Plantation Teak is a tropical hardwood tree from the genus Tectona, endemic to Southeast Asia. The primary distinction between conventional teak and plantation teak is that the latter is exclusively planted for the purpose of forestry management, for either commercial or ecological purposes. Although the genus Tectona is native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia, primarily Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand, the cultivation of plantation teak is economically viable in other tropical regions such as Central America.
Due to its durability, natural water-resistant qualities and striking wood grain, teak has historically been used in the manufacture of outdoor furniture, boat decks, and other carpentry goods which are to be exposed to the elements for long periods of time. Due to the high demand for this timber and the reasonably short growth period of teak trees, sustainable teak production is currently underway on plantations across many dry tropical climates across Costa Rica and Mexico.
Given the proper conditions, teak can be grown without artificial fertilizers or irrigation; this is thought to give plantation teak the look and durability of old-growth teak from Southeast Asia. Plantation teak is considered a renewable resource, as it is harvested and managed to produce a sustainable supply.
Plantation timber also offers the benefit of reduced shipping costs and emissions. Since teak can be grown throughout the world's dry-tropical zones, plantations offer a geographically closer source of teak. The Forest Stewardship Council has granted certification to a number of sustainable teak plantations in Latin America.
The destruction of Asia's old-growth teak forests along with the known human rights violations in the region have led some to refer to Asiatic teak as "conflict teak." In 1962, the democratic republic called the Union of Burma was overthrown by a military coup a replaced by a military junta, infamous for human rights abuses and using violence to put down protests. In 1989, the Burmese government changed the country's name to Myanmar, though teak coming from that nation is typically still referred to as "Burmese teak."
Along with the sale of precious stones, the Burmese government has traditionally relied on the teak trade to finance its operations. Because of this, the direct importation of teak originating from Myanmar (formerly Burma) is currently prohibited, due to sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department. However, Burmese teak is currently sold in the US marketplace, often imported indirectly through Myanmar's neighbors like China or India, which bypass restrictions by milling and exporting the timber themselves.
Ironically, there's a long-standing belief that teak grown in the Burmese jungle has a longer lifespan and greater durability than timber grown in neighboring countries like India or Thailand. Therefore, the demand for Burmese conflict timber is often much higher than teak harvested under more ethical conditions.
Plantation versus old growth
There exists a common myth that plantation teak exhibits lower densities than timber grown in old-growth forests. However, studies from the USDA and the Forest Research Institute at Dehra Dun, India found no significant relationship between the growth rate of plantation teak and its density.
However, to match the wood grain of Burmese teak, some forestry experts recommend a process called slow growth cultivation. By finding regions that closely mimic the precipitation and soil characteristics of Burma, plantation teak may be cultivated without irrigation or fertilizers. Thus, the growth rate is similar to that of Burmese teak, and teak plantations can produce timber that's nearly identical to Asian teak.