Purple Heart cannot be mistaken for any other timber, for its whole surface is a bright clear purple colour. This is due to a remarkable natural pigment, found only in the heart-wood, the sap is whitish with purple streaks and remains so. When the heart-wood is first exposed by cutting, it is horn coloured. Exposure to the air causes it to turn, within a few days, bright purple on the surface. But this colour is only about a twentieth of an inch deep, and further cutting will expose pale surfaces, which become purple in their turn. Long exposure to sun and rain renders the surface black, but it is constant enough when used indoors.
Purple heart is remarkable heavy, strong and tough weighing 54lb to the cubic foot. It grows in Central American rain forests and shows no marked features of annual rings, rays or pores. Figured wood is rare and correspondingly valuable. In Europe small quantities of Purple heart are used for fine turning and cabinet work, but the main demand is for veneers and inlays.
Purple heart is cut from several species of tall trees that belong to the genus Peltogyne, the commonest being Porphyrocardia. They grow along river banks and lake shores in central and South America, from Panama to Venezuela, Trinidad, Surinam, Guyana and Northern Brazil. Some have heights of 125 feet and girths of 12 feet. The leaves are leathery in texture, the bark is smooth and grey, and the trunk is round without buttresses.