Fluorescence: A Secret Weapon in Wood Identification

by Eric Meier While certain woods can appear basically identical to one another under normal lighting conditions, when exposed to certain wavelengths—such as those found in blacklights, (which are mostly invisible to the naked eye)—the wood will absorb and emit light in a different (visible) wavelength. This phenomenon is known as fluorescence, and certain woods can be distinguished by the presence or absence of their fluorescent qualities. One of the best examples of fluorescence is found in Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), which is very similar to Mulberry (Morus spp.) in both appearance and weight. But one way to easily distinguish the two is by observing them under a blacklight; Black Locust will emit a strong yellow-green glow, while Mulberry will be non-reactive. The process of detecting fluorescence in wood samples need not be intimidating or limited to the scientific community—blacklight bulbs are available in many hardware stores for only a few dollars and can be used in standard lamp sockets. (These bulbs should never be confused with germicidal ultraviolet bulbs such as those used in UV sterilizers, which emit UVB or UVC  light, which can pose serious health hazards.) Even though the process of detecting fluorescence is very simple, a few suggestions will help to maximize the effect and make the identification process as reliable as possible:
  • Buy the brightest (highest wattage) blacklight available.
  • Freshly sand/expose the wood grain before testing: this can be critical in detecting fluorescence in some woods.
  • Turn out all other lights for the clearest detection of fluorescence.
  • Be careful not to mistake simple reflections or illumination of the wood surface for fluorescence: the wood should literally glow.
  • The most common colors of fluorescence are green and yellow, but some woods can fluoresce orange, pink, red, etc.
  • While some species will give a strong fluorescent response, many others will only be faintly fluorescent, while the majority of species will exhibit no fluorescence at all.
  • Species that are shown to produce a fluorescent response may still vary from piece to piece in the color and intensity of the fluorescence.
Here is a list of woods that exhibit some level of fluorescent properties when exposed to a black light:
Wood Species Fluorescence notes:
Afzelia faint to medium yellow-green; dependent on species
Albizia bright, uniform green
Amendoim bright streaks of yellow
Araracanga medium uniform yellow/green
Avodire faint to medium streaks of yellow/green
Blackwood, Australian medium streaks of yellow/green
Bloodwood faint to medium uniform blue; not always apparent in wood, but vivid in ethanol extract
Bubinga faint to medium yellow/green; not always present
Buckthorn medium uniform green
Camelthorn medium uniform green
Canarywood faint to medium yellow streaks
Cebil medium to bright streaks of green; surrounding dark areas in heartwood
Cerejeira medium yellow/green
Chechen medium to bright streaks of green
Coffeetree bright uniform yellow/green
Cumaru faint to medium green streaks
Dahoma medium to bright streaks of yellow/green
Ebony, Texas medium uniform yellow/gold; not always present
Elm, Wych faint to medium yellow/green streaks; not always present
Espave faint to medium yellow/green streaks; not always present
Gidgee medium to bright uniform green
Goncalo Alves faint to medium streaks of yellow/green; not always present
Greenheart faint to medium uniform green
Guanacaste medium uniform yellow/gold
Guatambu faint to medium streaks of yellow/green
Hububalli medium to bright streaks of green
Ironwood, Black faint yellow/green streaks; not always present
Ironwood, Desert faint yellow streaks
Izombe faint to medium green
Jatoba faint to medium yellow/orange
Koa medium to bright streaks of green; not always present
Kopie faint uniform yellow/green; not always present
Lancewood faint to medium green streaks (not present in sapwood)
Lebbeck bright, uniform yellow/green
Lemonwood, African faint to medium yellow/green
Locust, Black bright, uniform green
Locust, Honey bright, uniform green
Locust, Water bright, uniform green
Machiche medium, uniform green
Mahogany, Santos faint to medium green streaks
Mangium medium to bright streaks of yellow/green; not always present
Mango bright green streaks in certain portions of heartwood
Merbau medium, uniform green, with bright yellow/green streaks in areas of mineral deposits
Mesquite faint to medium green streaks, dependent on species
Mimosa medium green streaks
Monkeypod faint to medium yellow/green streaks
Monkeythorn medium to bright streaks of yellow/green
Mopane faint to medium yellow/green; not always present
Muninga faint to medium yellow/orange; not always present
Myrtle bright yellow/green streaks in certain portions of heartwood
Narra/Amboyna medium yellow
Olive faint to medium yellow streaks in certain portions of heartwood
Olive, Russian medium uniform green
Opepe faint to medium yellow/green
Orange faint to medium yellow streaks
Padauk, African faint to medium yellow/orange
Panga Panga faint uniform yellow/green; not always present
Partridgewood (Andira spp.) faint yellow streaks; not always present
Peroba Rosa medium uniform yellow/green
Pink Ivory medium streaked pink/red in certain portions of heartwood
Piquia Amarello bright, uniform yellow
Pistachio bright, uniform green
Purpleheart faint to medium yellow/orange streaks; varies by species
Quebracho faint green streaks
Quina faint to medium uniform yellow/green
Raspberry Jam faint to medium uniform yellow/green in heartwood, with bright streak at sapwood/heartwood transition
Redbud, Eastern medium green streaks
Redheart medium uniform orange
Rengas faint to medium uniform yellow/orange
Sassafras, Blackheart medium orange/red streaks in colored heartwood areas
Satinwood, East Indian faint to medium yellow streaks
Satinwood, West Indian faint to medium yellow streaks
Sugi faint uniform pink/red
Sumac, Staghorn medium to bright streaks of green
Tali bright uniform yellow/gold
Tatabu faint green; not always present
Timborana faint to medium green green
Tornillo medium uniform yellow/green
T’zalam faint to medium uniform green
Witels faint to medium uniform yellow
Yellowheart faint to medium uniform yellow

Water extract fluorescence

Also, another trick to do with a blacklight is what is called water extract fluorescence and ethanol (alcohol) extract fluorescence. Some woods, while they don’t physically fluoresce under a blacklight, will have very bright reactions when wood shavings and/or sawdust is mixed in a small vial or other clear container and held up to a blacklight. An excellent example of this is Wenge: the wood doesn’t fluoresce, but something as simple as wiping the surface with denatured alcohol will serve to draw out and concentrate the heartwood extractives, and reveal a bright green fluorescence. The proper way to test for this is to take some small shavings (or sawdust) and place them in a small glass vial with either water (for a water-extract test), or denatured alcohol (for an ethanol-extract test). Alcohol typically results in faster, more vivid, extract fluorescence than using simply water, but water extract tests can be useful when some woods are known to not produce a water-extract fluorescence color, such as Brazilian Rosewood.

Get the hard copy

wood-book-standupIf you’re interested in getting all that makes The Wood Database unique distilled into a single, real-world resource, there’s the book that’s based on the website—the Amazon.com best-seller, WOOD! Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide. It contains many of the most popular articles found on this website, as well as hundreds of wood profiles—laid out with the same clarity and convenience of the website—packaged in a shop-friendly hardcover book.
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William Baxter

I didn’t see flaming boxelder on the list. Very reactive. Pinks and orange.

Peter Foppes

Does Black Locust or other woods still glow after a finish is applied? One of the photos here showed a stick that looked like it had been varnished (or something) but still glowed.


Clear finish will not change the glow. But keep in mind that slow surface oxidation will cause it to diminish over time. Maybe six months to a year. The finish will slow it some.

Elliott stiffler

I have what I think is Red oak and not sure I need it identified can anyone help


I have just checked several samples of recently cut red oak. None glow.

Steve Heslop

I’m currently making a coffee table from a red oak slab. I needed some oak for the legs. In my own collection of wood, I found some pieces that I had marked as “oak”. Once I started cutting and planing it, I was very surprised at how green/yellow it was. It also feels denser and heavier than oak. I started to consider whether it was black locust. I got this wood from a homeowner who was cutting down a few trees: an oak, a maple, and a black locust. I also got some small pieces of black locust from him,… Read more »


I’ve been mildly obsessed with staghorn sumac for some years now. Just carved this spoon from it tonight. Finished weight is just 4 grams and I think I could get it lower if I dug out the bowl better.
But here it is with (and without) blacklight. Finished length of about 6 inches.

Laura Blaylock

Hello! We were driving on a forest road in NM in the early dark morning, above 7000 feet. The berries on the cedars and alligator junipers were glowing in the headlights and a smaller species of cedar also had glowing fronds. There was no ice on the trees but it was cold. What caused this phenomenon? We’ve lived here for 18 months and been up and down the road in the dark and not seen this before!


Hey there Eric. Hope this finds you well! I am trying to identify this hardwood and could really use an expert eye. I think it might be a rosewood? Included is a photo of the end grain as compared to a known sample of cocobolo. The cocobolo is on the left with smaller pores. I also put together a little color chart of known saw dust colors if that helps at all. It’s definitely heavy dense wood. The sawdust doesn’t really smell like much of anything.


ooh interesting. I took the unknown piece to the House of Hardwood (los angeles) and they thought it might be padauk, but it doesn’t match another piece of padauk I have laying around. We can solve that later. Here is a new photo for ya. It’s the supposed piece of cocobolo, bottom half has cutting board oil on it. The little trays I just made both have sides made from the maybe cocobolo and coated with watco wipe-on poly clear satin. The board on the right is another shot of the maybe jatoba? btw I know you do this allll… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Aaron

Not sure if the photo was uploaded so here it is again.

Peter Cordle

Hello Eric, Firstly may I say that I absolutely love your book Wood! It was bought for me as a gift several years ago and i always flick through it in awe of all the different species in the world. I have just come across your section on fluorescent wood and little did I realise that a piece I am currently turning (Black Locust) gives off a beautiful glow. Could you recommend a blacklight torch I should buy? I only ask as I don’t have a clue, all I know from your article above is that it should not produce… Read more »

Charles Coish

Hi I hope someone can help identify this tree that was growing in my buddie’s back yard ( Nova Scotia) until it was morally wounded by a storm and had to be cut down. The wood is very dense and fluoresces yellow under black light. I think it’s black locust but I can’t differentiate it from Honey locust. I would appreciate any input.


Honey locust. Get the plant ID app “Picture This” an awesome resource for anyone curious about plants and trees.


where can i buy correct blacklight bulbs? Pls sent me the picture of this lamp.


Interesting how the sapwood doesn’t fluoresce in this section of a small branch from Black Locust.

Mark Muyskens

The new 365-nm flashlights (~$50) should be fantastic for observing wood fluorescence

Katheen Bonner

These slabs are from the very hardwood trunk which we didn’t encounter until we started digging to make a planting area. We hacked at it and ultimately used a reciprocal saw. 

hardwood samples.jpg.jpg

I tried the black light test on this piece with both ethanol and water. Enthanol extract glowed blue/green. water = no glow. The heartwood sank in water. It has a floral sweet smell but not really roses. Any idea what it could be?

Lee Ann Mortensen

It has a lot of tyloses, too. But what does that tell you?

James Gasaway

That looks like pau ferro to me.

John Grabowski

Black locust, Normal lighting and black light. Thanks to my brother-in-law Eli Brown for the sample.

John Grabowski

Various laminates under 365nm black light. Left to right:
tigerwood (broad yellow stripes)
purpleheart (faint orange)
canarywood and padauk (yellow and orange)
mix (bubinga purpleheart tigerwood padauk)
morado (2 different boards, both faint purple; the blacker board being more reactive) and padauk (orange stripe)

Roy Keith Churchill

Hello Eric,
I just subscribed and look forward to receiving your updates. I bought your book a couple years ago and it’s become a most valuable resource.

I picked up this wood a few months ago at Woodcraft but forgot to write down the species name. It’s now becoming a small box. I can’t find it in your book after a page by page search. It’s medium weight and rather hard.

Can you help with ID? Thanks so much!

Kindest regards,

Roy Churchill
Port Huron, Michigan

Roy Churchill

Thanks so much, Eric!


What if just the knots/burls of the wood glow. Used a black light on the decking of the wood in my front porch and just the knots/burls glow. Has me reallly curious.


This is such a good question and I can think of like 3 possible answers. But I’m not an expert, I just found out the bark I boiled to dye yarn glowed and now I’m diving in to researching, so I’ll keep you in mind and then never be able to find this again to reply.

Summer Majors

Have you seen the MIT research on creating bioluminescent trees to replace streetlights? I’m curious if you have anything to add on such science. Is there any way to use light (any) to reflect the sap circulation within a tree? Love your info and definitely buying the book too! Thanks in advance!

Joshua Ball

So, I was gifted a piece of “padauk” from a person who had purchased it several decades ago. Once I cut it open, it didn’t seem to match. I did a few different density tests and found it to be just around 66 lbs/ft3. I thought it might be bloodwood, so I got a sample of it to check as well against the fluorescence and the difference was as night and day.

That being said, any clue what I got here?

Edit: can’t seem to add photos. Link to imgur here: https://imgur.com/a/P9EYuGp

Last edited 2 years ago by Joshua Ball
Joshua Ball

I will try to get a better shot of the endgrain as soon as I can. My nose is notoriously bad, but I will see what I can get. Thank you!

Joshua Ball

I tried to sand this as best as I can up to 600. I am terrible at identifying smells, but it is very mild and somewhat pleasant? I don’t know what I can compare it to. It doesn’t last long at all. It’s not like I would make a perfume out of it. It is not like anything else I have worked with. It is super dense however. The only other woods I have worked with that are this red are paduk and bloodwood, but it is too dense for paduk, and I confirmed it wasn’t bloodwood with UV. The… Read more »

Last edited 2 years ago by Joshua Ball

does this interesting phenomena have any correlation in the woods other properties?

Alex Ertl

I work at Woodcraft and every so often I look through our lumber with a UV flashlight after we close.

Mango has by far the most interesting fluorescence I’ve come across yet, with astonishingly bright streaks of yellow, green, and sometimes even blue.

Tom White

Oregon Grape will also fluoresce a bright yellow when under a blacklight.

Whelson Pasos

I want the hard copy of this book! how & where to buy?


But WHY does this happen? What are the chemicals responsible for producing fluorescence in wood?


Lots of [minerals fluoresce](https://www.naturesrainbows.com/), with the right impurities, including (table) salt, aka [“halite”](https://www.naturesrainbows.com/photo-archive/tag/Halite), calcium (calcite/apatite/etc). I don’t know the specifics of tree biochemistry, but it would likely vary widely among species, given the differences in colors. There are probably scientific papers behind a paywall somewhere that analyze individual species (or components, like pine needles), although there might not be a comprehensive list. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autofluorescence.

David Karasinski

Wonderful article…I used a black flash light for the first time and walk past my firewood pile one night and almost fell over when 20% of it went PURE BRIGHT YELLOW! I had NO idea what this meant…was it dangerous, could I get sick, is it OK to burn?…or maybe from outer space?
Happy I found your information…THANK YOU!

james josue

still so confusing, how to define faint, medium etc. and so many species with similar appearances !

Dale G. Meyer

Many years ago now my children and I used UV light to explore the wooded area around our house at night for fluorescent response. Insect egg cases, mycorrhizal fungi strands, and other material which was unidentifiable would floresce. I still have a collection of material from that time. At the time, 30 years ago, I called this phenomenon biofluorescence. I wondered what the purpose of biofluorescence was in pine duff and decaying plant material which would never be exposed to UV light from the sun. The article about fluorescent response to UV light in wood left out the American tulip… Read more »


El cedro que color muestra ante la luz negra ?????????


El cedro no fluoresce. No mostrará ningún color. (Cedar doesn’t fluoresce. It won’t show any color).


cedar apparently does not fluoresce


Hello Eric,
Would I ask you a question? My friend found a special kind of wood in Taiwan, and the wood has a strong fluorescent reaction in blacklights. He has collected a lot of kinds of wood and the unknown wood is the only wood that has fluorescent reaction in blacklights. Would you please tell us what the wood’s name is? Thanks!


ps. the right/ fluorescent one is the special wood whose name we are curious about.


I am wanting to make a end-grain cutting board. What type of wood is this ifs heavy tight grain.

Leonard Carter

Need to chime in here – I just bought a flashlight LED blacklight, and I can assure you, it is very powerful and can damage your vision. Most of them are pretty weak and operate around 405 nm (which is practically violet), and barely work as UV lights, but the one I found emits light around 375 nm, which is very effective. It emits enough UV that it can temporarily damage your eyes if you use it long enough and are too close to the subject. I speak from experience!


Not true acecombs. I have personally owned and used several incandescent black light bulbs and they do in deed produce fluorescent effects.


Unfiltered ultraviolet radiation can be harmful to the eyes and skin. Black lightbulbs SHALL NOT be operated without filters. Cracked, chipped, or ill-fittingfilters SHALL be replaced before using the lamp