Mpingo- the Bagpipe Tree


The Mpingo tree, also called the African Blackwood, is a member of the Rosewood family that grows in the Miombo woodlands of Africa. It has a high density, great durability, and natural oils that seal the surface of the wood, making it great for musical instruments like the bagpipes.

These trees often grow naturally knotted and twisted. To use them for musical instruments, they must be straight and without defects. Less than 2% of all the wood harvested can be used for this purpose! It takes about 70 years for the Mpingo tree to reach maturity followed by 3 years of processing before it can be used to make an instrument.

The middle of the wood is black and so hard that it can blunt an axe and must be drilled before screwing or nailing it. The wood is very resistant and the roots support bacteria that increase soil fertility.

As Tanzania's national tree, it is the most valuable tree harvested and also the most expensive, requiring special equipment to harvest. These trees are currently at risk of being wiped out. There has been a shortage over the last 20 years due to weather, political instability and economics. In many places, the trees are illegally cut down or burned to clear the area for farming and livestock. Burning kills the younger trees and leaves the older trees deformed and diseased.

There are efforts in place to save the "bagpipe tree" and create a sustainable supply for the future. Reaching these goals will not only increase the amount of trees legally harvested, but will also reduce poverty in the area, help to rebuild the forests, conserve water, reduce soil erosion and, keep the music playing!

The government of Tanzania is trying to cut back on the amount of tree smuggling by scanning and conducting physical searches of cargo shipments. There are increasing efforts to monitor the legal trade of African Blackwood and police the illegal trade. All of these factors add to the cost of the wood. Most reputable Bagpipe manufacturers use wood from legally harvested trees.

All of the Blackwood we use comes from a supplier that purchases wood from a government approved seller whose trees are legally harvested and documented. The wood is only supplied to musical instrument companies.

Update: As of Jan 2, 2017, African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) has been added to the Convention of International Trade for Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II.  This means that importing and exporting of African Blackwood will require permits. 

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