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Caring for a Natal Mahogany Plant (Trichilia Emetica)

I have more than eight years of hands-on experience in the horticultural maintenance industry and like to share many tricks of the trade.

The Indoor Natal Mahogany Plant

The plant in question, easy to misidentify

The plant in question, easy to misidentify

Identifying the Indoor Natal Mahogany Plant

  • A mahogany plant is attention-catching with its deep green foliage and wide, feather-shaped leaves.
  • Mahogany leaves are oval or feather-shaped with clusters on each stem, usually in groups of seven.
  • The leaves are thin and flexible.
  • The dense foliage covers its dark woody trunk and stems.
  • Interior mahogany plantings are usually composed of several small mahogany plants potted together in one large grow pot to form a lush, interior tree.
  • It's a stunning plant that can be used in most design settings, enhancing the area and making a great filler piece or as a stand-alone eye catcher.

This incredible interior tree holds an important secret; it is frequently underestimated and misidentified. The error can spell disaster in a very short time.


What a Natal Mahogany Is Not!

Natal Mahogany can be frequently mistaken for a member of the Ficus family, Schefflera Amate, or the very similar-looking Coffee Arabica plant. This typical misidentification can spell death for the fragile mahogany plant that requires a constant and consistent supply of water.

In short, here are the things that a mahogany is not:

  • Not a Ficus Tree
  • Not a Schefflera
  • Not a coffee plant
  • Not tolerant of neglect
  • Not able to withstand any drought-like circumstance

How to Water a Mahogany Plant

A mahogany plant is one that requires frequent water checks, and it's a plant that will not recover from a skipped watering that leads to over-drying. Many a mahogany have met their swift end in a locked home or office after their watering cycle was skipped only once. Most interior plants can easily tolerate two or even three weeks between waterings, but not the mahogany. When over-dried, the plant quickly and completely defoliates to the point of no return.

Natal Mahogany can be frequently mistaken for a member of the Ficus family, Schefflera Amate, or the very similar-looking Coffee Arabica plant.

Natal Mahogany can be frequently mistaken for a member of the Ficus family, Schefflera Amate, or the very similar-looking Coffee Arabica plant.

Where to Place a Mahogany Plant

As it is most commonly a floor plant, mahogany can easily stand alone as a centerpiece, enhance an area as an accent, or become part of a plant grouping.

Best for the plant's overall health will be placing a mahogany in a space where light is able to reach all areas of the plant's foliage.

The mahogany can also be placed near a wall or corner, as long as the plant is regularly rotated to avoid defoliation to the side away from the light.

The mahogany has many options for placement, especially in moderate lower light conditions and conditions that have only artificial lighting available. Their dark green leaf pigments make them hardy, which translates well indoors. Even in odd, dark spaces, the mahogany can do very well if provided with a central grow light or some sort of artificial light.

Optimum Lighting

Moderate, diffused natural and artificial light will yield the best results for a natal mahogany. This floor plant (or tree) will do best if light is able to reach all sides. However, a mahogany can do fine placed next to a wall or in a corner, as long as it is rotated regularly. This plant will defoliate from light variation however very slowly.

High light is not recommended due to mahogany's insatiable water lust. A lot of light will only serve to increase water usage and the chance of over-drying.

Low light is not recommended but can be tolerated if at least some light is available and watering is adjusted to balance soil moisture.

If your mahogany has drain holes such as this, cut them down to the bottom of the pot to allow access to the liner water.

If your mahogany has drain holes such as this, cut them down to the bottom of the pot to allow access to the liner water.

How to Water a Natal Mahogany

Perhaps one of the most critical care aspects to the long term health of the Mahogany plant is diligent watering maintenance. As mentioned previously, mahogany react very badly to under watering often with fatal results. The keys to success lie in these elements of the mahogany plant.

  • Check this plant's moisture at least once a week. Once a week should be sufficient however if your plant is new it is a good idea to check it a couple times a week while the plant is acclimating to its new environment. Using a large moisture probe of some kind is the best method. Most are large trees with a pot diameter of 10" plus, so being able to evaluate the moisture deep in the pot is beneficial.
  • Be sure to place this plant in a drip liner. Water mahogany through and leave excess water in its liner each time it is watered. The plant should easily use the excess water left in the liner by the time the next watering is due.
  • Beware of the drain holes on the grow pot of your mahogany plant, as often the drain holes on these plants are placed about 1/2" up on the grow pot, preventing the plant from getting to the water left in the liner. If your mahogany has drain holes such as this, cut them down to the bottom of the pot to allow access to the liner water.

Other Items of Note

Mahogany is not prone to interior pests; however, it can still get them. The pests to watch for are mealy bug & scale. The best treatment is to clean away the bugs, clean your plant leaves regularly with insecticidal soap and, in relentless cases, treat your plant with systemic pesticide as directed.

Trimming mahogany is a great way to keep your mahogany plant symmetrical and full. Mahogany have a tendency to grow up and get leggy. Topping off the plant's stem from time to time will keep it in balance.

Enjoy your plant, and don't forget to water!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why does a fully grown Mahogany's leaves turn yellow?

Answer: If the leaves are turning completely yellow, and easily fall off the plant may be lacking water, Mahogany requires consistent attention with watering, and is a heavy drinker. If the leaves are turning a mosaic yellow/green and do not easily fall off it is likely not getting enough light, which in turn will also keep the soil consistently too moist.

Do you have a Mahogany?

Mark on July 05, 2020:

Got my plant two months ago and started sprouting new foliage. Not i notice the new leaves are dry and falling off. I have a mild mealy bug infestation which i’ve been treating with Neem oil. Is the drop in leaves from the mealy bugys, neem oil or could it also be because its under a vent. Please help! Thank you! on April 04, 2020:

have a dying natal it was stressed whn i received it. did well for few weeks. I GAVE IT FUNGICDE BEC THOUGHT IT WAS TOO WET,


suspected root rot so pulled it out nd left it sit overnight to dry.Then

repotted it and treated it with more fungicide - 2nd drench.

still wilted. put under plastic tent and mist 3 times a day ////??????

nothing is getting it to perk up.

help HELP HELP i tried everything i can think of desperate to save him !!!!

Hasti af on April 03, 2020:

Please help ! I got my Natal Mahogany 3 months ago, when brought it home it started having new leaves and branches supper fast ! In three weeks the tree got 4” taller! Then I think an insect happened! Something started biting off the leaves and now they are mostly yellow. I treated the leaves with Neem oil spray also neem oil water to water the plant , after a day took it to shower and cleaned every single leaf. Although I sprayed the neem oil during day in the living room by window! So maybe I screwed up there ? Now the plant is droopy, leaves look really sick with yellow and spots. We really love this tree! Please help ! Do I need to prone ? I also changed the soil and pot !

An indoor plant lover on January 21, 2020:

For Jack: Sounds like "honeydew" which probably means you have aphids or some other pest. Get good professional help quickly or you'll lose the plant.

jack on August 28, 2018:

I have a Natal Mahogany that is getting the floor and pot it is in with a sticky substance, it cleans up ok with warm water but seem to be getting a lot of it on the lower leaves, I water it twice per week, is this normal ?

mark on December 17, 2017:

what a sensitive little snowflake tree