Many people are asking which of the two most common trees gmelina (gmelina arborea), and mahogany (swietenia macrophylla), is better and there is actually no direct and definite answer to this question. But before you decide on what to plant, either for commercial or personal use, it is important to read this article if you have time for this could give you the whole idea which is which.
Planting both trees since I can remember more than 30 years ago, I think I have at least an authority to compare which is which in terms of several factors that you can read below.
I am going to tell you a short story first before we go into specifics.
Silay City, Negros Occidental, 1984
I was eight years old. Our house was made of bamboo and cogon in a rural barangay in Silay City.
The new encargado (hacienda caretaker) from Bacolod City brought 10 gmelina seedlings and gave it to my father. My late father planted all seedlings inside our hilly half hectare land. My family was the very first to have gmelina tree in the whole barangay. No one had any idea what the tree was all about until after five years when my mother decided to cut the four biggest trees and used it during the repair of our house. Since 1989, we started living in a house made of lumber and roof made of galvanized steel.
Tiyo Nani, the encargado who gave the seedlings advised my father to clean the remains of the cut fallen tree because he said it will regrow. He also told my father how to make gmelina seedlings and to take care of the younger trees.
When my oldest sister got married in 1992, my parents gave gmelina lumber to her which were enough to build a new house for her new family.
Around 1986, the landlord / haciendero (former vice Gov. of Negros Occidental and father of now popular ABS-CBN Bacolod Anchorman) ordered to plant mahogany in one hectare flat land with around 1.5-meter distance from each other. After a year, he ordered to plant another hectare with the same distance. That was 32 years ago and the below picture was taken from that plantation last 2016 (see the date).
For 32 years, a handful of trees were cut from this mahogany plantation as the current owner, the popular anchorman, don’t want to sell the whole plantation to interested buyers citing sentimental values. The biggest trees are around 10 x 10 inches across while others are as small as bamboo.
Now let’s go back to the gmelina which first planted by my father.
My mother passed away in 1994 while my father passed away last 2014 at the age of 86. I lost count how many times we (siblings) cut the same original trees. Maybe every six years or longer, I really lost count. Since it was first planted in 1983, only four of the original 10 remain today (but of course we have new plantations since 1999). These four original gmelina trees have not been cut for more than 12 years because we (siblings) decided to make it a living remembrance from our parents. Sounds a little bit emotional but that’s part of the story.
After graduating from College in 1999, I and my older brother planted more than 100 gmelina trees and around 15 mahogany trees. Since then, I worked here in Batangas and our plantation was left becoming a forest.
When I retired from my company and decided to go on self-employed last year, I returned to Negros and decided to harvest the 18-year old gmelina trees because I wanted to plant banana, while the next generation of gmelina is growing up.
I’m sorry if I can’t provide pictures. This is really the worse moment after my camera was dropped into the nearby river while the process of cutting the trees was ongoing.
Here are the exact quantity and amount I got from that small logging operation after I secured necessary papers from the authorities.
Out of more than 100 trees planted, only 64 were actually grew-up and the rest were destroyed by invasive vines due to lack of maintenance.
There were two trees that measured almost 3 x 3 feet across but the inside is damaged. This is a common problem for gmelina which is more than 10 years old.
Here is a short detail of the total money I got from that 64 gmelina trees. This is net price offered by the buyer on the farm site.
11,652 – total number of board feet
₱139,824 – total cost at ₱12/brd.ft
₱19,950 – the cost of 133 sacks of charcoal at ₱150/sack
₱159,774 – total income from 64 gmelina trees
Okay, the above is just a story based on actual experience. Let’s go to the point in comparing gmelina to mahogany.
Germinating, Planting, Growing, and Maintenance
Mahogany is easier and faster to germinate than gmelina. In our case, we open the gmelina fruit and sun-dry its seeds for faster germination. Mahogany germinates between 7 to 10 days, while gmelina starts to germinate usually after two weeks.
Both trees can be transplanted when they reach 1 foot tall.
As for gmelina, it is best to remove the bigger portion of older leaves when planting because its main trunk is not as strong as mahogany. It could bend during heavy rain as its leaves are heavy and wide.
If you need a good result, it is advisable to maintain cutting of leaves of gmelina within a year until its main truck is strong enough to hold its leaves.
Gmelina and mahogany are both ideal to be planted on slopes and hilly types of land. Planting both species in flatlands has a poor result. Both trees need enough water.
Mahogany is more resistant to tall grass and other shrubs and trees compared to gmelina during the first year after planting. Cleaning is really needed for both trees.
From the second to the fifth year, there will be a big difference in the growth of both trees. Gmelina can size double of that mahogany in most cases. This is where gmelina is in a big advantage.
At the sixth year, gmelina can be harvested at the size of 6 x 6 inches across while most of the mahogany can have a maximum size of 3 x 3 inches across. Mahogany can be harvested after an average of 12 to 15 years. Gmelina can be harvested every five years without replanting.
Price of Lumber
Mahogany is always ₱3 to ₱5 more expensive than gmelina, but this cost difference will be nothing when we consider the length of time of growing both trees, and the replanting process.
Uses and Durability
The uses differ from province to province.
In my hometown in Negros Occidental. Gmelina is the favourite of many in-house building applications because it is stronger and does not break apart. Gmelina is also not prone to pests especially bokbok while mahogany lumber is prone to almost every pest.
Here in Batangas, mahogany is preferred in furniture. I never have seen someone use gmelina as good lumber here, maybe because Batanguños are not used to it.
If we talk about the overall strength, mahogany is harder and difficult to cut, but gmelina is harder to break. I will use gmelina as scaffold than risking my life with mahogany.
Depending on which part of the country you are located, the choice is yours. I can say gmelina is better because I have enough experience with it and it is on high demand in Negros Occidental, and I can also tell a lot of reasons why we did not use mahogany in our house despite we have enough trees that can be cut into lumber.
Oh by the way, before I forgot, those 15 mahogany trees we planted together with those 100 gmelinas are still standing now besides our ancestral house. The biggest is around 1 x 1 foot across, while the smallest at around 8 x 8 inches across. I have big plans for these trees for personal use so I preserve them for later use.
Since many people are more interested in planting mahogany than gmelina, here is a short case study.
Assuming you have 1 hectare of idle land that you want to plant the mahogany tree, the best distance for faster-growing is 3 x 3 meters. Yes, you can plant at 1.5 x 1.5-meter distance but be ready to wait forever for your trees to grow. I’ve seen it before and now you see it (on the above picture).
1 hectare of land = 333 mahogany trees
10 years of growing, you can get an average of 6×6 inches
Less 10% mortality if properly maintained
Assuming you get each tree a 6 x 6 x 12 = 36 brd.ft/tree x 300 = 10,800 brd.ft
10,800 x ₱25 (estimated farm price after 10 years from now) = ₱270,000
₱270,000 + ₱80,000 (cost of 400 sacks of charcoal at ₱200/sack) = ₱350,000
₱3,300 – the cost of seedlings
₱6,000 – 1-year maintenance cost (once a month at ₱500)
Total net income = ₱340,700 (mahogany)
Make that double if you decided to plant gmelina as you can harvest every 5 years without replanting after the first harvest.