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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elephant carvings from Ceylon, made from ebony. In this case likely Ceylon ebony (Diospyros ebenum)

Ebony is a general name for very dense black wood. In the strict sense it is yielded by several species in the genus Diospyros, but other heavy, black (or dark colored) woods (from completely unrelated trees) are sometimes also called ebony. Some well-known species of ebony include Diospyros ebenum (Ceylon ebony), native to southern India and Sri Lanka, and Diospyros crassiflora (Gaboon ebony), native to western Africa.

Ebony is one of the most intensely black woods known, which, combined with its very high density (it is one of the woods that sink in water), fine texture, and ability to polish very smoothly, has made it very valuable as an ornamental wood.

Some species in the genus Diospyros yield so-called striped ebony, with similar physical properties, which is not evenly black, but striped. Most species in the genus do not yield ebony at all, even in those cases where they do yield timber (as in the case of American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana).



Ebony has a long history of use, with carved pieces having been found in Ancient Egyptian tombs. The word "ebony" derives from the Ancient Egyptian hbny, via the Ancient Greek ἔβενος (ébenos), by way of Latin and Middle English.

By the end of the 16th century, fine cabinets for the luxury trade were made of ebony in Antwerp. The dense hardness lent itself to refined moldings framing finely detailed pictorial panels with carving in very low relief (bas-relief), usually of allegorical subjects, or scenes taken from classical or Christian history. Within a short time, such cabinets were also being made in Paris, where their makers became known as ébénistes, which remains the French term for a cabinetmaker.

Modern uses are largely restricted to small sizes, particularly in musical instrument making, including piano and harpsichord keys, violin, viola, guitar, and cello fingerboards, endpieces, pegs and chinrests. Traditionally, black piano and harpsichord keys were ebony, and the black pieces in chess sets were made from ebony, with rare boxwood or ivory being used for the white pieces. Modern east Midlands-style lace-making bobbins, also being small, are often made of ebony and look particularly decorative when bound with brass or silver wire. Due to its strength, many handgun grips, and rifle fore-end tips, are made of ebony as well. Many plectrums, or guitar picks, are made from this black wood.

In Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka (India), the tree is called Karmara in the native Tulu language. Ebony tree forests which once covered large areas of these districts have shrunk significantly due to rapid urbanization. The wood of ebony is used as firewood, as it can burn even in moist conditions.

As a result of unsustainable harvesting, many species yielding ebony are now considered threatened.


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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EBONY (Gr. g s€vos), the wood of various species of trees of the genus Diospyros (natural order Ebenaceae), widely distributed in the tropical parts of the world. The best kinds are very heavy, are of a deep black, and consist of heart-wood only. On account of its colour, durability, hardness and susceptibility of polish, ebony is much used for cabinet work and inlaying, and for the manufacture of pianoforte-keys, knife-handles and turned articles. The best Indian and Ceylon ebony is furnished by D. Ebenum, a native of southern India and Ceylon, which grows in great abundance throughout the flat country west of Trincomalee. The tree is distinguished from others by the inferior width of its trunk, and its jet-black, charred-looking bark, beneath which the wood is perfectly white until the heart is reached. The wood is stated to excel that obtained from D. reticulate of the Mauritius and all other varieties of ebony in the fineness and intensity of its dark colour. Although the centre of the tree alone is employed, reduced logs i to 3 ft. in diameter can readily be procured. Much of the East Indian ebony is yielded by the species D. Melanoxylon (Coromandel ebony), a large tree attaining a height of 60 to 80 ft., and 8 to io ft. in circumference, with irregular rigid branches, and oblong or oblong-lanceolate leaves. The bark of the tree is astringent, and mixed with pepper is used in dysentery by the natives of India. The wood of D. tomentosa, a native of north Bengal, is black, hard and of great weight. D. montana, another Indian species, produces a yellowish-grey soft but durable wood.

D. quaesita is the tree from which is obtained the wood known in Ceylon by the name Calamander, derived by Pridham from the Sinhalee kalumindrie, black-flowing. Its closeness of grain, great hardness and fine hazel-brown colour, mottled and striped with black, render it a valuable material for veneering and furniture making. D. Dendo, a native of Angola, is a valuable timber tree, 25 to 35 ft. high, with a trunk 1 to 2 ft. in diameter. The heart-wood is very black and hard and is known as black ebony, also as billet-wood, and Gabun, Lagos, Calabar or Niger ebony. What is termed Jamaica or West Indian ebony, and also the green ebony of commerce, are produced by Brya Ebenus, a leguminous tree or shrub, having a trunk rarely more than 4 in. in diameter, flexible spiny branches, and orange-yellow, sweet-scented flowers. The heart-wood is rich dark brown in colour, heavier than water, exceedingly hard and capable of receiving a high polish.

From the book of Ezekiel (xxvii. 15) we learn that ebony was among the articles of merchandise brought to Tyre; and Herodotus states (iii. 97) that the Ethiopians every three years sent a tribute of 200 logs of it to Persia. Ebony was known to Virgil as a product of India (Georg. ii. 116), and was displayed by Pompey the Great in his Mithradatic triumph at Rome. By the ancients it was esteemed of equal value for durability with the cypress and cedar (see Pliny, Nat. Hist. xii. 9, xvi. 79). According to Solinus (Polyhistor, cap. lv. p. 353, Paris, 1621), it was employed by the kings of India for sceptres and images, also, on account of its supposed antagonism to poison, for drinking-cups. The hardness and black colour of the wood appear to have given rise to the tradition related by Pausanias, and alluded to by Southey in Thalaba, i. 22, that the ebony tree produced neither leaves nor fruit, and was never seen exposed to the sun.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also ebony



Proper noun




  1. A female given name from the noun ebony, of mostly African-American usage since the mid-twentieth century.



  • Anagrams of benoy
  • boney

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

a black, hard wood, brought by the merchants from India to Tyre (Ezek. 27:15). It is the heart-wood, brought by Diospyros ebenus, which grows in Ceylon and Southern India.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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