There's a reason they build boardwalks out of tropical hardwood: It's dense and hard enough to shrug off the insults of skateboards, high heels, hail, and just about anything else you or Ma Nature can muster. Ipe (pronounced EE-pay), the most durable and best known of the Brazilian hardwoods, is three and a half times as hard as teak. Its natural oils deter pests, rot, and decay so well that you could pound a stake of it into the dirt, come back 25 years later, and expect to find it intact. Above ground, ipe can last up to a century—longer than it takes to grow in the first place—making it one of the greenest choices available (assuming it's sustainably harvested). Incredibly, this wood has the same fire rating as steel and concrete.
Add in its rich brown luster, and ipe is the ideal material for decking. Such performance comes at a price, of course, but anyone who decides to make the investment in hardwood decking has other choices, too. Lesser-known tropical species such as cumaru, garapa, cambara, massaranduba, and tigerwood are nearly as amazing. A relatively new candidate for a deck that's as durable as it is attractive comes from Thermory, which takes domestically harvested white ash—the stuff of baseball bats—and heat-treats it in such a way that it's rendered rot resistant and extremely stable.
Whichever grain you go with, here's everything you need to know to make sure you don't go wrong.
Shown: Deck boards made of ipe, sometimes called Brazilian walnut for its handsome hue, provide a stunning backdrop for this outdoor furniture.