There has been some confusion over the correct name for this species. Some authorities place it under Melanorrhoea as M. Usitata Wall., but others have combined Melanorrhoea with Gluta, the treatment we are following here[
Melanorrhoea usitata Wall.
Common Name: Burmese Varnish Tree
Burmese varnish tree is a large, deciduous tree.
The plant is highly valued within its native range for the lacquer that can be tapped from its trunk. It is both utilized locally and also exported. The timber is also of a good quality.
Brief contact with the plant can cause allergies and chemical irritation of the skin[
The sap can cause dermatitis[
]. A resinous exudate from the wood can cause severe skin irritation[
The smoke of the burning wood can cause severe irritation, particularly to the eyes[
Southeast Asia - Myanmar, Thailand.
Open forests, rare in dry forests[
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A natural lacquer or varnish is obtained from the trunk[
]. To obtain the varnish, V-shaped incisions, 22cm long and 15cm apart at the base, are cut on the bark of the trees, the apex pointing down. The tongue of bark within these scars is then slightly lifted up and a specially prepared joint of bamboo driven in horizontally immediately below the apex of the incision. The sap which exudes from the inner bark drains into the bamboo receiver. This is emptied at the end of ten days, when the flow of varnish is observed to become scanty[
]. A second cut is made along each side of the contained tongue of bark, which is also again raised up slightly and the bamboo receiver placed more conveniently to the new scarification. After this has yielded all the varnish that seems likely, a new incision is made a little higher up[
]. It would appear that young trees yield better than fully formed ones[
The tree is largely utilised in its liquid state as a natural varnish, and has the great merit of preserving woodwork. Thickened by sawdust, cow-dung ashes, or bone-ashes to a plastic condition, it is employed as a cement and body material or moulding substance[
]. It may be coloured with lamp-black, gold-leaf, vermilion (not red lead), orpiment, indigo, etc., and applied with a brush or by the hand direct, or to objects revolving on the turning-lathe[
]. When painted on cloth or paper the form used is very thin and pure, but on drying the articles are found to have been rendered waterproof[
]. As a cement it is largely employed in the Burmese glass mosaics, but by far its best-known property is in the manufacture of the so-called Burmese lacquer ware, of which there are four types and centres of production Pagan ; Prome ; Mandalay ; and Manipur leather varnish[
The wood is dark red with yellowish streaks, turning very dark after long exposure[
]. It is very hard[
]. A handsome wood, it is worthy of being better known[
]. It is used for tool handles and anchor stocks, and has been recommended for construction, railway ties, gun stocks etc[
A resinous exudate from the wood can cause severe skin irritation[
]. The poisonous constituent of the resinous sap is volatile and will gradually disappear. For this reason, the timber of this tree must be dried and exposed for several years as it is otherwise dangerous to handle. Lacquered articles or furniture made from the dried timber may still be toxic to persons who are especially susceptible[
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