Save the Rainforest: A Brief History of Teak

Once a popular choice for durable furniture, teak harvesting has destroyed sections of forest. Learn how to seek out sustainable teak.

| November/December 2002

  • A tractor in the Myinbyin Forest Range of Central Burma winches up logs of teak wood and hauls them away. (1960)
    Photo By United Nations Photo/Courtesy Flickr (
  • Today teak is grown primarily on commercial plantations in the Philippine Islands and Java.
    Photo By Amber Karnes/Courtesy Flickr (

When it first journeyed to the United States from Southeast Asia in the late 1950s, weather- and rot-resistant teak (Tectona grandis) became a popular choice for durable outdoor furniture and garden products. But over the years, environmentalists have expressed concern about the way the trees have been harvested.

In the mid-twentieth century, most teak was harvested from rain forests in Southeast Asia—ultimately destroying sections of the forests, which could take thousands of years to replace. This caused the extinction of hundreds of plants and animals and forced many indigenous tribal people from their homes.

As demand for teak wood increased, many alternatives for harvesting the trees have been developed. Teak is now grown primarily on commercial plantations in the Philippine Islands and Java. Some of these are run by the government, which enforces sustainable development.

Consumers have also begun seeking out recycled teak from buildings that have been around for more than 200 years. The recycled wood has all the attributes of new teak, but it usually isn’t as smooth in texture or appearance.

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