Prota 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins
Oliv., Fl. trop. Afr. 3: 161 (1877).
Origin and geographic distribution
Craterispermum schweinfurthii is found from Nigeria, throughout central and eastern Africa, and south to Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The bark and leaves of Craterispermum schweinfurthii are a source of yellow and brown dyes used for dyeing cotton cloth. In DR Congo the dead wood, kept in moist conditions, becomes red and is used in the preparation of a red ointment (‘nkula’, also prepared from other sources) used to colour the face in traditional ceremonies. In Angola the species is valued as a live fence because of its resistance to fire and ease of cultivation. The fragrant flowers are a good bee forage. Twigs are used as toothpicks, toothbrushes and chewing sticks. The hard and tough wood is used for building poles, tool handles, sticks, firewood and charcoal. Applications in traditional medicine are numerous. The bark is chewed to cure coughs and whooping cough, a bark decoction is drunk in cases of stomach affections, fever, diarrhoea and used in vapour baths against rheumatism, oedema and sting-pain; powdered bark is applied to sores and wounds. Roots, bark and fruits are chewed and the juice taken against venereal diseases and as an aphrodisiac.
No research on the dye or tannin content of this species appears to have been published, but the closely related Craterispermum laurinum (DC.) Benth. has been shown to be a strong aluminium accumulator. Such plants are used as mordants instead of alums in traditional dyeing techniques in different parts of the world and they often also contain colorants.
Shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 15 m tall, glabrous, with grey-white, warty bark. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules triangular, situated between the petioles, up to 5 mm long; petiole 1–2 cm long; blade elliptical, oblong, obovate or oblanceolate, 5–17 cm × 2–8 cm, base cuneate, apex obtuse to acuminate, leathery, pinnately veined. Inflorescence a cyme situated slightly above leaf axil, compact and head-like; peduncle stout, up to 1 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, heterostylous, sweet-scented, sessile; calyx tubular to cup-shaped, up to 3 mm long, with small teeth; corolla salver- or funnel-shaped, white, tube 4–6 mm long, densely hairy inside, lobes oblong-ovate, 3–6 mm long; stamens inserted at the throat of the corolla, anthers with tips just exserted in long-styled flowers, completely exserted in short-styled flowers; ovary inferior, 2-celled, style filiform, c. 7 mm long in long-styled flowers, up to 4 mm long in short-styled flowers, stigma 2-lobed. Fruit a sessile drupe 5–6 mm in diameter, crowned with persistent calyx, 1-seeded. Seed bowl-shaped, 2–3 mm long, dark brown.
Craterispermum comprises 15–20 species and is distributed in mainland Africa, Madagascar and the Seychelles. It is classified in subfamily Rubioideae, tribe Craterispermeae. Craterispermum schweinfurthii has long been thought to be identical to Craterispermum laurinum (DC.) Benth. from West Africa, which differs in its longer peduncles with often branched inflorescences, truncate calyx and stalked fruits.
Craterispermum cerinanthum Hiern from West Africa is closely related or possibly identical to Craterispermum schweinfurthii; its 1 cm thick, white bark is said to be edible. The leaves of Craterispermum dewevrei De Wild. & T.Durand are used to cure wounds in Gabon.
Craterispermum schweinfurthii is found in evergreen fringing forest along water, swamp forest, drier evergreen forest and thickets, from sea-level up to 1500 m altitude.
Craterispermum schweinfurthii is easily propagated by cuttings; this is practised in Angola for live fencing.
Genetic resources and breeding
Craterispermum schweinfurthii is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.
Craterispermum schweinfurthii will probably remain locally of minor importance as a source of a yellow, brown or red dye. Its chemical composition and medicinal properties need more investigation for a better evaluation.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Craterispermum schweinfurthii Hiern In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.