Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Rapp. Annuel Trav. Soc. Hist. Nat. Ile Maurice 12: 46 (1841).
Sterculiaceae (APG: Malvaceae)
Origin and geographic distribution
Dombeya elliptica is endemic to Madagascar. It has been grown in the ‘Jardin des Pamplemousses’ in Mauritius.
Fibre from the bark is used for making rope. Properly prepared, it can be woven in the same way as jute. The bark was formerly made into barkcloth. The fruits are eaten.
The bark fibre is recorded to be of good quality. The wood is white, soft and brittle.
Shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall, almost entirely covered with 2 types of stellate hairs, one reddish and dense, the other brown, longer and less dense; bole up to 25 cm in diameter; young branches hairy, older ones glabrous or glabrescent, striate, glandular. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules ovate-oblong, c. 3 mm long, caducous; petiole 0.5–3 cm long, cylindrical, densely hairy; blade very variable, ovate, elliptical or obovate-elliptical, up to 11.5 cm × 7 cm, base rounded or slightly cordate, apex rounded or attenuate-acute, margin toothed irregularly, leathery, upper surface green and laxly hairy, lower surface tawny or brown and velvety, palmately veined with 5–7 basal veins, prominent below. Inflorescence an axillary, solitary cyme, corymbiform or paniculate, 3–16 cm long, hairy, many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel c. 5 mm long; epicalyx bracts 3, inserted on pedicel, linear-oblong, c. 1.5 mm long, caducous; calyx deeply 5-fid, lobes ovate-lanceolate, 2.5–3 mm long, hairy outside, not reflexed; petals free, broadly obovate, 4.5 mm × 3 mm, white; androecium crown-shaped, staminal crown c. 1 mm long, stamens 10–15, filaments unequal, 5 mm long, connate above the crown, alternating by 2–3 with 5 spoon-shaped staminodes 2.5 mm long; ovary superior, hairy, stylar column 2 mm long, with 2–4 lobes c. 1 mm long. Fruit a loculicidal capsule.
Dombeya comprises about 200 species, mainly distributed in Madagascar, with about 20 species in mainland Africa and 14 in the Mascarenes. Revisions of the genus have been carried out for mainland Africa and the Mascarenes, but not for Madagascar, and the number of species described for Madagascar is possibly too high.
Other Dombeya species endemic to Madagascar of which the bark fibre is used for similar purposes as that of Dombeya elliptica include Dombeya farafanganica Arènes, a shrub or small tree up to 12 m tall, Dombeya heimii Arènes and Dombeya ianthotricha Arènes.
Dombeya elliptica occurs from sea level up to 1600 m altitude, in forest, on denudated hills, along streams and rivers, and along roads. It is often found in rocky locations.
Dombeya elliptica is often planted and protected around houses and on field boundaries, to have its fibrous bark at hand. Formerly the bark was beaten with a mallet to obtain barkcloth, later the fibre was extracted by crushing the bark, after which the fibre was combed or scutched, making it suitable for spinning and weaving.
Genetic resources and breeding
It is unknown whether Dombeya elliptica is threatened by genetic erosion.
Detailed and quantitative information on the fibre properties is lacking, but Dombeya ambongensis seems a useful local source of cordage, as the fibre has a good reputation, and the species is often planted and protected.
• Arènes, J., 1959. Sterculiacées (Sterculiaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), famille 131. Firmin-Didot et cie., Paris, France. 537 pp.
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• Schatz, G., undated. A catalogue of the vascular plants of Madagascar. [Internet]. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, United States. http://www.efloras.org/ flora_info.aspx?flora_id=12. Accessed September 2009.
• Seyani, J.H., 1991. The genus Dombeya (Sterculiaceae) in continental Africa. Opera Botanica Belgica 2. National Botanic Garden of Belgium, Meise, Belgium. 186 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2010. Dombeya elliptica Bojer. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.