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'Rosewood' refers to any of a number of richly hued timbers, often brownish with darker veining, but found in many different hues. All rosewoods are strong and heavy, taking an excellent polish, being suitable for guitars, marimbas, turnery (billiard cues, the black pieces in chess sets, etc.), handles, furniture, luxury flooring, etc. Rosewood oil, used in perfume, is extracted from the wood of Aniba rosaeodora, which is not related to the rosewoods used for lumber.
The dust created from sanding rosewood is considered an irritant and can cause asthma. The more a person is exposed to it, the more sensitive they can become.
All genuine rosewoods belong to the genus Dalbergia. The pre-eminent rosewood appreciated in the western world is the wood of Dalbergia nigra which is now a CITES listed endangered species. It is best known as Brazilian Rosewood, but also as "Rio Rosewood" or "Bahia Rosewood." This wood has a strong sweet smell, which persists over the years, explaining the name "rosewood".
Madagascar rosewood (Dalbergia maritima), known as bois de rose, is highly prized for its red color but is overexploited in the wild. Despite a 2010 moratorium on trade, illegal logging continues on a large scale.
Throughout S.E. Asia Dalbergia oliveri is harvested for use in woodworking. It has a very fragrant and dense grain near the core, however the outer sapwood is soft and porous.
Dalbergia sissoo is also known as Indian rosewood. It is extremely dense, strong, and durable. It is stronger than teak and is comparable in price. The valuable timber is used for quality furnishings.
Not all species in the large genus Dalbergia yield rosewoods; only about a dozen species do. The woods of some other species in the genus Dalbergia are notable—even famous—woods in their own right: African Blackwood, Cocobolo, Kingwood, and Tulipwood. The woods of some other species are usable for tool handles at best.
The timber trade will sell many timbers under the name "rosewood" (usually with an adjective) due to some (outward) similarities. A fair number of these timbers come from other legume genera; one such species that is often mentioned is Bolivian Machaerium scleroxylon sold as Bolivian Rosewood. Another that may be found in advertisements from Asia is Pterocarpus indicus sold as New Guinea Rosewood (and related species).
Although its wood bears no resemblance whatsoever to the true rosewoods, the Australian Rose Mahogany (Dysoxylum fraserianum) is sometimes also called "rosewood". It is a highly regarded rainforest tree from eastern Australia.
In 2009 controversy arose surrounding the intensification of rosewood logging in Madagascar's national parks. Logging was linked to criminal syndicates that laundered rosewood logs through Reunion and Mauritius before transporting timber to China for processing. Finished wood and furniture was then shipped to Europe and the United States. In November 2009 Gibson Guitar Corporation in Nashville was raided by federal authorities for its alleged use of illegally sourced rosewood. The case was settled on August 6, 2012, with Gibson admitting to violating the Lacey Act and agreeing to pay a fine of $300,000 in addition to a $50,000 community payment. Gibson also forfeited the wood seized in the raids, which was valued at roughly the same amount as the settlement. In March 2010 the Malagasy government finally announced a ban of the rosewood export for a period between 2 and 5 years.