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Rain Tree Wood

Rain Tree Wood: Properties, Pros And Cons, And Selection Tips

Take a stroll around Singapore and you’ll see the iconic rain tree. Open any book written by a local writer and you’ll read about how this ubiquitous wood lines its roads. 

Like its name suggests, the branches of the rain tree look like umbrellas and serve to shield passers-by from the rain. But what are the origins of this tree, and does it make for good furniture? Let’s find out more about its history, properties, maintenance and uses.

What Are Rain Trees?

This beloved and iconic tree has many names. Known as samanea saman, the monkey pod, the five o’clock tree and “Pukul Lima” in Malay, the rain tree is medium-sized and grows up to 30m in cities but can grow up to 60m in its natural habitat, South America.

What’s magical about this tree is that its leaves fold in rainy weather in the evening, hence the nickname, “five o’clock tree”. 

Its flowers are pink and have red or white stamens (the long stems that produce pollen) — there’s usually an abundance of them and they cover the whole tree. Their seed pods contain sticks and edible flesh. 

Origin of the Rain Tree

One may think that the rain tree is native to Singapore or Southeast Asia, but actually, it’s from Central and South America. It’s seen from Mexico to Peru, and even all the way in Brazil. 

In 1896, the rain tree made its way to the Malay Peninsula, and the administrative governments have since grown this tree in urban areas, especially along highways and roadsides.

The History of Singapore’s Rain Trees

From the 19th century, staff from the Botanic Gardens planted rain tree saplings along Connaught Drive, which was known as New Esplanade Road back then. In the years that have passed, the rain trees grew and flourished, creating a scenic waterfront view, framing the colonial buildings.

Today, 22 of these rain trees are dubbed as Heritage Trees, under NParks’ Heritage Tree Scheme. Known as the “Avenue of Heritage Trees”, this street has the largest number of heritage trees in a single avenue.

Some of these trees are over 130 years old, and would have witnessed historic events, such as the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew declaring Singapore’s independence in 1963, and the country’s first National Day Celebration in 1966.

Properties of Rain Tree Wood

What makes the rain tree distinct from other types of wood? Here are some properties to look out for including colour, grain and hardness.

Colour

Rain tree wood ranges from a golden colour to a dark brown, and sometimes has darker streaks in it. Its sapwood (soft outer layers of the trunk) are usually between thin and yellowish white, and there’s a distinct line that separates it from the heartwood (the wood from the centre of the tree trunk).

Grain

Rain tree wood, or suar wood, is usually straight, but can also be interlocked and wavy, making for unique patterns. It shows up well on dining and coffee tables.

Hardness

On the Janka scale, rain tree wood has a rating of 900. It's slightly stronger or about the same as African mahogany, but not as strong as teak.

Uses of Rain Tree Wood

It’s cool to have a piece from one of Singapore’s iconic trees. After all, a statement piece made from rain tree wood ties the room together. Let’s look at how it fares as furniture and flooring.

Furniture

Laptop placed on a rain tree wood table

Rain tree wood’s unique and attractive grain makes for great and unique furniture, such as dining tables, and chairs

Flooring

Rain tree wood flooring

With its unique grain patterns and hardness, rain tree wood makes for great flooring. Its overall water resistance and minimal maintenance required make for a gorgeous and long-lasting floor.

Advantages of Rain Tree Furniture

Among rain tree wood’s positive qualities are affordability, minimal maintenance and its moderate durability. Read on to find out more about them.

Affordable

Rain tree wood is much more affordable than many types of furniture wood as it grows in many types of environment with ease and matures quickly. 

This means that it can be farmed and harvested quicker than other types of wood, such as teak or mahogany, accounting for its larger supply and lower price point

Minimal Maintenance

For dining tables made out of rain tree wood, all you need to do to maintain it is to use soap and water to wipe it down. 

For rain tree wood flooring, sweeping, vacuuming or using a dust mop is enough to remove the dirt and dust on these floors.

Moderately Durable

The interlocking grain of rain tree wood ensures that it’s durable and does not warp. The crisscrosses present in the grain prevent the wood from cracking with the changes in weather. This is especially suitable for Singapore’s unpredictable climate.

Resistant to Termites

If you worry that dry-wood termites will get at your wood furniture, you can rest easy knowing that this does not happen often with a rain tree wood piece. 

Sustainable

Since the rain tree grows where it’s planted and naturalises itself to many different types of environments, it’s easy enough to harvest and replant, making this wood sustainable.

How to Maintain Your Rain Tree Wood Furniture

Even though rain tree wood is highly decay- and pest-resistant, it’s still best to put some measures in place to ensure that your furniture lasts as long as possible. Here’s how to maintain your furniture.

Do Not Place it Outdoors

Ideally, your rain tree wood furniture piece should be on level ground and away from the outdoors so that it will last longer.

Clean Spills Immediately

Woman wiping spills off a rain tree wood table

Spills and stains, unfortunately, are more apparent on this type of wood, so it’s best to clean them immediately. If not, some of these liquids may seep through the wood, damaging it. 

Coffee and wine stains need to be cleaned straightaway, too. Use a wet cloth to blot them to retain the finish. Wiping will cause the stain to rub and seep into the wood, making it more difficult to get rid of.

If you didn’t manage to clean these stains in time, here’s a guide on how to clean a sticky wooden table.

Wipe Your Furniture Regularly

It is best to use a soft cloth to dust your furniture once a week. Once a month, use a damp cloth to wipe down your rain tree wood piece. You can do the same for its underside once every six weeks.

Note: Avoid cleaning your wood piece with harsh chemicals such as dishwasher liquid, alcohol wipes and hand sanitisers as they will damage it.

Use Cork, Plastic, or Ceramic Coasters

Two sets of mugs and coasters placed on a rain tree wood table

To prevent the wood from absorbing water, always make an effort to use coasters to prevent the water from seeping into the wood. We recommend cork, plastic or ceramic ones.

How to Select Premium Rain Tree Wood

It’s challenging to find a rain tree wood piece that has been treated properly with no defects.  Here are some things you can check to protect yourself from buying a piece that’s of poor quality.

Ask About Its Origin

When buying a rain tree wood piece, it’s best to ask the seller about its origin. Most of the time, rain tree wood is cultivated in Thailand and Indonesia. 

If you’re unable to get an answer, you may not be looking at an authentic rain tree wood piece.

Check Its Stability

If you have an eye on a piece that you like, try leaning on it at various spots, shaking it on the spot or lifting it up to see how sturdy it is. If the table or chair wobbles, then it’s not of high quality.

Look At The Finish

Beware of pieces that have a lot of lacquer. This may mean that the wood has not been dried properly. In fact, some manufacturers may use lacquer to hide the moisture that should be gotten rid of earlier on in the woodworking process. 

In fact, reputable suppliers usually display their wood pieces in its raw form so you can see what they look and feel like. If you prefer a glossy finish, you can check whether the supplier is able to add on an oil coating to complete the look.

Rain Tree Wood vs Other Wood Types: Teak, Mahogany And Walnut

With so many different types of wood, it can be overwhelming to weigh out the different pros and cons. Apart from rain tree wood, some of the more popular options on the market include teak, mahogany and walnut.

In the table below, we evaluate these woods based on grain, colour, hardness, durability and water and rot resistance. 

Rain Tree Wood Teak Wood Mahogany Wood Walnut Wood
Grain Mostly straight grain, sometimes with interlocking grain Close grains Straight to interlocked grain Tight grained
Colour Golden brown to dark brown Comes in a uniform, golden brown colour Reddish brown Ranges from light brown to dark brown
Hardness 900 lbf on the Janka scale 900 lbf on the Janka scale 800 lbf 1010 lbf
Durability Moderately durable Extremely durable Extremely durable Strong, but not as durable as teak
Water and Rot Resistance Not as resistant to water and rot as teak and walnut Resistant to insects and moisture due to the high concentration of natural oils Not as water resistant as teak but comparable to walnut Comparable to that of teak

 

FAQs about Rain Tree Wood

What are the uses of rain tree wood?

Rain tree wood is usually made into kitchen counters, cabinets, shelves, and planking for flooring.

What is the cost of rain tree wood? 

In general, rain tree wood is priced at  $11 for a 20mm thick plank to $60 for a 45mm thick plank. At Timber Actually, our rain tree pieces are priced at $35 per plank and custom options are available.

What are some of the disadvantages of rain tree furniture?

Rain tree furniture splits, warps, and moulds easily if the wood is not dried properly in a kiln. Although the wood is resistant to dry wood termites, other types of insects, such as powder lice and some fungi may eat away at it. 

Why is Suar wood not sold at some furniture stores?

Suar wood may not be sold at some furniture stores as the process of drying the wood in a kiln is time-consuming and not all suppliers have the right equipment to do it.

Is Suar wood durable?

Suar wood is moderately durable, with a 900 lbf rating on the Janka scale. This means it’s moderately high on hardness and hence, can be quite resistant to wear and tear.

Is Suar wood hard or soft?

It is a hardwood of moderate hardness with a Janka rating of 900 lbf.

Next article All About Mahogany Wood: Characteristics and Advantages of African Mahogany with Tips for Decor

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