- common name for the Meliaceae, a widely distributed family
of chiefly tropical shrubs and trees, often having scented
wood. The valuable hardwood called mahogany is obtained
from many members of the family; in America and Europe it
is imported for cabinet making and similar uses. According
to tradition it was first introduced to England from the
West Indies when Sir Walter Raleigh had a mahogany table
made for Queen Elizabeth I; the popularity of the wood increased
steadily in the 18th cent. The different mahoganies vary
in color from golden to deep red brown; most are close-grained
and resistant to termites. The principal sources are the
tropical American genus Swietenia (especially S.
macrophylla, bigleaf mahogany, the present main source,
and S. mahogani, West Indian mahogany, the historic
main source) and the W African genus Khaya (especially
important member of the family is the West Indian cedar,
or cigar-box tree (Cedrela odorata), whose scented,
insect-repellent wood is commonly used for cigar boxes.
The wood of the chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach)
of Asia, introduced to (and now naturalized in) the S United
States, Africa, and the Mediterranean as an ornamental,
is also used for lumber. The name mahogany is also given
to numerous unrelated tropical trees that provide similar
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