Timber identification is a highly specialized and fascinating task. As far as economical value of timber is concerned, timber is one of the most valuable and versatile raw material used by man and plays a vital role in the economic and industrial development of the country.
The Forest Department manages around 90,000 ha of forest plantation in Sri Lanka, out of which average 1,100 ha of plantation are released annually to the State Timber Corporation for harvesting. The average timber yield of this harvesting is about 100,000 m3 which contribute to seven to eight per cent of national timber demand. Today six to seven of national timber demand is met with imported timber.
In Sri Lankan timber market, some timber merchants sell low grade timber species which are below the accepted standards and norms because the buyers are not able to identify the authenticity of timber species. Therefore they are easily misled by forged documents and timber species. Some importers import and sell low grade and low quality timber which are below the accepted standards. As the buyers and consumers are not aware of the standard quality of timber and cannot identify timber species, they are easily duped. This prevailing situation can be minimized if a standard or mechanism is introduced for timber identification.
A proper timber identification mechanism is essential today than ever before as lesser known timber species are coming into the market. The State Timber Corporation found that the renovation of some of the old building of archaeological value, require knowledge of timber identification in order to replace the existing timber structure and this knowledge is useful for archaeological exploration in old timber component identification.
In Sri Lanka, State Timber Corporation has been authorized by gazette notification to issue timber identification and timber quality certification reports when requested by interested parties. However present practice of timber identification is based on personal skill and scientific wood identification based on microscopic observation of slides and use of proper keys are not practised in identification of timber.
To fill this essential gap the writer has developed a dichotomous key on timber identification for 56 common local timber species and 11 major used imported timber species in Sri Lanka to facilitate scientific identification of timber species based on anatomical features of IAWA (International Association of Wood Anatomist) List 1989.
The writer has published a book, The Anatomical Study of Common Local and Imported Timber Species in Sri Lanka in 2014 (ISBN: 9789559975816.) This IAWA list (163 anatomical, 58 miscellaneous features) is not all inclusive, but was intended to serve as a framework for descriptions of woods for databases for wood identification, and to a lesser extent also for systematic descriptions. Consequently it now helps timber identification procedure of commonly used timber species in Sri Lanka.
(The writer is the Manager Research & Training, State Timber Corporation, Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.)