It is named Olneya tesota. It is a perennial flowering tree of the Fabaceae family which is in the same family as legumes (peas, beans, etc.), apparently the flowers and seeds are edible.
Retailers often refer to it as Exotic Desert Ironwood. It can be found in the Sonoran Desert an area which includes Southern Arizona, South Eastern California, it also includes the Baja California peninsula, the islands of the Gulf of California, and much of the state of Sonora, Mexico, covering approximately 100,000 square miles.
From the look of it laying on the ground you would not think this wood is anything special. Iron wood is often described as unremarkable in its natural state. But this is truly a case of not judging a book by its cover. The outside bark and exposed wood can have a dry, plain and non dramatic look to it. But amazingly the wood inside even after being exposed to the desert heat for years has a beautiful sheen. This is from the oils that contribute to its glossy finish.
These are some of the most difficult woods for a wood worker to work with as the density of the wood wears tools down fast and leaves a fine powdery burnt smelling dust that can linger in your nose for days even with good protection. Because of this density and the tightness of the grain Ironwood can be difficult to finish and many “finishes” common to wood workers do not work well with Ironwood as they cannot penetrate into the wood grain.
This is where patience comes in. All wood working is done in stages. The difference with hard woods is that the time involved easily doubles, triples or more.
The rewards you get are truly worth it. A beautiful piece of Desert Ironwood finished in this multi-stage process will have a lustrous shine naturally even without a coat of wax. And I find it hard to top the beauty of a final waxed highly buffed piece of Ironwood.
This wood makes wonderful pens as they are naturally resistant to the elements because of the tight grain and little bangs and dings because they are so hard.
These trees are so important to the ecology of the desert that it is prohibited to take live trees. Only pieces found on the desert floor that are over 100 years old and those who harvest legally are allowed to be gleaned.
Its importance comes from the part it plays in the survival of over 500 plants and animals in the Sonoran Desert. As the desert ironwood grows, it alters the environment around itself, and creates a micro-habitat. Its dense canopy shades the ground under it, bringing temperatures down at least 15° F. Its seeds provide food for many doves, quail, and small rodents. Insects thrive in the ironwood canopy, which also attracts birds and reptiles. They make their home under and in the ironwood, providing prey for cactus owls, hawks and coyotes.
Here is a link to some great information
All the information on www.blueplanetbiomes.org produced by students at the West Tisbury Elementary School. © Brynn Schaffner 2010