Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1
London Journ. Bot. 3: 88 (1844).
Mimosaceae (Leguminosae - Mimosoideae)
2n = 26
Albizia angolensis Welw. ex Oliv. (1871).
West African albizia (En). Mufufuta, kambala escura (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Albizia ferruginea is widespread, occurring from Senegal east to Uganda and south to northern Angola.
The wood of Albizia ferruginea is known under the trade names iatandza (Gabon), awiemfosamina (Ghana) and musase (Liberia). It is used for construction, light and heavy flooring, staircases, furniture, cabinet making, joinery, turnery, implements (e.g. mortars), carvings, glued laminated timber and veneer. It is also suitable for carpentry, mine props, vehicle bodies, toys and novelties, musical instruments, railway sleepers, boxes and crates. In south-eastern DR Congo the wood is commonly used for charcoal production.
Albizia ferruginea is planted as an ornamental shade tree and roadside tree. The leaf litter improves the soil, and the tree is being tested for shade and mulch in agroforestry. The foliage is eaten by goats. The leaves are sometimes used for washing clothes. The flowers produce nectar collected by bees. Branchlets have been used as firesticks.
The bark is used in traditional medicine; a decoction is administered to treat dysentery, bronchial affections and pain caused by fever, and it is applied externally to sores, pimples and other skin complaints. It is also used as a vermifuge. A bark maceration is drunk and applied as a wash to treat jaundice. Leaf decoctions are used externally to treat headache, and as a wash or steam inhalation against fever (including malaria) and toothache; they are also applied as a wash to kill head lice. A leaf maceration is administered as an enema to induce abortion. The bark is also used in veterinary medicine. In Cameroon the root bark and the gum from the stem bark are used in the preparation of arrow poison. The leaves serve as fish poison in the Central African Republic.
Production and international trade
Albizia ferruginea timber has some importance on the international market, although it is considered a lesser-used timber. It is often mixed with timber of other Albizia spp. In Ghana the export volume of sawn Albizia timber in the first half of 2004 was 240 m³, with a value of about US$ 250,000.
The heartwood is yellowish brown to reddish brown, with a golden or occasionally purplish shine, and distinctly demarcated from the 3–7 cm wide pale yellow to pinkish brown sapwood. The grain is interlocked, texture coarse. Radial surfaces show a nice figure.
The wood is moderately heavy, with a density of 500–700(–820) kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It dries slowly, but generally with little degrade. The rates of shrinkage are moderately low, from green to oven dry 2.2–3.5% radial and 4.6–5.4% tangential. Once dry, the wood is stable in service.
At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 65–114 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 9200–14,500 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 41–65 N/mm², shear 6–8.5 N/mm², cleavage 16–20.5 N/mm, Janka side hardness 3870–5600 N and Janka end hardness 4800–6760 N.
The wood generally saws and works easily with ordinary hand and machine tools, but the force required depends on the density. A small cutting angle is needed to avoid tearing. The use of a filler is recommended to obtain a good finish. The wood holds nails and screws well, but pre-boring is advised to prevent splitting. The gluing, steam-bending and veneering properties are all good. The wood dust may cause irritation to nose and throat.
The heartwood is durable. It is resistant to fungi and dry-wood borers, and usually also to termites, although wood from Liberia is reportedly liable to termite attack. The heartwood is resistant to impregnation with preservatives, the sapwood is permeable.
The bark from roots and bole contains high amounts of saponins, and the root bark also alkaloids. The content of protein in the leaves was 38%, and that of crude fibre 41%, both of which are comparatively high. In another test the crude protein content was only about 25%, while the leaves had a C/N ratio of 11.4, a lignin/N ratio of 10.3 and a polyphenol/N ratio of 0.82, indicating that the leaf litter is slow to decompose.
Large deciduous tree up to 45(–50) m tall; bole branchless for up to 22(–30) m, straight and cylindrical, up to 100(–130) cm in diameter, without buttresses or sometimes with small, thick buttresses up to 1.5 m high; bark yellowish brown to dark grey, rough and scaly, inner bark fibrous, yellowish to orange-brown, with darker stripes and clear or honey-coloured gum; crown dome-shaped, heavily branched, with fairly spreading branches; young branches densely rusty hairy. Leaves alternate, bipinnately compound with 3–7 pairs of pinnae; stipules awl-shaped, caducous; petiole (2–)3–4.5(–6) cm long, at the middle of upper side with a sessile gland, rachis (2–)4–15 cm long, rusty hairy; leaflets in 6–14(–20) pairs per pinna, sessile, elliptical to oblong, slightly oblique, 1–2.5 cm × 0.5–1 cm, rounded at apex, densely pubescent below. Inflorescence an axillary head on (2–)5–10 cm long peduncle. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, white to yellow, subtended by up to 7 mm long bracteoles; pedicel up to 3 mm long; calyx 3–6 mm long, with long tube and short lobes, densely rusty pubescent outside; corolla 9–13 mm long, with c. 6 mm long tube, rusty pubescent outside; stamens numerous, 3–5.5 cm long, united into a tube in lower half; ovary superior, c. 3 mm long, gradually tapering into an up to 3 cm long style. Fruit an oblong, flat pod 15–24 cm × 3–5 cm, glabrous, transversely veined, yellowish brown when ripe, opening with 2 papery valves, c. 10-seeded. Seeds flattened globose to ellipsoid, 7–10 mm × 4.5–8 mm. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 4–6 cm long, epicotyl 1–2.5 cm long; cotyledons c. 1 cm long, thick and fleshy, rounded, early caducous; first 2 leaves opposite, one pinnately compound and the other bipinnately compound.
Other botanical information
Albizia comprises about 120 species and occurs throughout the tropics. Approximately 35 species are found in continental Africa and about 30 in Madagascar. It is characterized by the head-like inflorescence, with 1–2 central flowers modified, functionally male and having a larger, nectar-producing staminal tube. Molecular analyses showed that Albizia is heterogeneous, and a revision of the genus is needed.
Albizia coriaria Welw. ex Oliv. closely resembles Albizia ferruginea. It differs in its less densely hairy leaves and flowers, and in its stamen filaments being red above (whitish or greenish in Albizia ferruginea). The two species are much confused in the literature, and used for similar purposes, as timber, firewood, charcoal, ornamental, forage and medicinal plant. Albizia coriaria is a smaller tree, rarely up to 35 m tall, and occurs from Côte d’Ivoire eastwards to Ethiopia and Kenya, and south to eastern Tanzania, Zambia and northern Angola. In West Africa Albizia coriaria occurs particularly in the transition zone between savanna and dry forest, whereas Albizia ferruginea is more characteristic for semi-deciduous forest. In East Africa the former occurs in wooded grassland and riverine forest at 850–1700 m altitude, the latter in lowland rainforest at 800–1200 m altitude.
Albizia malacophylla (A.Rich.) Walp. may be confused with Albizia ferruginea, but it is a small tree up to 15 m tall, with grey to whitish hairs on the calyx. It occurs from Senegal to Uganda in wooded savanna and dry forest, and its wood is used to make pestles and as firewood. Its gum is used to mend broken pottery, its foliage is browsed by camels, and its roots are used to treat conjunctivis and backache.
Albizia tanganyicensis Baker f. (paperbark albizia) also shows some resemblance to Albizia ferruginea, but it differs in its peeling, brownish red, papery bark revealing the creamy young bark, its broader leaflets, its flowers usually produced before the new leaves, and its thicker pod valves. It is a small to medium-sized tree up to 20 m tall of deciduous woodland from Kenya and Tanzania south to Mozambique and South Africa and from there west to Angola. Its light and whitish wood is occasionally used, e.g. for carving. Root powder is rubbed into scarifications to treat swollen legs and is used as a tonic. A root infusion is drunk against impotence and a bark decoction to treat cough. Pods and seeds of Albizia tanganyicensis are poisonous to livestock; young pods are most toxic.
Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):
Growth rings: (1: growth ring boundaries distinct); (2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent). Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; (23: shape of alternate pits polygonal); 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); 29: vestured pits; 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; 43: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina ≥ 200 μm; 46: ≤ 5 vessels per square millimetre; (47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre); 58: gums and other deposits in heartwood vessels. Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 65: septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled. Axial parenchyma: 79: axial parenchyma vasicentric; 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 81: axial parenchyma lozenge-aliform; 83: axial parenchyma confluent; 91: two cells per parenchyma strand; 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand. Rays: (97: ray width 1–3 cells); (98: larger rays commonly 4- to 10-seriate); 104: all ray cells procumbent; 115: 4–12 rays per mm. Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.
(P. Ng’andwe, H. Beeckman & P.E. Gasson)
Growth and development
In exposed sites, seedlings may grow up to 3 m tall in 5 years. In Ghana seedlings reached a height of 2 m within 2 years. In a selection test for agroforestry species on acid, aluminium toxic soils in southern Cameroon, seedlings reached a height of hardly 2 m in 20 months, which was less than 20% of the height of the best performing species (Inga edulis Mart. and Pterocarpus santalinoides L’Hér. ex DC.). The roots develop nitrogen-fixing nodules. Albizia ferruginea is highly dependent on arbuscular mycorrhizae. The leaves show sleep movements at night. Leaves fall after the rainy season, and new flushes are red. In Liberia trees flower in February and March, and the fruits ripen in December to February. The fruits dehisce on the tree and the papery valves with seeds still attached are spread by wind.
Albizia ferruginea occurs in lowland semi-deciduous and evergreen forest, in Uganda up to 1200 m altitude. In West Africa it is most common in semi-deciduous forest, but it can also be found in lower numbers in forested savanna on the one hand, and evergreen forest on the other hand.
Propagation and planting
While the germination rate of seeds in the light and dark may be equal, seedlings are strong light demanders and soon die out in the shade. Regeneration may be abundant at the start of the rainy season. There are about 14,000–20,000 seeds per kg. Germination takes 4–10 days. Mechanical scarification in addition to soaking in water for 24 hours enhances germination; up to 80% germination can be reached after pre-treatment. Usually direct seeding is practised. Wildlings are sometimes collected for planting.
Experiments in Ghana showed that Albizia ferruginea can be successfully propagated vegetatively by root cuttings, without the application of rooting hormone.
Trees coppice well, but rates of regrowth, wood and leaf production have been slow in experiments.
Diseases and pests
In Côte d’Ivoire a high incidence of attack by bruchid beetles on the seeds of Albizia ferruginea has been recorded.
Handling after harvest
Freshly harvested logs do not float in water and cannot be transported by river. They are usually conveyed by truck. Although logs are moderately durable, treatment is recommended if they are to be left in the forest for some time, especially to protect the sapwood against sapstain.
Although Albizia ferruginea is widespread in tropical Africa, it is classified as vulnerable in the IUCN 2006 Red list of threatened species, due to overexploitation. In Ghana it is considered still common, but under serious pressure from heavy exploitation.
In West Africa Albizia ferruginea is considered a potential substitute for some economic timber species that are threatened by exploitation. However, research is needed to study its silviculture and interaction with other crops and other tree species in agroforestry systems. In Nigeria Albizia ferruginea has been recommended for planting in fuelwood plantations.
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Correct citation of this article:
Twum-Ampofo, K., 2007. Albizia ferruginea (Guill. & Perr.) Benth. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering twig; 2, leaflet; 3, flower; 4, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman
bark and slash
leaves and fruits
obtained from Carlton McLendon, Inc.
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section