Cucumbertree Wood

Geographical Distribution

The tree commonly known in its native area as Cucumbertree is properly known as Magnolia acuminata. As an easily recognized member of the much larger genus of Magnolia, the tree may also be commonly referred to as a Cucumber Magnolia. The Magnolia genus is quite large, containing about 210 different recognized and classified species. The range of the Magnolia genus is also large, with a main center in east and south-east Asia and a secondary center in eastern North America, Central America, the West Indies, as well as having some species represented in South America.

I have written about working with a different species of Magnolia, M. grandiflora, in the past.

In North America, M. acuminata is one of three species native to the eastern and south-eastern United States. M. acuminata grows on cool moist sites mostly in the mountains from western New York and southern Ontario southwest to Ohio, southern Indiana and Illinois, southern Missouri south to southeastern Oklahoma and Louisiana; east to northwest Florida and central Georgia; and north in the mountains to Pennsylvania. While the distribution of M. acuminata is wide, the trees are never found in any great abundance in any one location, barring a few unusual sites that are protected from harvesting. While the populations are concentrated and contiguous through the upper elevations of the Appalachian Mountain chain, more isolated populations exist further to the west, even west of the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Missouri, especially in the higher elevations of the Ozark Mountains, as well as in isolated higher elevation locations as far south as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. Small and protected populations are also present in southern Ontario, Canada.

Cucumbertree Blanks

Cucumbertree Blanks

Unless planted as an ornamental, M. acuminata is not found any farther west than Arkansas or Missouri. The trees do provide excellent shade, and while not recommended as street-side plantings due to fruit production and drop, they are excellently suited for parks and domestic yards.

The common name of M. acuminata, Cucumbertree, is due to the production of green oblong fruits that resemble cucumbers, although they are not considered edible by humans. As the fruits mature, they will turn red, similar to other Magnolia fruit bodies.

For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to M. acuminata from this point forward simply as Cucumbertree.

General Characteristics

The Cucumbertree contains very wide sapwood that is a creamy white to grayish in color. By comparison, the heartwood is narrow and ranges in coloration from a medium to dark brown. Sometimes, Cucumbertree wood will feature green, purple, and/or black streaks. Highly colored wood will tend to be more desirable for decorative purposes, although Cucumbertree wood, colored or not, is rarely if ever encountered outside its native areas.

Cucumbertree wood tends to feature a straight grain pattern along with a fine and uniform texture on surfacing. Once properly sanded, the wood will demonstrate a moderate natural luster.

The end-grain of the Cucumbertree tends towards the diffuse and porous, with small pores in no specific arrangement. The growth rings are generally quite distinct.

Perhaps oddly given the wide use of the wood as a general utility wood which would certainly include outdoor applications, the wood of the Cucumbertree is rated as non-durable to outright perishable in terms of rot resistance. The wood is also susceptible to insect attack.

Cucumbertree Blank Green Turned Dried Exterior

Cucumbertree Blank Green Turned Dried Exterior

Working Characteristics

Cucumbertree wood is considered to be generally easy to work with both hand and machine powered tools. In part, this is due to the generally straight grain and relative softness of the wood, which measures only 700 on the Janka Hardness Scale. Many woods this soft will “fur” easily upon cutting, even with very sharp tools, making it difficult, if not outright impossible, to achieve a truly smooth finished surface. Fortunately, this does not appear to be a problem with Cucumbertree wood despite its obvious softness.

Cucumbertree wood is also known to glue, stain, and otherwise finish quite well.

Of greatest relevance to this site, Cucumbertree is also an excellent turning wood.

Some authorities claim that Cucumbertree has no distinct odor when being cut or otherwise machined. However, I would have to differ from official opinion. When I was cutting and shaping Cucumbertree wood there was a quite distinct and unique odor present, not exactly pleasant but not stomach-turning either. A visitor to my shop, who was not familiar with the wood I was turning, commented that it smelled distinctly of soap to him. I found the smell to be much more vegetal, almost the scent of wet and rotting wood. Perhaps my pieces were undergoing some degree of spalting, a polite wood-working term for rot, and that contributed to the smell. However, I could visually detect no signs of rot or spalt aside from the superficial surface areas, and not even all of those, and yet the odor persisted well past the turning of the surface areas. The wood was green when it was turned and that may have caused there to be an odor that would not be present in the dried wood.

In fact, I also turned a piece that was completely dry, and while the odor was not nearly as strong, I do think it was still present, at least slightly.

Cucumbertree Green Turned Blank Dried Interior

Cucumbertree Green Turned Blank Dried Interior


In pricing Cucumbertree wood you will first have to find it for sale. This is not likely to be an easy task if you don’t live in the native range of the tree as it is used almost exclusively locally and is rarely, if ever, exported across the country, much less outside of it, due to its limited uses as a mostly utility wood, purposes which can be filled by other woods local to other areas.

Once you locate a vendor expect the prices to be quite reasonable for the wood. In fact, the wood tends be considerably less expensive than the cost of the shipping required for it to reach your door. This shipping factor accounts for why the wood is just not sold outside of its native range.

When sourcing domestic hardwoods, especially those native to the Southeastern United States, I frequently and almost exclusively rely on two vendors: NC Wood and (aka Got Wood?).

In this case, NC Wood, while an excellent source, is of no help. The only vendor I have ever located who routinely stocks Cucumberwood is They sell pre-cut turning rounds of Cucumberwood in sizes ranging from 4”x3” up to 8”x4” with prices ranging from a low of $2.83 to $16. They also stock spindle stock ranging in size from 2”x2”x6” to 3”x3”x12” and some 4” stock as well. Prices for spindle stock range from $1.42 to $6.38.

Cucumbertree Finished Interior

Cucumbertree Finished Interior

When searching for Cucumbertree, be aware that it is very similar in appearance and performance to Yellow Poplar, Tulip Poplar, or plain Poplar (all the same tree with different names) and may be sold as such by lumber dealers in its native area. Without detailed analysis, it could prove impossible to tell the two, albeit unrelated, species apart. Usually, for the purposes to which the wood is put, it frankly doesn’t matter.

I also always recommend both West Penn Hardwoods and Bell Forest Products as excellent sources of both domestic and exotic hardwoods. I have had multiple dealings with both vendors and have always been very satisfied.

However, in this case, neither of the above vendors will be of any assistance as neither stocks Cucumbertree wood.

Cucumbertree wood is also not currently available on Ebay.

While the dealers above are personal favorites, Cucumbertree wood MIGHT be obtainable from other dealers in domestic hardwoods, probably including one near you provided you live in the native range. Certainly anyone can order the material for shipment across the country, but shipping costs are almost certain to be more expensive than the actual value of the wood itself.

If you don’t have a favorite supplier that you have worked with extensively in the past, by all means shop around for the best prices and the best selection to meet your particular wood working needs.

Woodfinder is an excellent website that is dedicated to advertising exotic wood dealers. In your search for Cucumbertree, this can be an invaluable resource provided you use multiple search terms to capture all the possible listings. I can’t speak to the quality of any of the listed dealers, but Woodfinder does have the advantage of allowing searches to be performed based on location which might allow an interested buyer to visit a listed wood dealer near their home in person to hand pick nice pieces at a comfortable price.

Cucumbertree Finished Exterior

Cucumbertree Finished Exterior


Cucumbertree is not a glamourous wood and it finds fairly pedestrian uses in its native area. The most common, although not by any means the only, uses of Cucumbertree wood include: veneer, plywood, interior trim, upholstered furniture frames, and general utility wood.

Cucumbertree wood is also quite popular with wood turners who live in the native area of the tree. The wood turns beautifully and is relatively stable when drying, making it an excellent choice for green wood turning.


Cucumbertree is not listed as being in any way threatened or endangered by the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices nor does it appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Cucumbertree wood is not subject to any special restrictions by any United States government agency.

That said, the tree is considered to be an endangered species and is protected under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. I cannot claim to be familiar enough with the act or law in question to know how this would affect the potential importation of Cucumbertree wood, or objects made of it, into Canada, but I do know that the importation of any raw timber into Canada is highly controlled, and therefore, before any Canadian customer places an order for the wood, they should thoroughly investigate local and Canadian regulations on importation of any wood and especially of Cucumbertree wood.

I realize that inherent in working with wood is the killing of a part of the natural world that may be slow to return and if I become deeply concerned about this fact, I will have to find a new hobby. I hope that such a time does not come to pass or at least not any time soon. I am also very confident that the vendor from whom I purchased my stocks of Cucumbertree sourced their material legally and responsibly. In part because I am concerned about legally and responsibly obtained exotic wood, I am reluctant to buy from sellers outside of well-established and known vendors. I am highly unlikely, for example, to purchase exotic wood from auction sites, such as Ebay, because of uncertain sourcing and documentation, as well as the potential, even likelihood, of material being misidentified in order to achieve a higher selling price.

I also realize that many, if not most, wood workers do not have endangered species lists memorized, therefore I think it worthwhile and important to do even a small amount of research before purchasing any lumber, domestic as well as imported, to be certain of the potential impact you are having, even in a small way, on threatened or endangered populations. This information is easy to come by and takes only minutes to locate through any Internet search engine, including those you can access on your phone as you are standing in the lumber yard or store. Unfortunately, you simply cannot count on a vendor to tell you a product they are selling is endangered.

Cucumbertree Green Turned Blanks

Cucumbertree Green Turned Blanks

Health Hazards

Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, species in the Magnolia genus, which includes Cucumbertree wood, have been reported to cause asthma-like symptoms and runny nose. In addition, the standard risks posed by prolonged and repeated exposure to dust from any wood species also exists with Cucumbertree wood and steps should be taken to avoid prolonged dust exposure. In addition, appropriate protective equipment is always recommended when working with this, or any other, exotic wood, unless you have worked with the species before and are certain you are not sensitive to it.

Complete information about health hazards associated with a wide variety of exotic hardwoods is available from The Wood Database. Additional information about how to best use a dust collection system and personal protective equipment, such as respirators, can also be found through this excellent and comprehensive resource.

Fortunately, I experienced no negative side effects when working with Cucumbertree wood aside from the disagreeable odor.

My Personal Experiences

I had picked up some small, 4”x3” rounds of Cucumbertree wood on a clearance sale for $1.50 each. I knew the wood was green, so originally I set it aside to dry as I usually do with new wood. Later I decided to use the wood as the basis for a green turning experience, something I had never attempted before. I thought that Cucumbertree wood was a good candidate for the experiment because it is relatively dimensionally stable, which would matter as the roughed out bowl dried, and because the wood was so cheap that even if it was a total disaster I wouldn’t be out much.

I’ve written in much greater detail about the experience of green turning in the post previous to this one, so I won’t go on about it a great deal more here. The wood was clearly green, it cut easily and quickly because it was green and because it was soft as well. The small size of the piece meant that it took very little time to cut rough and it took little time once it was dry and remounted to finish it down to small thin wall dimensions of less than .20” at its thickest on the base. The wood was relatively easy to sand, as would be expected with a material so soft and it took a nice finish and reasonable shine with no difficulty. The wood is somewhat plain, that is true, but it is also quite unique to the area and not a wood that people who live in the western parts of the country, who frequently receive my bowls as gifts, will be familiar with which increases its appeal.

Overall, I am quite pleased with the experience of working with Cucumbertree wood and I have three more rough turned small dishes in the process of drying as I write. Once those are completed I will add photos to update this post, or as a separate posting. I enjoyed the experience of working with the Cucumbertree wood enough that I have just purchased 3 more larger pieces, and I really don’t need another piece of wood at this point in my life, but I want to try green turning on a larger scale, and a wood I am familiar with that is dimensionally relatively stable and affordable, both characteristics of Cucumbertree wood, seems a good candidate. We’ll see if Cucumbertree wood performs as well and as easily on a larger scale as it did on the smaller.

As always, I wish all my readers a great experience in whatever their wood working interests happen to be and to those who like working with lathes especially, do a good turn today!