What is Ipe Wood?

A Tropical Hardwood That's Built to Last

ipe deck
A deck pade of ipe wood. Ron Sutherland/Getty Images

Ipe is a hardwood from Brazilian rainforests that has received lots of attention in the past couple of decades. Why? For one thing, it's as hard—or harder—than nails (it's been known to bend nails). Ipe is so dense that it often needs to be pre-drilled before pieces are connected. Some compare its strength to that of steel.

Similar in appearance to mahogany, ipe is also popular for its durability and beauty as a warm, rich, hardwood.

It's a smart choice that is becoming more popular in outdoor applications such as decking and patio furniture. Bought from a reliable source, ipe is often FSC certified, which makes it an environmental choice for your outdoor living space.

Other attributes of ipe wood include:

  • It can last more than 25 years outdoors
  • Eco-friendly; 100 percent natural wood
  • Mold, fire, weather, and pest-resistant
  • Resists surface scratches
  • Three times harder than cedar
  • One of the densest hardwoods, it sinks in water
  • It has the same fire rating as steel and concrete, making it a more fire-resistant choice than softwoods
  • Has high concentrations of tannic acid, which makes it resistant to rot, insects, and fungi. Because of this, stainless fasteners are recommended
  • The terms ipe lumber or ipe wood are often clustered with other tropical hardwoods that share similar characteristics, especially for outdoor furniture. These woods include teak and shorea
  • Quite simply, Brazilian ipe looks good just about anywhere outdoors

Is There an Ipe Tree?

Ipe refers to not one, but seven different tree species within the genus Tabebuia, all of which are native to Central and South America. Also known as trumpet trees, ipes can reach more than 100 feet high and up to 50 feet wide (at the top, with branches and leaves), and are supported by narrow trunks that are 2 to 4 feet in diameter.

Tabebuias can be deciduous, evergreen, and semievergreen, and some drop their leaves before producing spectacular clusters of flowers in colors that include white, golden yellow, lavender, bright pink, and red.

Handroanthus impetiginosus is the species of another tree that is also considered an ipe, or Brazilwood. Also known as pink ipê, pink lapacho, or pink trumpet tree, this species is a native Bignoniaceae tree and can be found in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Trinidad, and Tobago. Lapacho is the national tree of Paraguay. 

Stain or Leave it Alone?

Like many hardwoods used to build patio furniture or decks, staining helps maintain ipe products' warm color. Left alone, it will turn to a soft, silvery color, much like other hardwood furniture and accessories.

The Coney Island Connection

Some of the wood along Coney Island's boardwalk in New York was made of ipe, which is a testament to its longevity. Residents protested in 2015 when part of the boardwalk was set to be replaced by recycled plastic lumber and concrete. The famed boardwalk opened in 1923 and was reconstructed in the 1940s.

Pronunciation: Eee-pay

Also Known As: Brazilian walnut, Brazilian hardwood, ironwood, Pau Lope, Amapa, cortex, Guayacan, Flor Amarillo, Greenheart, Madera negra, Tahuari, Lapacho negro, Poui, Bethabarra, Tajibo, Mataverde, Tabebuia, cumaru (Dipterix odorata) and jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata).

In France, it is known as bois ipe. 

Alternate Spellings: Ipê, Ipe, ipe

Common Misspellings: ipay, ipey