Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1
Oliv., Fl. trop. Afr. 2: 129 (1871).
Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Bois d’or (Fr). Muzumba, musumba (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Millettia versicolor occurs in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Congo, DR Congo and northern Angola.
The wood is locally used for furniture, sculpture and implements. It is valued as durable building material, especially for posts, but is occasionally also used for planks and joinery. The wood is suitable for charcoal production. Poles are used to establish living fences. Millettia versicolor is occasionally planted as an ornamental shade tree. A root decoction is used to treat kidney complaints and cough, and also serves against sterility and impotence. Root, leaf and bark decoctions are taken in small amounts against intestinal worms; in DR Congo ruminants with worms are also treated with root decoctions. The leaves are used to relieve pain in vapour baths or externally. They are used in Congo against malaria. A leaf decoction is used in a bath to treat syphilis. Edible caterpillars of the genus Platysphinx feed on the leaves. Some parts of the tree are used in magic rituals and clairvoyance, and against bewitchment.
The heartwood is golden brown to blackish brown. It can be polished to a smooth surface and turns well. It is resistant to insect attack.
A methanol extract of the bark showed anti-inflammatory activity, with 2-acetyl-7-methoxy-naphthofuran-4,9-dione as active compound. Leaf extracts exhibited moderate antiplasmodial activity that could be due to the rotenoid usararotenoid C. The anthelmintic effect of the roots has been demonstrated in clinical trials in DR Congo, supporting their use in traditional medicine. Extracts with anthelminthic activity contained the triterpenes lupeol, taraxasterol and β-amyrine.
Shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 20(–30) m tall; bole up to 60 cm in diameter; bark surface smooth or scaly, often slightly fissured; twigs slightly grooved, glabrous. Leaves alternate, imparipinnately compound with 4–6 pairs of leaflets; stipules caducous; petiole 4–8 cm long, rachis 9–16 cm long; stipels needle-shaped, 1.5–3 mm long; petiolules c. 5 mm long; leaflets opposite, oblong to elliptical or ovate, 8–15 cm × 3.5–5 cm, distinctly acuminate at apex, glabrous above, short-hairy below. Inflorescence a terminal panicle up to 40 cm long, with branches up to 7 cm long, short-hairy. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous; pedicel c. 4 mm long, with 2 small bracteoles near apex; calyx campanulate, c. 6 mm long, tube much longer than lobes; corolla pale purple, hairy, standard orbicular, c. 20 mm in diameter, with c. 5 mm long claw at base, with yellow spot inside, wings and keel c. 18 mm long; stamens 10, 9 fused, 1 free, c. 18 mm long; ovary superior, densely hairy, style slender, curved, c. 7 mm long, hairy at base. Fruit an oblong flat pod 10–20 cm × 1.5–4 cm, with stiff wall, densely brownish hairy, explosively dehiscent, up to 5-seeded. Seeds ovoid, flattened, smooth, reddish brown. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 8–12 cm long, epicotyl c. 8 cm long; cotyledons c. 18 mm × 7 mm, fleshy; first leaves opposite, simple, ovate.
Millettia versicolor flowers throughout the year. The flowers are much visited by bees, which probably are responsible for pollination. The fruits split open with a sharp crack, and seeds are shot away up to 15 m distance.
Millettia comprises about 150 species, most of them (about 90) in mainland Africa, 8 endemic to Madagascar, and about 50 in tropical Asia. It is in need of revision and should be split into several genera based on molecular evidence.
Millettia versicolor occurs in secondary forest, along forest patches in savanna, at the fringe of rock outcrops in forest, and in gallery forest. It is locally very common in savanna edges.
Long stem-cuttings planted in the ground often take root and may develop into shrubs or trees. This may be the origin of some forest or shrub patches in savanna areas. Fences made of poles in former villages may have developed first into Millettia versicolor regrowth and subsequently into forest through colonization by other tree species. In a test, 64% of the stem cuttings sprouted after planting.
Genetic resources and breeding
Millettia versicolor occurs fairly widespread in Central Africa and is locally common, also in disturbed habitats, and is consequently not liable to genetic erosion.
The use for construction and fences will remain locally important, but the wood has little prospects for the international market because of the usually small size of the tree. Millettia versicolor has interesting pharmacological properties, especially its anti-inflammatory and anthelmintic activities, which deserve more research attention.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2008. Millettia versicolor Welw. ex Baker. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.