univ. De Costa Rica, 1992. p 274.

[4] . December, 2nd, 2005.

[9] . December, 3rd, 2005

[11] Forunier, L. Tabebuia guayacan (Seem.) Hemsl., in Tropical Trees Seed Manual, USDA Forest Service, Agriculture Handbook 721, October 2002. p. 735.

[12] Jiménez, Q. et al. Árboles maderables de Costa Rica, Ecología y Silvicultura. Editorial Inbio y E. Tecnológica de CR., 2002. p.286-291.


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