Peculia odorata and dry rot

The Forest Products Research Laboratory was established in 1925, opening the Princes Risborough laboratory in 1927. One of the first members of staff was Bernard John Rendle, who was to later write the book “Fifty years of timber research: a short history of the Forest Products Research Laboratory (FPRL), Princes Risborough”, published by HMSO in 1976. Towards the end of the book there are some insights into the community life of FPRL. A laboratory magazine called “dry rot” was produced at Christmas time, and the 1951 issue included a parody wood information report for the species “Peculia odorata”. This is too good to keep hidden in the book.

Botanical name Peculia odorata Phew

Trade names Ping-pong or False cheesewood (UK) Faux fromager (Fr), Stinkholz (Ger)

Other names (Censored)

Ping-pong is a comparative newcomer to the home market and there is already strong evidence that it has attracted attention out of all proportion to the quantities imported. It might be described as an attractive high-class hardwood except that it is liable to sap-stain, cross-grain and gum-vein, is susceptible to shot-hole, shell-hole, grub-hole, plug-hole and pin-hole, is subject to thundershake, lightning-shake, sun, moon and star-shake and is the object of detestation and abomination.

General description Sapwood and heartwood indescribable; colour frequently variable from greenish-white to whitish-green, sometimes marked with mineral streak, animal streak and vegetable streak and nearly always affected by brittle-heart, black-heart and broken-heart. The wood possesses a powerful odour, smell or stench which has been compared to that of the Risborough sewage farm, a lively polecat, an exceedingly dead rat or some horrible kind of cheese; it surpasses oak, teak, mahogany and all other known hardwoods in this respect.

Seasoning Seasoning defects include internal checking and infernal splitting.

Strength properties This timber may be described as a tough proposition.

Durability No exact information available. Has been described as ‘a perisher’.

Permeability Permeates anything.

Woodworking properties Is inclined to take the edge off tools and the appetite off sawmill operatives. The sawdust is reported to cause dermatitis, laryngitis, bronchitis and to bring you out in spots. Once sawn never forgotten.

Chemical properties Corrodes iron and steel, non-ferrous metals and the mucous membrane.

Uses Used in Malaria for dug-out canoes and native huts; probably suitable for similar purposes in the UK. Has been suggested for pig-sties, cow-byres and latrine construction.

Supplies of this timber are likely to exceed the demand.