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(Pea or Bean family)



300 species are found in tropical and sub-tropical regions and in South Africa. Many species yield valuable timber, for example:

Dalbergia frutescens Britton — found in northern South America; provides Brazillian tulipwood or bois de rose
[syns Dalbergia variabilis Vogel, Pterocarpus frutescens Vell.]
Dalbergia grenadillo — found in Mexico; provides cocobolo or grenadilla
Dalbergia hypoleuca — found in Costa Rica and Nicaragua; provides cocobolo
Dalbergia latifolia — found in India; provides East Indian rosewood or blackwood
Dalbergia melanoxylon — found in Africa; provides blackwood
Dalbergia nigra — found in Brazil; provides rosewood or caviuna
[syn. Amerimnon]
Dalbergia retusa — found in Panama; provides cocobolo
Dalbergia sissoo — found in India; provides sissoo or shisham
Dalbergia stevensonii — found in Honduras; provides rosewood 

The colloquial and trade names of the woods from these species are confusing. Pallisander and jacaranda are other common names for Dalbergia; Jacaranda is also a botanical genus name. The species used in industry and the trade names are listed by Beekman (1964). Caviuna as a cause of dermatitis (Rotberg 1938) may refer to Amerimnon (syn. Dalbergia). Barroso (1947) refers to this common name for D. nigra.

Like many other woods of this family, cocobolo possesses to a very high degree, the valuable characteristics of density, colour and durability. Strong, hard, compact and fairly heavy, easily worked, of extreme durability, it is naturally in high favour with the cutlery and turnery trade. In colour the wood varies from a light reddish-orange to a deep rich red or rose, beautifully marked with numerous, irregular, concentric markings of deep or black purple. An oily substance present in the wood not only makes it susceptible of a high degree of finish, but also tends to waterproof it and make it resistant to the influence of moisture, even when left in contact with water indefinitely. It is this latter characteristic which is mainly responsible for the supreme position that cocobolo holds in the cutlery trade. It is used for knife handles, brush backs and small tool handles, chessmen, musical and scientific instruments, butts of billiard cues, etc. (Garrett 1922).

The saw-dust can cause contact dermatitis in wood-workers (Garratt 1922, Rothberg 1938) and is among the six common causes of such dermatitis in France (Zafiropoulo et al. 1968). An instrument maker developed dermatitis of the exposed skin surfaces from wood dust derived from a room adjoining that in which he worked (Schröpl 1934). In another instance, the wood dust responsible for the dermatitis was derived from an adjacent factory (Findley 1972).

Cross-sensitivity to Machaerium scleroxylon was observed (Heyl 1966, Hausen et al. 1972). The allergenic chemicals are dalbergiones (Schulz and Dietrichs 1962). The chemistry of these compounds is recorded by Ollis (1968), Harborne et al. (1971), Seshadri (1972). The finished wood can also produce dermatitis at sites of contact. Fluteplayers developed dermatitis of the lips from wooden mouthpieces (Stern 1891, Meister 1934, Griebel 1935). Wooden knife-handles caused dermatitis of the hands (Levin 1939, Howell and Blair 1950). Hair-brushes caused dermatitis of the hands (Mackee 1913). Carving a knitting bag handle produced dermatitis (Abramowitz and Swarts 1938). Bracelets and necklaces produced dermatitis at the contact sites (Blaisdell 1924, Levin and Behrman 1939, Howell and Blair 1950, Leider and Schwartzfeld 1950). Botanical identification of finished wood is a difficult task. Reports of dermatitis from cocobolo, pallisander and jacaranda may refer to Dalbergia (Tottie 1939, Escartefigue 1935, Modlmayer 1931, Touraine et al. 1934). Some other reports of dermatitis from bracelet, brooch and knife (Hollander 1941) may refer to these woods.

Patch testing with woodshavings and with an ether extract of the wood diluted with corn oil was recommended (Howell and Blair 1950). Several authors report flares of dermatitis following patch testing.

Cross-sensitivity between Primula and Dalbergia results from a chemical relationship between primin and dalbergiones (Hjorth et al. 1969).

Hausen (1970) cites references for the individual species:

Dalbergia latifolia (Stern 1891, Sternberg 1908, Garrett 1922) Chemistry (Eyton et al. 1962, 1965).

Dalbergia melanoxylon (Großmann 1910, Nestler 1924, Meister 1934).

Dalbergia nigra (Escartefigue 1935, Touraine et al. 1934, Schulz 1962). Chemistry (Eyton et al. 1965).

Dalbergia retusa (Abramowitz and Swarts 1938, Blaisdel 1924, Großmann 1910, Lewin 1928, Moll 1950, Nordin 1947, Record and Garratt 1923, Howell 1950, Leider and Schwartzfeld 1950, Levin 1941, Levin and Behrman 1939, Moldmayer 1931, Meister 1934, Schulz and Dietrichs 1962).

Dalbergia variabilis, D. lanceolaria, D. toxicaria are also noted.

Dalbergia cearensis Ducke
Kingwood, Bois de Violette, Violet Wood, Violetta

According to Woods and Calnan (1976) citing Record & Hess (1943), Dalbergia cearensis is probably the "kingswood" that Freise (1932) called Machaerium violaceum Ducke. He described it as a very severe skin irritant, often leading to persistent ulceration.


Woods and Calnan (1976) give the following botanical species and skin-reactive articles and notes as represented in the papers of various authors. The wood was previously confused with Coccoloba, cocus (Brya) and other woods.

They reported eight patients contact sensitive to rosewood (Dalbergia spp.), seven men and one woman, aged from 46-60 years. Their occupations were musical instrument maker, wood machinist (2), cabinetmaker (2), timber yard foreman, veneer preparer and housewife. Some of them reacted to other woods, probably by multiple specific sensitivity. All eight patients showed positive patch test reactions to rosewood dust; two who were tested to dalbergione, 0.1% in petrolatum, showed positive reactions. Three who were tested to Primula showed negative reactions. Primula and Dalbergia can cross-react.

Dalbergia latifolia
Palissandre Asie, Indian Rosewood, East Indian Rosewood, Bombay Blackwood


Dalbergia sissoo
Sissoo, Shisham


Dalbergia oliveri
Burma Tulipwood, Pinkwood, Bois de Rose


Dalbergia greveana
Madagascar Rosewood, French Rosewood


Dalbergia cochinchinensis
Madagascar Rosewood, French Rosewood, Thailand Rosewood, Chin Chan

The above species are trade named palissandre asie.

Sternberg (1908) - urticarial rashes and swellings in carpenters working with Indian rosewood.

Escartefigue (1935) - dermatitis from necklace and bracelet of Madagascar palissandre.

Findley (1972) - Dermatitis in a man who had only indirect contact with D. latifolia sawdust.

D. latifolia and D. cochinchinensis contain R-4-methoxydalbergione and other quinones (Dempsey & Donnelly 1963, Donnelly et al. 1968, Donnelly et al. 1969).

Dalbergia melanoxylon Guill. & Perr.
[syn. Amerimnon melanoxylon Kuntze]
African Blackwood, Mpingo, Mozambique ebony, Senegal ebony, Ébène, African Grenadilla

According to Woods and Calnan (1976), in England, clarinets are usually made of African blackwood. This wood is often used for flutes and other instruments, especially in Germany. Moll (1950) noted that the wood was known in the trade to be irritant. Woods and Calnan (1976) reported two cases of contact dermatitis from D. melanoxylon (African blackwood). Both of them were employed in making the musical instrument, clarinet. Patch tests to the wood-dust produced positive reactions. One of the patients was also patch test positive to the wood-dust of teak (Tectona grandis L.f., fam. Labiatae). Control tests were not recorded.

Dalbergia melanoxylon contains several quinones including S-4'-hydroxy-4-methoxydalbergione (Donnelly et al. 1969) and S-4-methoxydalbergione (Hausen 1970) which is also found in Dalbergia violacea (Eyton et al. 1965).

Dalbergia mimosella Prain

According to an herbarium note found by von Reis Altschul (1973) on a specimen of this plant collected in the Philippine Islands, the juice from the pounded bark and leaves is applied to wounds.

Dalbergia nigra
Brazilian Rosewood, Jacaranda, Pallisandre Brésil, Rio Rosewood, Bahia Rosewood, Caviuna, Palisander, Jacaranda Pardo

Dalbergia cubilquitzensis and Dalbergia spruceana have the same common names.

Gougerot & Blamoutier (1922b) — cabinet maker working with palissandre developed dermatitis of the face and hands. The botanical source of the wood was not stated.

Gougerot and Delay (1932) - Pallisandre dermatitis associated with lacrimation, sneezing and coughing. The botanical source of the wood was not stated.

Touraine et al. (1934) - identified the 'palissandre des Indies' in their case as D. nigra but according to Woods and Calnan (1976) their botanical remarks are not impressive and its origin suggests D. latifolia.

Tottie (1938) - dermatitis in three carpenters using jacaranca envaco which is a Brazilian name for D. nigra not to be confused with Jacaranda.

Freise (1932) - dermatitis in forestry workers handling various kinds of jacaranda.

Barroso (1947) - dermatitis from caviuila (D. nigra).

Gronomeyer and Fuchs (1957) - asthma from D. nigra.

D. nigra contains R-4-methoxydalbergione and other quinones (Schulz and Dietrichs 1962).

D. nigra is now in short supply, and the more irritant Machaerium scleroxylon and sometimes substituted for it (Eyton et al. 1965).

Dalbergia retusa Baill.
[syn. Dalbergia obtusa Lecompte]
Cocobolo, Granadillo, Nambar, Palo negro, Foseholz, Red Foxwood, Rosewood

Dalbergia granadillo (syn. Amerimnon granadillo) has the same common names as D. retusa, Dalbergia hypoleuca and Dalbergia spp.

Nestler (1912) - moist sawdust; alcohol and benzol extracts of sawdust.

Mackee (1913) - sandpapering of cocobolo hairbrushes.

Pittier (1918) - botanical source of cocobolo.

Record & Hess (1943) - botanical source of cocobolo.

Record and Garrett (1923) - botany. American trade reports of dermatitis gave an incidence of 10-30 percent in wood-workers exposed to the fine dust. The eruption began on the face and hands and in severe cases, became generalized with conjunctivitis. The fine dust was responsible, mainly in hot weather.

Levin (1941), Leider and Schwartzfeld (1950), Howell and Blair (1950) - localized dermatitis from contact with knife-handles, bracelets, recorders and other finished articles made of cocobolo wood.

Anon (1933), Steinbrinck (1950), Hausen (1970), Meister (1934) - wood of the musical instrument, the recorder, causing dermatitis of the face.

Eaton (1973) - nasal irritation and espiratory allergy in workers finishing and sanding cocobolo wood.

D. retusa contains S-4'-hydroxy-4-methoxy dalbergione, R-4-methoxy dalbergione and other quinones and phenols (Schulz and Dietrichs 1962, Hausen 1970).

Dalbergia stevensonii
Honduras Rosewood, Nagaed Wood, Palissandre Honduras

Orsler (1973) received trade reports of dermatitis from this wood. It is used to make the musical instrument, xylophone. It contains a dalbergione (Hausen 1970).

Chemistry of Dalbergia spp.

Earlier workers, summarized by Sandermann & Barghoorn (1956) blamed flavones, saponins and glycosides for the irritant effects of rosewood, but the discovery of sensitising quinones in other woods such as teak and mansonia led Schulz and Dietrichs (1962) to look for similar substances in D. nigra and D. retusa. They found three quinones which they called Dalbergia quinones A, B and C, and demonstrated by patch tests on patients that these were the sensitisers, the strongest being R-3,4-dimethoxydalbergione. Eyton et al. (1956) have studied the chemistry of this 'neoflavanoid' group of quinones in detail. They have now been found in other Dalbergia spp., Machaerium, Peltogyne Vogel and Goniorrhachis (Hausen 1970).

Natural dalbergenones (dalbergiquinones) of these species were reviewed by Seshadri (1972).

Richard J. Schmidt

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