The Basics of Brazilian Cherry Wood Flooring

Armchair and tree in house entryway
Mint Images / Getty Images

A type of hardwood, commonly known as Brazilian cherry, is not a member of the cherry family at all but is instead a legume species, Hymenaea courbaril. It is also known as jatoba, locust, or courbaril. As the common name implies, Brazilian cherry (jatoba) does hail from the rainforests of Brazil. Trees typically grow 100 to 130 feet high. The common name Brazilian cherry became a marketing ploy used to play off the wood's blazing deep red color.

Brazilian cherry was often installed during new home construction, and though its use may have slowed down over time, it is still considered a beautiful wood and viable choice for flooring. It is available in several forms, ranging from solid hardwood planks to look-alike plastic laminates. 

Brazilian Cherry Characteristics

This red or salmon-colored wood often has attractive streaks of darker stripes. Solid Brazilian cherry hardwood planks are difficult to install except by professionals, but engineered wood varieties are available, which are easier for DIYers to install. While the wood's popularity among furniture builders and woodworkers may have waned, Brazilian cherry is still regarded as a very strong and durable flooring material.

It is an extremely hard wood, with a Janka hardwood rating of 2350 (white oak has a Janka rating of 1360). Jatoba accepts stains and finishes very well, which is why it has been such a popular choice for flooring.

Brazilian cherry is considered by some to be an endangered tree species since it comes from heavily-logged areas in the Amazon. There is evidence to the contrary:

  • FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) Brazilian cherry flooring can be purchased.
  • The species is not listed in the CITES Appendices (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is an international agreement between governments to ensure that certain specimens are not threatened).
  • Jatoba varieties are listed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature, an organization with a similar mission) as being a species of least concern.

Here are several examples of varying types of Brazilian cherry flooring available for residential installation.

  • 01 of 09

    Solid Hardwood

    Jasson Brazilian cherry royale 3/4 inch solid hardwood flooring
    Jasson

    Brazilian cherry hardwood comes in the two standard sizes that comprise most hardwood flooring that's on the market:

    • Boards come .75-inch thick and 3.25-inches wide. Most retailers will sell in lengths ranging from a few inches to 6 or 7 feet. These lengths can be mixed.
    • Boards also come .75-inch thick by 5-inches wide with the same lengths as above.

    If you search, you can find some wide-plank (wider than 5 inches) Brazilian cherry hardwood available, as well. Solid hardwood flooring is the better choice for added value and durability.

  • 02 of 09

    Laminate Flooring

    DuPont Brazilian cherry laminate flooring
    DuPont

    Brazilian cherry laminate looks fantastic from a distance, even though it is not actual wood, but rather a plastic laminate. And it costs just a few dollars per square foot. To enjoy further savings, you can avoid the high installation charges of professional installers and install Brazilian cherry laminate yourself.

    The downside is that the Brazilian cherry appearance is the result of a convincing photographic rendition applied to a fiberboard core. And like all laminate flooring, it doesn't feel as solid underfoot as actual wood.

  • 03 of 09

    Engineered Brazilian Cherry Wood

    Armstrong engineered Brazilian cherry flooring
    Armstrong

    A floor made of engineered Brazilian cherry is a good compromise between the laminate and the solid hardwood versions.

    An engineered wood floor is a thin veneer of real wood applied to a layer (or multiple layers) of dimensionally stable plywood-type material. These products are not only less expensive, but more ecologically responsible, since less actual rainforest hardwood is used. Engineered wood products are also friendlier to DIY installation than solid hardwood.

  • 04 of 09

    Prefinished Flooring

    Owens plank Brazilian cherry prefinished
    Owens

    There are several advantages to buying your Brazilian cherry floor prefinished:

    • It can include up to seven coats of aluminum oxide-based finish, with one or two top wear layers, saving you considerable time on staining and finishing.
    • Finishing occurs off-site in a factory, not in your home, so there is no smell or mess.
    • There is no waiting for the finish to cure—you can walk on it right away.

    One downside of buying prefinished flooring is that it is more susceptible to damage during the installation process. Unfinished flooring can also be damaged, but it can be remedied during the finishing process. 

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Bellawood

    Bellawood Brazilian cherry flooring
    Lumber Liquidators/Bellawood

    Bellawood is the name of the house brand from Lumber Liquidators, and it offers several forms of Brazilian cherry. Although the quality of this economy brand may be considered uneven, even when extra waste is factored in, Bellawood offers the most affordable hardwood flooring available.

  • 06 of 09

    Unfinished Flooring

    Unfinished Brazilian cherry flooring
    Colston

    Brazilian cherry wood can change dramatically during the finishing process. When unfinished, the hardwood has a creamy pinkish-red color that after staining and finishing becomes a warmer, richer reddish-brown with streaked tones.

  • 07 of 09

    Handscraped Flooring

    Handscraped Brazilian cherry flooring
    Lumber Liquidators/Virginia Mill Works

    Brazilian cherry also comes as handscraped flooring, which is hardwood flooring that's machine-textured to reproduce the shallow grooves seen in antique hand-scraped floors. In this example, the inset clearly shows the type of ridges typically found in ​handscraped flooring.

  • 08 of 09

    Vinyl Flooring

    Brazilian cherry: Vesdura click lock 4.2 millimeter vinyl plank flooring
    Vesdura

    You can also find standard and luxury vinyl flooring duplicating Brazilian cherry hardwood. Vinyl is already available that mimics marble, slate, granite, distressed wood, handscraped wood, and reclaimed wood—is it any surprise that you can also find Brazilian cherry vinyl?

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Price Considerations

    Prefinished engineered wood Brazilian cherry flooring
    Bellawood/Lumber Liquidators

    The Amazon hardwood market recently exploded, sending mass quantities of flooring to the U.S., Europe, Canada, and China at prices that keep inching lower. The typical prices per square foot for Brazilian cherry in its varied formats include: 

    • Engineered wood: $6.20 per square foot
    • Prefinished: $5.50 per square foot
    • Unfinished: $4.75 to $5 per square foot
    • Laminate: $2 per square foot
    • Vinyl: $1 to $5 per square foot

    Prices always fluctuate, but the listing here gives you a general idea of ranges and differences. Standard vinyl flooring will usually be most affordable, but luxury vinyl flooring can become a bit pricey and sometimes surpasses laminate in price. Laminate will come in next as the least costly type of flooring. Engineered wood usually has the distinction of being the most expensive option. It is typically a nose ahead in cost of prefinished solid hardwood, but then again, not always. Check prices because sometimes hardwood is the most expensive option depending on market conditions.

Article Sources
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  1. Patrícia da Rosa (Centro Nacional de Conservação da Flora (CNCFlora)/Instituto de Pesquisas Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro B, Janeiro) MG (Centro N de C da FI de P do JB do R de, Janeiro) EF (Centro N de C da FI de P do JB do R de, et al. Iucn red list of threatened species: hymenaea longifolia. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Published online January 24, 2020.