Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1
Hook., Niger Fl.: 332 (1849).
Mimosaceae (Leguminosae - Mimosoideae)
2n = 26
Pithecellobium altissimum (Hook.f.) Oliv. (1871), Cathormion altissimum (Hook.f.) Hutch. & Dandy (1928), Arthrosamanea altissima (Hook.f.) G.C.C.Gilbert & Boutique (1952).
Origin and geographic distribution
Albizia altissima occurs from Sierra Leone east to Uganda, and south to Zambia and Angola.
The wood is used locally for furniture and implements, e.g. tool handles. The bark is used in traditional medicine in Sierra Leone and DR Congo; a decoction is used as an anodyne to treat toothache and stomach-ache, and against pulmonary affections, and externally to treat sores. The bark also serves as fish poison. Scraped inner bark beaten up in water is used as soap to wash clothes. In DR Congo a leaf decoction is used in a vapour bath to treat colds. Burned leaves are applied to snakebites. The fruits are used for tanning and dyeing, and to prepare ink and soap. The fruit pulp and the seeds are edible. In Nigeria fermented seeds called ‘oso’ are used as condiment in soups.
Production and international trade
Albizia altissima is traded with other Albizia spp. as ‘Albizia’.
The heartwood is pale brown to yellowish brown, often with darker stripes, and distinctly demarcated from the whitish sapwood. The grain is often wavy or interlocked, texture moderately fine. The wood is moderately heavy and hard. The shrinkage rates are 4.6% radial and 7.4% tangential from green to oven dry. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is about 128 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 8920 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 60 N/mm² and shear 10 N/mm². Reports on workability vary from easy to difficult; when finished the wood has an attractive polish. The wood is durable.
Saponins are present in different parts of the plant, especially the bark, which explains the use as fish poison and soap and possibly also some medicinal applications. The bark showed antifungal activity against pathogens affecting humans and plants. Imidazole, a compound with antifungal and antibacterial activities, has been isolated from the seeds. Analysis of fermented seeds showed 25.3% protein, 16.9% lipid and 10.0% carbohydrate. Several bacteria are responsible for the fermentation process.
Small to fairly large tree up to 35 m tall; bole often short and bent, up to 80 cm in diameter; bark scaly, dull grey to brown; crown open, spreading, flat-topped, often with pendent branches; young branches shortly hairy. Leaves alternate, bipinnately compound, with 4–8 pairs of pinnae; petiole and rachis shortly hairy, with glands on the upper side between the pinnae; leaflets opposite in 10–25 pairs per pinna but lowest leaflet solitary, slightly obliquely oblong, 7–17 mm × 2.5–6 mm, glabrous. Inflorescence an axillary globose head, 1–3 together; peduncle 1–4.5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, usually 5-merous, white, sessile; one to several central flowers in each flower head larger; calyx cup-shaped, 3–3.5 mm long, with short teeth; corolla funnel-shaped, 5–8.5 mm long, glabrous; stamens numerous, united at base, c. 12 mm long; ovary superior, 1-celled, style filiform, about as long as stamens. Fruit a narrowly oblong pod 10–28 cm × 1–2 cm, curved or spirally twisted, compressed, red-brown to blackish, constricted between the seeds, up to 20-seeded, breaking up into 1-seeded segments. Seeds oblong to lens-shaped, flattened, 6–9 mm × 6.5–7 mm, smooth, brown. Seedling with epigeal germination.
Albizia comprises about 120 species and occurs in all tropical regions. In continental Africa about 35 species occur, in Madagascar about 30 species. Some African species, including Albizia altissima, with pods breaking up into 1-seeded segments have been included in Cathormion. However, all transitions from indehiscent segmented pods to dehiscent pods which are indistinctly segmented can be found, and thus these species have been transferred to Albizia.
Another species with pods breaking up into 1-seeded segments is Albizia rhombifolia Benth. (synonym: Cathormion rhombifolium (Benth.) Keay), which occurs from Senegal to Sierra Leone and differs from Albizia altissima in its fewer and larger leaflets, stalked flowers and shorter pods. The wood of Albizia rhombifolia, which is a small tree up to 10 m tall, is used in Sierra Leone to make bed-posts.
Albizia altissima nodulates with Bradyrhizobium bacteria. In experiments in Côte d’Ivoire, inoculation had a positive effect on plant height and stem diameter measured at 4 and 11 months after inoculation. In Côte d’Ivoire seeds usually germinate 6–30 days after sowing, and fruiting occurs from March to May.
Albizia altissima characteristically occurs in riverine forest and freshwater swamp forest, but can also be found in secondary forest.
The 1000-seed weight is about 100 g.
Genetic resources and breeding
Albizia altissima is widespread and there are no indications that it is threatened by genetic erosion.
Albizia altissima will probably remain a minor timber tree because of its specific ecological requirements and short, often bent bole. If industrial production of ‘oso’ becomes feasible, possibilities for domestication of the species deserve investigation.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2006. Albizia altissima Hook.f. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section