Rosewoods are, and have long been, prized exotic woods throughout most of the world, including both locally where they are native (in which case they are not actually "exotic") and places such as the USA where they have to be imported. Because of the commercial value of the rosewoods, many vendors attach the name "rosewood" to woods that are NOT rosewoods. Some of these are similar to rosewoods in characteristics, some are not. Some of this mis-identification is innocent, some is not.

"True" or "genuine" rosewoods are all of the genus Dalbergia, of the family Leguminosae and were named "rose" woods because many of them give off a smell when freshly cut like that of the rose flower. Although all true rosewoods are of the genus Dalbergia, not all of the species in the genus Dalbergia are considered rosewoods. A few rosewoods, most notably cocobolo and kingwood, are not normally sold with the word "rosewood" in their name.

There are perhaps 50 to 60 species within the genus Dalbergia that are large enough to produce wood at least large enough for pen blanks and many that grow to quite a respectable size. As a general rule, the rosewoods tend to be small to moderate in size and often irregular in shape, thus making sizeable planks the exception rather than the rule for most of the species, and really wide planks, such as one might find for bubinga or mahogany, to be non-existent. True rosewoods are often made into veneer since a veneered surface looks just as good as solid wood (if one ignores the edges) and veneer produces WAY more surface area than solid wood and thus produces far more value from a tree than do planks. On the other hand, the irregularity of growth often prevents rosewoods trees from becoming veneer.

Overharvesting of true rosewoods during the last 100 to 200 years has resulted in current embargoes on some of them, most principally Brazilian rosewood, long one of the favorite of all the rosewoods because of both its beauty and its tonal qualities for musical instruments. Availability and pricing have fluctuated and will continue to fluctuate over time depending on political considerations in the countries of origin and sometimes with weather conditions which can reduce logger's ability to (1) get to the trees and (2) get them to market.

There are a few woods that are widely sold as rosewoods, even though they are not, which are actually quite attractive; some of them are as attractive as true rosewoods. Then there are at least 100 species of wood that just have "rosewood" in their name but really should not, since they are not in any way related to rosewoods (except that they are both wood) and they are not as attractive nor do they necessarily have similar working properties. Part of the reason for this article is to distinguish among many examples of these different types.

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