Traditional wood identification techniques using light microscopy are usually sufficient to identify a wood sample to the genus level. In some cases CITES legislation requires identification to species level, which is difficult or impossible using traditional light microscopy. This paper concentrates mainly on the identification challenges posed by CITES, particularly with ramin (Gonystylus spp.), Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) and Agarwood (Aquilaria and Gyrinops species). All the other CITES listed timbers and some other taxa that are traded or confused with protected species and might in the future be protected by legislation are also discussed. There are several new non-anatomical techniques being tried to make more accurate identifications and these are mentioned where appropriate.
There is a mismatch between legislation and the natural world, and the limitations of the identification process need to be better appreciated by enquirers, especially in relation to CITES enquiries, since species and genus concepts vary among biologists, and can be ambiguous.