How to Buy Teak or Other Forest Products; First Read The Free Greenpeace Good Wood Guide

I found a great garden resource I'd like to share with you all.  It is for anyone who is shopping for indoor or outdoor patio furniture this summer and more to the point, anyone who likes breathing air on this planet.  It's by our Australia Pacific Greenpeace pals, called The Good Wood Guide and lets you look up almost any wood or wood product to see if it is environmentally responsible or not.  If you are in the market to enhance your outdoor space with fine wood, I'd check their list first.

You can do your search either by species or product.  On the species side they answer the questions; Is This  A Good Wood? Alternatives, Color, Uses Of The Wood, Properties (helpful for comparing), County Of Origin and the trees' Threat in Natural Habitat.

It also cuts through a lot of the snake oil out there.  I suppose you can thank the Teak Industry for my gardening rant.  I keep getting emals from sellers who want to link to my website and of course, want me to link to them.   Aside from the spam factor, it's even more irritating because I know they haven't  bothered to read my website.  If they had they'd see I take a dim view of environmental irresponsibility like food irradiation, have a tendency towards organic insecticide recipes and have drawn the ire (and snake oil) of Frankenfood manufacturers in Australia for defending organic gardener Prince Charles's bashing of GM food.  PS Calling my organic compadres in Australia for comments section btw.

It's all part of their blitz to convince you it's OK to buy certain types of wood regardless of the true cost.  For example, I see 1,300 articles on a popular ezine site touting the benefits of using teak wood outdoors.  All are carefully keyworded and phrased to stroke your ego.  Only Greenpeace will tell you that you have a 50/50 chance of buying responsible teak.  That means the other 50% of the teak you buy is probably harvested illegally, possibly by using slave or political prisoner labor.

Under "Threat In Natural Habitat" Greenpeace reports; "Burma is the only country that still exports teak from natural forests. Between 1999 and 2000 over half the teak exported from Burma was logged illegally. The sale of teak is a key source of foreign currency for Burma's military dictatorship."

Which begs the Bigger-Picture question:  do I really have to plop my fat sweaty hide down on part of a teak tree anyway? ….to sit and stare at my trees?  It's not that I am anti-wood.  I am pro Good Wood.  I think pine is fine.  I suppose if I were restoring a ship or an antique piano, I'd be in the market for a little teak or mahogany.  But as far as new stuff goes, especially in my garden it's either some kind of plastic (hopefully recycled) or pine (which I wind up painting anyway) or wood scraps I've kept from my shrub and tree pruning.  But I digress.

There are two Hot-Button Tree issues not addressed in The Guide.  The closest to my native Californian heart is my State Tree; the California Redwood.  Um, no technically they aren't endangered but neither are certain Fur Trade animals like those baby seals.  By focusing on the redwoods alone we are literally missing the forest for the trees.

Redwoods form the backbone of the forest. Several endangered species and entire ecosystems are built around the redwoods.  The tallest living thing on Earth is Hyperion, a redwood tree, measuring at 115.55 m (379.1 feet) in Redwood National Park.  To read more about our old growth redwood forests and efforts to save them visit The Nature Conservancy.

These magical redwood photos are courtesy of Michael Schweppe on flickr, go see all of his enchanted photos.

Another State Tree being loved to death by it's own state is the cypress and the clearcutting of Louisiana cypress for mulch.  Cypress isn't endangered either, but the coastal areas need those stands of cypress to help buffer the inland areas from storms. is working to get Big Retail like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes to stop carrying things like "no float" cypress products.  Check your own local stores and their website to see how you can help.

Here are a few photos from of a Kingfisher on a cypress stump in the Atchafalaya Basin, and a bag of that nice mulch on a dead stump.

According to

Though Louisiana's wetlands face serious threats from coastal land loss and development, widespread clear cutting of cypress forests is also a very imminent danger.  In the past cypress mulch used to be a by-product of lumber mills. This is no longer true. The mulch purchased today comes from wide spread clear cutting of entire eco systems.  Loggers are operating with little to no oversight. No state laws exist to protect Louisiana's state tree; some that are more than 1,000 years old.  A mixed message: State and Federal Officials are asking our nation for billions of dollars to restore Louisiana's coast. However, it's not clear whether our cypress forests, which help to combat coastal erosion, are adequately protected from logging under current state and federal laws.  Read more and find great mulch alternatives (like compost or leaves) at

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