Tectona grandis: Teak tree

Family: Lamiaceae
Common name: Teak , Teak tree

Tall, majestic, grandfather teak trees are a common sight in India, especially in the South Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamilnadu. In fact, the word Teak comes from the Malayalam word ‘Thekku’, the native name for this tree.

These deciduous trees can grow to a height of over 40 meters with a rough, vertically fissured trunk. It also develops buttresses that help increase the support for the main trunk. Teak trees are native to Southeast Asian countries like Indian, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

Though they are now seen in other countries as well, these South Asian countries account for more than half of the teak population in the world.

In countries with a pronounced cold season, the tree sheds its leaves in fall. But in warm, humid weather, the tree is only partially deciduous. Teak leaves are large, thin, and oval about 20-35cms long with thick petioles that are about 2-4 cms long.

During the rainy season between June-August, teak trees produce large bunches of small white flowers that are very pretty. Petals are white in color and fused at the base, stamens and style are prominently seen.

The flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs, enabling self-pollination. After pollination, the tree produces small drupe-like fruits that contain a single hard seed.

Teak seeds have a thick covering which makes it difficult for them to germinate easily. In teak plantations, the seeds are treated with temperature, and also through mechanical means to promote germination.

Heartwood at the center of the trunk can be separated easily from the outer sapwood, and this distinction is clearly seen in the cross-section of a cut tree trunk. The wood has an earthy leather-like scent to it, and is considered very good for construction.

Teak wood contains a natural oil that makes them insect and termite-resistant. Hence they are used extensively in boat-building, furniture, veneers, doors, window frames, posts, wooden structures like gazebos, bridges, and in making wooden utensils.

Shrinkage problem is very minimal, making it a good wood for carvings and sculptures. Teak wood takes well to varnish and oil finishes, but might be affected by harsh cleaning agents. It’s best to leave teakwood as is, so that it ages beautifully to a greyish-brown color. Teak trees can live for over 100 years and teakwood furniture can also last over 100 years.

Nilambur in Kerala is famous for its teakwood plantations, where hundreds of local workers earn their livelihood from teak trees and furniture. Nilambur teak is now popular all over the world for its high quality, durability, and distinctive color.

Propagation is through seeds, stem cuttings, grafting, and tissue culture.