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Cussonia zimmermannii Harms

Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 53: 361 (1915).
Vernacular names
Mbomba maji, mpapayi mwitu (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Cussonia zimmermannii occurs in eastern Kenya, eastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
The wood is used for coffins, drums, boats and carvings. It is suitable for furniture and light interior construction. It is also used as firewood, although of low quality for this purpose.
Roots are used in the treatment of mental illness and bleeding after childbirth, and also to facilitate childbirth. Root decoctions are taken or used as a wash to treat fever and malaria, and administered against gonorrhoea. The marrow of stem and branches is eaten as a treatment of epilepsy.
The heartwood is whitish and indistinctly demarcated from the sapwood. The texture is moderately fine. The wood is lightweight, with a density of about 400 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, soft and brittle. The wood is easy to air dry, with little degrade. It is easy to saw and work, and planes to a smooth surface. The wood is not durable; it is susceptible to fungal attacks such as blue stain.
Extracts of the root bark showed promising results in the γ-aminobutyric acid type-A (GABAA) receptor binding assay, and also showed in-vitro antiprotozoal activity against Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and Plasmodium falciparum. Several polyacetylenes and stigmasterol have been isolated from the root bark. Some of the polyacetylenes showed activity against Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, Trypanosoma cruzi, Plasmodium falciparum and Leishmania donovani. These results support the use of Cussonia zimmermannii in traditional medicine.
Small to medium-sized tree up to 25(–45) m tall; bole straight; bark surface grey to greenish grey, fissured and scaly; crown rounded, dense; twigs glabrous. Leaves arranged spirally, clustered at ends of branches, digitately compound with 5–7(–9) leaflets; stipules partly fused with petiole; petiole up to 50 cm long; leaflets sessile, elliptical to obovate, 5–25 cm × 2–8 cm, cuneate at base, acute to acuminate at apex, margins toothed to nearly entire, papery to leathery, glabrous, pinnately veined. Inflorescence a spike-like raceme 8–34 cm long, up to 14 together at ends of branches; bracts up to 4 mm long, often many close together at base of inflorescence. Flowers bisexual, regular, usually 5-merous, 4–8 mm in diameter, greenish white; pedicel 3–5 mm long; calyx with short teeth; petals free; stamens alternating with petals, inserted on a disk; ovary inferior, 2-celled, styles 2, short, fused at base. Fruit an obconical to globose drupe-like berry up to 6 mm long, greenish white, glabrous or slightly hairy. Seeds ovoid-globose, slightly compressed, with ruminate endosperm.
Cussonia comprises about 20 species and is restricted to mainland tropical Africa. The wood of several other species is used, but is usually considered of little value and only available in smaller sizes because the tree boles are often smaller and more poorly shaped than those of Cussonia zimmermannii.
One of the most widely distributed species is Cussonia arborea Hochst. ex A.Rich., of which the primary use is for medicinal purposes, as is the case for Cussonia spicata Thunb. occurring in mountain forest in East and southern Africa.
The whitish, soft wood of Cussonia bancoensis Aubrév. & Pellegr., a medium-sized tree up to 20(–30) m tall with a bole diameter up to 60(–100) cm occurring from Liberia to Nigeria (although it has been suggested that it is only native to Ghana and planted elsewhere), is used in Ghana for drums, utensils and tool handles. The bark showed antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory activities, possibly due to the presence of terpenoids such as 23-hydroxyursolic acid. Saponins have also been isolated from the bark, as well as stigmasterol.
The wood of Cussonia holstii Harms ex Engl. is also whitish and soft, and used for doors, beehives, utensils, tool handles and musical instruments. Cussonia holstii is a small to medium-sized tree up to 15(–20) m tall with a bole diameter up to 60(–100) cm occurring from DR Congo to Ethiopia and Somalia, and south to Tanzania. A bark decoction is used to expel the placenta after childbirth, to stop vomiting, and against diarrhoea in livestock. Bark and root decoctions are administered to improve the health of children and to treat blood diseases. The leaves serve as forage for goats, donkeys and camels. A bark extract showed pronounced activity against Trichomonas vaginalis; the pentacyclic triterpenoid hederagenin was isolated as the active constituent.
Cussonia zimmermannii is found in coastal evergreen forest and bushland, also in forest margins, up to 400 m altitude. It occurs in rainforest as well as drier evergreen forest.
Genetic resources and breeding
Cussonia zimmermannii has a rather limited distribution in an area where there is much pressure on the forest. It may easily become threatened by genetic erosion and protection measures may be necessary, as is the case for the West African Cussonia bancoensis, which is already included in the IUCN Red List as vulnerable.
The wood of Cussonia zimmermannii is of rather poor quality, as is the case for other Cussonia spp., but it will probably remain of some importance for local applications. Interesting pharmacological activities of the bark have been demonstrated. These warrant more attention, also in the view of the promising results of pharmacological research on other Cussonia spp. and their constituents.
Major references
• Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
• Chikamai, B.N., Githiomi, J.K., Gachathi, F.N. & Njenga, M.G., undated. Commercial timber resources of Kenya. Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Nairobi, Kenya. 164 pp.
• Senn, M.W., 2006. Structures and evaluation of biologically active constituents of Cussonia zimmermannii Harms. Inauguraldissertation, University of Basel, Switzerland. [Internet] diss/2006/ DissB_7526.pdf. Accessed January 2008.
• Senn, M., Gunzenhauser, S., Brun, R. & Séquin, U., 2007. Antiprotozoal polyacetylenes from the Tanzanian medicinal plant Cussonia zimmermannii. Journal of Natural Products 70(10): 1565–1569.
• Tennant, J.R., 1968. Araliaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 24 pp.
Other references
• Cannon, J.F.M., 1978. Araliaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 4. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 621–632.
• Gessler, M.C., Nkunya, M.H.H., Mwasumbi, L.B., Heinrich, M. & Tanner, M., 1994. Screening Tanzanian medicinal plants for antimalarial activity. Acta Tropica 56: 65–77.
• He, W., van Puyvelde, L., Maes, L., Bosselaers, J. & de Kimpe, N., 2003. Antitrichomonas in vitro activity of Cussonia holstii Engl. Natural Product Research 17(2): 127–133.
• Heine, B. & Heine, I., 1988. Plant concepts and plant use; an ethnobotanical survey of the semi-arid and arid lands of East Africa. Part 1. Plants of the Chamus (Kenya). Cologne Development Studies 6. Breitenbach, Saarbrücken, Germany. 103 pp.
• Holmgren, M., Poorter, L., Siepel, A., Bongers, F., Buitelaar, M., Chatelain, C., Gautier, L., Hawthorne, W.D., Helmink, A.T.F., Jongkind, C.C.H., Os-Breijer, H.J., Wieringa, J.J. & van Zoest, A.R., 2004. Ecological profiles of rare and endemic species. In: Poorter, L., Bongers, F., Kouamé, F.N’. & Hawthorne, W.D. (Editors). Biodiversity of West African forests. An ecological atlas of woody plant species. CAB International, Wallingford, United Kingdom. pp. 101–389.
• Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• Maundu, P. & Tengnäs, B. (Editors), 2005. Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre - East and Central Africa Regional Programme (ICRAF-ECA), Technical Handbook 35, Nairobi, Kenya. 484 pp.
• Maundu, P., Berger, D., Saitabau, C., Nasieku, J., Kipelian, M., Mathenge, S., Morimoto, Y. & Höft, R., 2001. Ethnobotany of the Loita Maasai. Towards community management of the forest of the Lost Child. Experiences from the Loita Ethnobotany Project. UNESCO People and Plants Working Paper 8, Paris, France. 34 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
D. Louppe
CIRAD, Département Environnements et Sociétés, Cirad es-dir, Campus international de Baillarguet, TA C-DIR / B (Bât. C, Bur. 113), 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
A.A. Oteng-Amoako
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana

Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2009. Cussonia zimmermannii Harms. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Louppe, D. & Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editors). Prota 7(2): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 2. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.