I dare say that you've never heard of pau-brasil (Caesalpinia echinata) unless, by chance, you play the violin, the viola, the cello or the bass. As reported in a recent post, the tree (from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest) became the major source of red dye-wood for the world for more than 300 years. What I didn't say was that toward the end of this economic rage, in the early 1800s, a master bowmaker in France, Francois Xavier Tourte, discovered that the wood was the best material he'd ever used for fabricating bows. A story I read in a Smithsonian Institution magazine from a few years ago reported that Tourte was an avid fisherman and it was on one of his weekend outings near Paris that he discovered a piece of pau-brasil, from which he made the bow. There's nothing strange about the fact that he came by a piece of wood from South America on the outskirts of Paris. The Smithsonian Institution article states that there was a stockpile of pau-brasil logs in Paris at that time of more than 200 acres! Regardless, pau-brasil became the standard for bows and continues to be to this day. The European bow-makers must have really stocked up on the wood because the tree has been on the verge of extinction for many decades. In recent years the bow-makers have formed an association among themselves to contract with groups in the State of Bahia to plant pau-brasil trees with the objective of renewing their supply. I understand that the tree must be at least 35 years old in order to provide the high quality heartwood needed to make bows.
The attached image is a pau-brasil wood sample from my collection at Bosque Santa Lucia. The tree isn't from the Amazon but I came by a few planks of the wood at a German sawmill some years ago. They were defective pieces leftover from precut lumber for exportation and they would've been burned, if I hadn't picked them up. Out of a half-dozen planks, I only have two samples left. The lumber was kept in a backyard shed for many years, collecting dust and pollution from the street. Once I noticed that the wood was "bleeding" from the rain. It was about this time that I remembered the historical significance of pau-brasil. I wish I'd been more careful about protecting the planks from the elements. The sample has lost much of its color but .... it's a piece of pau-brasil.