Red wood or Northern Vietnam Dalbergia (Dalbergia tonkinensis) caused a stir a few years ago in northern provinces where the timber is said to be worth billions of dong.
Now in Ho Chi Minh City, people also are rushing to buy red wood seeds. In a garden in Binh Tan District, seller Nga said her plants were no doubt of top quality because they came from red wood trees in Ha Noi botanical garden.
The price was fixed at VND40,000 each, with no discount for bulk sales, though she could not produce documents verifying the origin of the plants.
Neither could Thinh, an online seller based in Thu Duc District whose plants go for VND 15,000 to 20,000. Similar to Nga, he says his seeds are from northern Vinh Phuc Province, famed for its red wood.
The price of red wood is actually not that high. Han, a seller in District 12, revealed that red wood seeds start at VND2,000 in the north and VND4,500 in the south because of shipping costs.
Another shop selling red wood seeds and young trees is also located on To Ky Street in HCMC's District 12. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Chinese traders have been interested in red wood since 2006. The tree that used to be chopped for firewood suddenly became worth billions of dong, stirring up farmers in provinces where the species proliferates, such as Vinh Phuc, Quang Binh, and Thua Thien - Hue.
People started to illegally log the timber from forests, steal it from public parks and pagodas, and cultivate it widely. Many farmers in Vinh Phuc even sold their properties to set up large-scale red wood farms.
But then, a couple years later, the Chinese middlemen refused to buy, causing prices to plummet and leaving many farmers in debt.
Now this trend has appeared in Ho Chi Minh City. Customers blindly buy the seeds without knowing how to grow them or differentiate between red wood and “white wood” (Dalbergia tonkinesis Prain), a much cheaper cousin.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature labels the trees endangered due to habitat loss. The species only grows at high density in Viet Nam and sparsely in China’s southern Yunan Province. The Vietnamese government is working to conserve the tree and bans logging.
But the lure of money has people like Hoa, who has a small home garden Go Vap District, buying 20 plants she considers “savings checks.”
Similarly, Cuong from District 12 bought five seeds to grow in the front yard belonging to his apartment building so that he can sell the trees in a few years.
This trend seems to benefit only middlemen, because not all plants sold are red wood. In a test, Ph.D. student Hoang Thi Thanh Huong at Nong Lam University found that only two out of 10 sample seeds were red wood.
But along suburban roads such as Highway 1A, Highway 22, To Ky Street (District 12), and Ha Noi Highway (Thu Duc District), sales are booming.
A nursery owner in Binh Chanh District tells Tuoi Tre that every two or three days, he sells about 10,000 seeds at VND 30,000 to 35,000 each. Another in District 12 says in one day, he can sell from a few dozen plants to more than 100.
Dr. Duong Quang Trung from the Vietnam Administration of Forestry agrees there is not enough research about this tree. His agency and its Forest Inventory and Planning sub-Institute have just begun red wood research and development projects.
Other supposed uses of this timber are treating weak bones, preserving corpses, and enhancing spiritual life.
|Only two out of 10 samples are red wood
Ph.D. student Hoang Thi Thanh Huong from Nong Lam University in Ho Chi Minh City says red wood is a large timber good for decorating and giving shade to streets and parks. Its timber is of less quality than, for instance, Talauma wood, teak wood, and “lim xanh” (Erythrophleum fordii).
However, due to high demand from China in recent years, red wood prices have doubled and tripled beyond their real value. Those figures could jump as the trees grow.
What’s more, many different species closely resemble red wood. According to nonglamtamdao.com, white wood and red wood have similar flowers and fruits, but the leaves and fruits from red wood give off an odor when burned, which is why they’re called “trac thoi” or stinky timber.