Toona ciliata

Toona ciliata

Australian Red Cedar (called also Toon, Suren or Indian Mahogany), Toona ciliata is a forest tree in the family Meliaceae which grows throughout southern Asia from Afganistan to Papua New Guinea and Australia . In Australia its natural habitat is now extensively cleared subtropical rainforests of New South Wales and Queensland. The Australian population was formerly treated as distinct species under the name T. australis. The species can grow to 60m in height and its trunk can reach 3m in girth. The largest recorded T. ciliata tree in Australia grew near Nulla Nulla Creek, west of Kempsey, New South Wales and was felled in 1883.

It is one of Australia's few native deciduous trees. The timber is red in colour, easy to work and very highly valued. It was used extensively for furniture, wood panelling and construction, including shipbuilding, and was referred to as "Red Gold" by Australian settlers. Heavily and unsustainably exploited in the 19th Century and early 20th Century, almost all the large trees have been cut out and the species is essentially commercially extinct. However, the timber is relatively fast growing and following on from a wave of tree cutting in the 1950s, regrowth and timber from forestry sources currently provides trees up to 1 metre in diameter for the furniture trade in Australia and timber is not difficult to source.

Timber is currently also harvested in New Guinea. Although it is not generally a viable plantation species, trees are regularly harvested by Forestry in the Atherton region of Queensland. It grows best in an environment with high light levels, however in the relative darkness of the rainforest understorey, it is less susceptible to attack by Cedar Tip Moth Hypsipyla robusta.

Other areas

The Red cedar is widely planted in subtropical and tropical parts of the world as a shade tree and for its fast-growing aspect. It is grown in the Hawaiian Islands and southern and eastern Africa. In parts of Zimbabwe and South Africa, it has naturalised and has become a pest due to its appearance from coppices in cleared land.

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