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There are about 1,300 different species of acacia trees and shrubs. A few acacia plants produce wood that can be used for furniture, ornaments, and flooring, as well as for firewood and pulpwood in the paper industry. Acacia wood is especially prized for furniture, because of its durability, lustrous finish, and varied shades.
Most acacia species are native to Australia, and the rest grow in tropical or temperate regions around the world. In addition to timber, acacia plants produce gum, tannin, edible shoots, and seeds and flowers with both culinary and medicinal uses. Acacia flowers are also used in perfume and aromatherapy.
Acacia wood has a long history of use. One variety, red acacia or Acacia seyal, is believed to have been used to build Egyptian coffins, the Ark of the Covenant, and Noah's Ark. Red acacia is native to northern and western Africa, where its wood is also burned as incense to treat joint pain and prevent fever.
Many varieties of acacia wood are both attractive and fragrant, making them ideal for luxury items and furnishings. One of the most valuable acacia wood varieties is Australian Blackwood, or Acacia melanoxylon. Blackwood trees can grow very large, up to 148 feet (45 m), and their timber is used in decorative furniture such as cabinetry, musical instruments, wooden tools and kegs, and boat building. Australian Blackwood features very light sapwood and rich, brown heartwood. Another Australian acacia variety, Myall wood or Acacia omalophylla, is also fragrant and used in ornaments.
Acacia koa, endemic to Hawai'i, was used by the ancient Hawaiians for surfboards, bodyboards, and wa'a, or dugout canoes. Today, like Australian Blackwood, acacia koa is often used in musical instruments, especially guitars and ukuleles. Koa is also used to make furniture. Unlike Australian Blackwood, koa trees grow slowly and have been logged out in many areas, making the wood rarer than other acacia wood varieties, and difficult to cultivate commercially. For this reason, Australian Blackwood is increasingly used as a substitute for koa in the manufacture of musical instruments.
The Highland tamarin or acacia heterophylla is another acacia species favored for its timber. It is endemic to Réunion island in the Indian ocean, but is now grown on Madagascar as well. In some areas, acacia wood is traditionally used for firewood. Acacia mangium trees have recently been grown in Indonesia and Malaysia for use in the paper industry.