Prota 14: Vegetable oils/Oléagineux
Kew Bull. 1953: 488 (1954).
2n = 24
Dwarf red ironwood, red oak, false shea, méni oil tree (En). Méné, azobé de savane, faux karité (Fr). Mufo, mené (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Lophira lanceolata is widely distributed in the sudano-guinean savanna zone from Senegal through the Central African Republic and northernmost DR Congo to Uganda.
Lophira lanceolata is a multipurpose tree. Its seeds are eaten, but more commonly in the past than at present; now they are mainly used to extract an edible oil, called ‘méni oil’. The oil also has cosmetic and medicinal uses and is suitable for making soap. The wood is hard and heavy and is locally used e.g. for mortars, railway sleepers and in bridge construction. It is also used in house construction and to make agricultural and household tools. It is an excellent firewood producing hot flames and little smoke and is also a good source of charcoal. Edible caterpillars are grown on the tree; in northern Cameroon, where they are called ‘dessi’, ‘sankadang’ or ‘sélénibétéyo’ in the Gbaya language, they are collected, traded and consumed by several tribes. The flowers are fragrant and an important source of honey, e.g. in Nigeria. The bark of the plant is used as a colorant in West Africa to prevent cooked yam from becoming dark. During the dry season, the foliage is browsed by cattle.
In traditional medicine méni oil is used to treat dermatosis, toothache and muscular tiredness. Rubbing the skin with the oil prevents dryness. The oil is mixed with porridge and given to children as a tonic. The sap of the tree is used to treat tiredness by the Dii, Fulbe and Gbaya peoples in Cameroon.
In Mali pounded roots, mixed with flour are used to treat constipation, while its concoction is used to cure chronic wounds. A concoction prepared from the roots is drunk by women against menstrual pain, intestinal troubles and malaria. The bark of the roots and trunk is used against pulmonary diseases. The bark is also used to treat fevers and gastro-intestinal problems, and in southern Nigeria the root bark is a remedy for yellow fever. The young stems and sometimes the roots are commonly used as chew-sticks, and an infusion of the bark is used as a mouthwash against toothache in Guinea, Mali and Nigeria. An infusion of the young twigs is used to treat fever, respiratory tract infections and dysentery. Concoctions of young fresh or dried leaves taken in the form of a drink are given to treat pain caused by intestinal worms, dysentery and diarrhoea in children, while as a steam bath it is said to cure general tiredness and rheumatism. Pain caused by worms can also be treated by eating young fresh leaves. Concoctions of the young red leaves are also employed in the treatment of headache, hypertension and syphilis. Culturally, the leaves and wood of Lophira lanceolata are very important for the Dii people. The leaves are used for traditional dances and masks are made from the wood. The medicinal uses are probably inseparable from the ceremonial uses of the leaves.
Production and international trade
The oil and other products of Lophira lanceolata are traded on a local scale only. In Cameroon the retail price of the oil is US$ 2–3 per litre.
The approximate composition of the dry seeds per 100 g is: water 8 g, energy 2290 kJ (547 kcal), protein 14 g, fat 44 g, carbohydrate 32 g, fibre 1 g, Ca 101 mg, P 156 mg. On extraction the seeds yield 40–50% of a yellow inodorous semi-solid oil. Its approximate fatty acid composition is: myristic acid 2%, palmitic acid 27%, behenic acid 14%, lignoceric acid 2%, tetradecenoic acid trace, hexadecenoic acid 1%, oleic acid 15%, linoleic acid 33%, docosenoic acid 5%, tetracosenoic acid trace. The α-tocopherol content of the oil is high and in a test its unsaturated fatty acid content remained unchanged for one year. The oil is suitable for cooking and has cosmetic properties. Its viscosity-temperature profile make it useful as base stock for lubricants. The presscake is reported to be unsuitable as cattle feed, but suitable as manure.
Phytochemical analysis of the bark has shown the presence of several flavonoids with some antibacterial and antiviral activity. They include a group of related biflavonoids called lophirones A–J, the biflavonoid isombamichalcone and the tetraflavonoid lanceochalcone. The wood contains the nitrile glycoside esters lanceolin A and B, while the leaves contain lanceolatin A and B and in addition the benzoyl glycoside lanceoloside A and the prenylated isoflavone lanceolone. The presence of benzamide has been reported in the root bark.
The wood is pinkish with a red core, very hard and heavy and very durable.
Small to medium-sized tree up to 16(–24) m tall; bole branchless for up to 7.5 m, straight or twisted, up to 70 cm in diameter; bark surface corky, grey, very coarsely flaking, inner bark yellow to brownish red; branches ascending, with prominent leaf-scars. Leaves alternate but clustered at the end of branches, simple and entire; stipules linear-lanceolate, 3–5 mm long, caducous; petiole 2–6 cm long; blade oblong-lanceolate, 11–45 cm × 2–9 cm, base cuneate, often asymmetrical, apex rounded and sometimes notched, glabrous, red to bright pink when young, pinnately veined with numerous lateral veins, prominent on both sides. Inflorescence a terminal, pyramidal, lax panicle 15–20 cm long, axes angular, grooved, glabrous. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, white, scented; pedicel 1–1.5 cm long, jointed near the apex, glabrous; calyx lobes unequal, 2 outer ones ovate-acuminate, 7–8 mm × 4–5 mm, 3 inner ones broadly ovate, c. 6 mm × 5 mm, obtuse; petals free, obcordate, c. 17 mm × 13 mm, glabrous; stamens numerous, in 3–5 whorls; ovary superior, sessile, conical, c. 8 mm × 3 mm, 1-celled, style indistinct, stigmas 2. Fruit a conical, somewhat woody, 1-seeded achene surrounded by the calyx, outer sepals accrescent, wing-like, unequal, one 8–10 cm × 2–2.5 cm, the other 2.5–5 cm × 0.5–1 cm. Seed ovoid, c. 16 mm × 8 mm, chestnut-coloured, glabrous. Seedling with hypogeal germination.
Other botanical information
Lophira comprises 2 species: Lophira alata Banks ex P.Gaertn., which yields the well-known timber azobé, and Lophira lanceolata. They are very similar in morphology and have often been confused. They are mainly differentiated by their habit and different habitats: Lophira alata is a very large tree found in dense forest, while Lophira lanceolata is much smaller and grows in savanna woodland. Lophira lanceolata is sometimes confused with Vitellaria paradoxa C.F.Gaertn., shea butter tree, when not in flower. The leaves of the latter exude latex when damaged.
Growth and development
Seeds of Lophira lanceolata are recalcitrant. In a test their initial viability was about 50%, which dropped to 5% after storage for 3 months at 9% moisture content. When dried to 3% moisture, seeds did not germinate at all. They are dispersed by wind. Germination takes 3–5 weeks. Reports on growth rates are contradictory. In southern Benin it is reported to grow fast, whereas in Cameroon early growth is reported to be slow. The species is invasive and often found gregariously as a colonizer of cleared forest or in fallow vegetation. It suckers freely. Lophira lanceolata is deciduous and is leafless for 3–4 weeks in October–December in Cameroon. Trees flower during the dry season, before new leaves appear. In some years, it flowers twice in Cameroon. When new leaves are expanding, it is easily recognizable from far by its new red leaves grouped at the ends of branches.
Lophira lanceolata is a tree of the wooded savanna where it occurs up to 1500 m altitude. It often grows gregariously on fallow land at the edge of forests. It is found on medium heavy to sandy or gravelly soils. When established it is fire tolerant, but regeneration is affected by regular bushfires.
Propagation and planting
Propagation is mainly by seed. When dried, seed loses its viability quickly. Seed is available from CNSF, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. To improve growth in the nursery, it is recommended to add soil from under an established tree to the substrate to ensure development of mycorrhizal fungi. Reproduction by air layering is possible. A rooting percentage of marcots of more than 60% has been obtained with cow dung as substrate and IBA (0.8%) as growth hormone. Vegetative propagation by stem cuttings is also possible.
In the savanna of Cameroon an annual litter production of 27 t/ha (fresh weight) has been recorded.
Diseases and pests
The fruits are attacked by curculinoid beetles (species unknown) both on the tree and when they have fallen.
Fruits can be harvested in February–March in Mali and in January–April in Cameroon. As soon as the fruits turn brown, they are collected from the tree to avoid damage by beetles.
The quantity of fruits produced per tree varies with the year and site. In Cameroon the mean quantity of fruits per tree is about 5500. Good seed production is associated with large leaves.
Handling after harvest
After collection fruits are sorted and dried in the sun. For oil production, the fruit wall is removed and the seeds are ground or pounded to a paste, mixed with water and boiled. The oil that floats to the surface is scooped off.
As Lophira lanceolata has a wide distribution and is common in secondary vegetation, it is not at risk of genetic erosion.
Lophira lanceolata is a potentially important agroforestry tree species of the sudano–guinean savanna. It has been selected by the University of Ngaoundéré, Cameroon for an extensive domestication programme with a view to introducing it in homegardens.
Lophira lanceolata is an important food and medicinal plant species in savanna regions and may well become an important multipurpose agroforestry tree. Research into its domestication should explore opportunities to exploit not only the oil, but also the edible caterpillars, honey, medicinal uses, forage and timber.
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Sources of illustration
• Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Mapongmetsem, P.-M., 2007. Lophira lanceolata Tiegh. ex Keay In: van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Mkamilo, G.S. (Editors). PROTA 14: Vegetable oils/Oléagineux. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering branch; 2, fruit.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin