Purpleheart is a catchall name for a number of species found in Central and South America in the Peltogyne genus that have purple-colored heartwood. Despite the unusual hue, purpleheart is relatively common for an exotic wood and is used for a wide variety of applications from decorative accents to marine duty.
It is hard, heavy and dense, resistant to denting, bending, insect attack and decay. Because of these properties, it can be hard to work with, in particularly planing, where tearout of the grain is very common, even on boards without dramatic figuring. Interestingly, purpleheart tends to become more violet with exposure to light (at least in the short term) while most woods with intense coloration when first cut tend to fade or darken over time.
The first time I bought purpleheart was from Alva Hardwoods in LaBelle, Florida, which is east of Fort Myers. Merrill Johnson, the owner, has an incredible stash of wood, ranging from salvaged material from the 18th century to exotic turning stock. He had some small but vibrantly colored cut-offs that I ended up using for cutting boards.
I have also found some good deals on purpleheart from Harlan at Cocobolo, Inc. and from a guy named Tim on Craigslist in Fort Myers who had 3"x 3" x 48" posts that were originally cut to be used for cribbage underneath docks. These posts are much different than what I have found elsewhere, with a duller color and softer, coarser surface.
Because of its eye-catching color, Purpleheart can add a dramatic touch to the right project and is a personal favorite.