Prota 7(2): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 2
Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 53: 361 (1915).
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.
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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.