D. tessellaria is a canopy tree of the Ebenaceae family. The bark of the trunk is black and often covered in thin white lichens and the tree has buttress roots enabling it to withstand strong cyclones. The tree can reach up to 20 meters. The leaves has leaf veins and margins which are translucent when held up against the light, its flowers are white and highly scented while the fruit resemble small acorns. Reproduction of diospyros is dioecious, which means it relies on unisexual flowers on separate trees, either male or female. It is pollinated by a wide variety of insects, endemic geckos and fruits bats.
The tree is endemic to Mauritius and used to be widespread throughout the island. It could be found from the upland rainforests down to the lowland evergreen forests. It is now found on some mountain slopes, in private forests and in the Black River Gorges National Park. The Bel Ombre forest contains a large population forming a fabulous canopy of vegetation.
The tree is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. This species regenerates well in the wild, in the upland forest one can observe a carpet of the seedlings under some adult trees, however, the population is declining due to the invasion of exotic plants and predators. The seeds and seedlings are easy to propagate in nurseries and the species is used for forest restoration and in landscape projects.
Black ebony wood from Diospyros tessellaria was historically used for the manufacture of musical instruments such as the clarinet and black piano keys, while the white keys were made from ivory. Its black heartwood has also been used to make furniture and jewellery boxes.
Rachel Atkinson and Jean-Claude Sevathian, A guide to the plants in Mauritius, (Mauritius: Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, 2005), 46
Guy Rouillard and Joseph Guého, Les plantes et leur histoire à l’Ile Maurice
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, “IUCN Red List: Diospyros tessellaria”, retrieved from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/30552/0