Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Just’s Bot. Jahresber. 27, 1: 480 (1901).
Purple-stem commiphora, purple-stem corkwood (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Commiphora multijuga occurs in Namibia, mainly in Kaokoland from the Kunene River southwards to Welwitschia. It is also recorded from Angola.
The twigs have a pleasant taste and are used to clean the teeth. The soft wood is carved into utensils such as spoons, plates, bowls and buckets. The resin and the powdered bark are used as perfume. The leaves are browsed by livestock. Commiphora multijuga is a very attractive tree with contrasting bark and delicate leaves, and it has horticultural potential for frost-free areas. The tree has religious significance for local people.
The sticky, colourless resin, which can squirt up to 10 cm high when twigs are broken, is very painful when it gets into the eyes and can cause blinding.
Dioecious, deciduous shrub or small tree 3–8 m tall, usually single-stemmed; bark reddish or purplish grey to dark brown, smooth, not peeling but sometimes cracked on old stems; young branchlets sparsely pubescent to pubescent. Leaves spirally arranged, imparipinnately compound, 4–10-jugate, sparsely pubescent or almost glabrous; petiole 1.5–6 cm long, slender; rachis 4–20 cm long; petiolules 0.5–1.5 cm long, slender; leaflets drooping, asymmetrically elliptical, broadly elliptical to almost rotund or diamond-shaped, 1–2.5 cm × 1–2 cm, with terminal leaflet smaller than lateral ones, base acuminate, rounded or square, apex acuminate, margin entire, glabrous, midvein prominent above. Inflorescence consisting of simple or compound dichasial cymes or thyrsoid, up to 5 cm long, glabrous or sparsely pubescent. Flowers unisexual, perigynous, 4-merous, cream-coloured to yellow; pedicel 1–4 mm long, glabrous or sparsely pubescent; calyx glabrous or sparsely pubescent; petals conspicuously recurved; disc 4-lobed, upper part of lobes free but lower part adnate to hypanthium; stamens 8, rudimentary in female flowers; ovary 2-celled, stigma capitate, gynoecium rudimentary in male flowers. Fruit a subglobose drupe c. 15 mm × 15 mm × 14 mm, splitting into 2 valves, glabrous; endocarp hardened, smooth; pseudo-aril red, cupular with 4 arms of equal length reaching almost to the apex of the stone.
The plants are very aromatic. Large quantities of colourless, pungent and sticky resin exude when twigs are cut. Flowering starts in September; it peaks and ends in December. Fruits mature in (December–)March–April. New leaves appear in November and trees are in full leaf from December until March.
Commiphora comprises about 190 species, of which 150 in Africa.
Commiphora virgata Engl. (‘slender corkwood’, ‘twiggy commiphora’) is a shrub or small tree up to 3(–5) m tall, also occurring in Angola and Namibia, where it usually grows at altitudes of 400–1000 m on rocky hills or stony slopes, sometimes sympatrically with Commiphora multijuga. It has a yellowish white to silvery bark, peeling around the stems in papery strips, and 3-foliolate leaves. It is used similarly to Commiphora multijuga. Additionally, decoctions of the leaves, bark and stem are used in traditional medicine for the treatment of cough, colds, stomach disorders, heart and chest pains, and as a tonic, and the roots, bark and twigs are chewed, sometimes after cooking, to aid digestion after eating meat.
Commiphora multijuga occurs at 100–1100 m altitude in hot and arid regions (average annual rainfall 50–450 mm), on hill slopes and rocky outcrops, growing on various rock types. It does not tolerate frost.
The plant parts used are only collected from the wild. The 1000-seed weight is about 230 g. The tree can be coppiced.
Genetic resources and breeding
Commiphora multijuga has a small area of distribution, but is locally common. For genetic erosion, it is classified in the least risk category in Namibia, but is not included in the IUCN Red list.
Commiphora multijuga is likely to remain of minor use only.
• Curtis, B. & Mannheimer, C., 2005. Tree Atlas of Namibia. National Botanical Research Institute, Windhoek, Namibia. 674 pp. [Internet] http://www.biodiversity.org.na/ treeatlas/SpPDFs/ Sp161.pdf. Accessed March 2010.
• Roux, J.P., 2003. Burseraceae. In: Flora of South Africa. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town, South Africa.
• SEPASAL, 2010. Commiphora multijuga. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. http://www.kew.org/ ceb/sepasal/. Accessed August 2010.
• van der Walt, J.J.A., 1986. Burseraceae. In: Leistner, O.A. (Editor). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 18, part 3. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agriculture and Water Supply, Pretoria, South Africa. pp. 5–34.
• van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P., 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 536 pp.
• Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
• Irish, J., s.d.. Namibian Biodiversity Database. [Internet] http://www.biodiversity.org.na/index.php Accessed March 2009.
• Liu, K., Eastwood, R.J., Flynn, S., Turner, R.M. & Stuppy, W.H., 2008. Commiphora multijuga. [Internet] Seed Information Database Release 7.1, May 2008. http://data.kew.org/sid/. Accessed August 2010.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Tönsjost, S., 2007. Plants and pastures. Local knowledge on livestock-environment relationships among OvaHerero pastoralists in north-western Namibia. Kölner Ethnologische Beiträge. Heft 23. Institut für Ethnologie, Universität zu Köln, Cologne, Germany. 91 pp.
• van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
• van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P., 2007. How to identify trees in southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 184 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Oyen, L.P.A., 2011. Commiphora multijuga (Hiern) K.Schum. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.