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Tectona grandis (teak)

Teak is well known for its high quality timber, and has also been used for traditional medicine in southeast Asia.

Flowers of Tectona grandis

Flower of Tectona grandis

Species information

Common name: 

teak

Conservation status: 

IUCN status of Least Concern (LC).

Habitat: 

This species naturally occurs in deciduous forests, but is planted commonly along roadsides and in large plantations throughout the tropics.

Key Uses: 

Building material, medicinal.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Asteranae
Order: 
Lamiales
Family: 
Lamiaceae
Genus: Tectona

About this species

Tectona grandis (teak) is a tall tree from southeast Asia and is widely cultivated for its durable wood. It is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), which is perhaps better known for its aromatic members including culinary herbs such as basil, oregano and rosemary.

Genus: 
Tectona

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Tectona grandis has a natural distribution from India to Vietnam and Thailand. It is also found in cultivation throughout the tropics.

Description

Copy of an illustration commissioned by William Roxburgh, watercolour on paper, by unknown Indian artist, 19th century.

Teak is a tree up to 40 m high.

The bark is scaly and the leaves are opposite one another.

The leaves are 6 – 75 cm long, 8 - 45 cm wide, and hairless on the upper surface when mature, with many star-shaped hairs below.

The calyxes (sepals) form a balloon-like shape enveloping the fruit.

The corolla (petals) is regular, and white to cream-coloured.

The fruit is pale yellow, of 1.2 to 2 cm diameter, and covered with star-shaped hairs.

Threats and conservation

Although the species itself is common, the unique teak forests of India, Burma and Thailand are under threat from over-exploitation.

Uses

Tectona grandis is the source of a high quality general purpose hardwood known as teak. The timber is used for ship decking, flooring, furniture and construction. It is particularly recommended for construction in seaside environments (such as bridges and docks) because it is resistant to shipworm, a wood-boring sea mollusc (Teredo spp., Teredinidae). Quinones in the sawdust inhibit the growth of several species of the fungi that cause wood rot.

Leaves of Tectona grandis

Teak is widely cultivated in the tropics; the main producers are Burma, India, Thailand and Indonesia. Like all forests, plantations of teak can act as carbon stores; in Panama, for example, teak plantations sequester carbon dioxide at a rate of 191.1 mg per hectare during a twenty-year rotation. Soil analyses in Costa Rica indicate that teak plantations may improve the soil quality of lands previously under pasture. In Tanzania, wildlife forage is provided by young teak plantations where grass and herbs grow in the understorey.


Teak has traditionally been used in southeast Asia for medicine, commonly for its astringent and diuretic properties and against swelling. Its traditional use for diabetes has been supported by laboratory tests in which extracts of the bark have been shown to lower insulin resistance in mice. The wood has also been said to relieve skin irritations caused by handling cashew nuts (Anacardium occidentale, Anacardiaceae) and marking nuts (Semecarpus anacardium, Anacardiaceae).

Tectona grandis small plantation

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One
Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox - the seeds of this plant survive being dried without significantly reducing their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB
Composition values: Oil content 34%

Cultivation

Tectona grandis grows best in a warm, tropical climate with a temperature above 22 ºC. Teak prefers well-drained, fertile soils and is a strong light demander.

Trees are 96 to 100% self-incompatible. The species is hermaphroditic and pollinated by insects, especially bees. Propagation by seed involves pre-treatment to break the dormancy, involving wetting and drying the seed every 12 hours, over a period of two weeks. When seeds are sown in a mix of sand and coir, at 22 to 25ºC, germination will take place within two to four weeks. The germination rate is low, and teak seedlings need shading.

Vegetative propagation can be achieved by grafting and budding. Tissue cultures have also been developed for the propagation of teak.

References and credits

Boley J.D., Drew A.P., Andrus R.E. (2009). Effects of active pasture, teak (Tectona grandis) and mixed native plantations on soil chemistry in Costa Rica. Forest Ecology and Management. 257: 2254-2261.

Bonnington C., Weaver D., Fanning E. (2009). The use of teak (Tectona grandis) plantations by large mammals in the Kilombero Valley, southern Tanzania. African Journal of Ecology. 47: 138-145.

Derwisch S., Schwedenmann L., Olschewski R., Holscher D. (2009). Estimation and economic evaluation of aboveground carbon storage of Tectona grandis in Western Panama. New Forests. 37: 227-240.

Ghaisas M., Navghare V., Takawale A., Zope V., Tanwar M., Deshpande A. (2009). Effect of Tectona grandis Linn. on dexamethasone-induced insulin resistance in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 122: 304-307.

Nadkarni A.K. (1976). Indian Materia Medica. Volume 1. 3rd edn. Popular Prakashan, Bombay.

Soerianegara I, Lemmens RHMJ (1993). Plant Resources of South-East Asia 5(1). Timber trees: Major commercial timbers. Pudoc, Wageningen.

Sumthong P., Romero-Gonzalez R.R., Verpoorte R. (2008). Identification of anti-wood rot compounds in teak (Tectona grandis L.f.) sawdust extract. Journal of Wood Chemistry and Technology. 28: 247-260.

Warrier P.K. (1996). Indian Medicinal Plants: a Compendium of 500 Species. Orient Longman, Hyderabad.

Kew Science Editor: Rogier de Kok
Kew contributors: Olwen Grace (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copy editing: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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