Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1
Cat. pl. madagasc. 2: 9 (1907).
Ravensara tapak Baill. (1885).
Origin and geographic distribution
Ocotea cymosa occurs throughout eastern Madagascar.
The wood of Ocotea cymosa and several other Ocotea spp., known as ‘varongy’, is in high demand for furniture, cabinet making, boat construction and mortars, but is also valued for construction, joinery, vehicle bodies, interior trim and pattern making. It is suitable for mine props, ship building, toys, novelties, boxes, crates, carvings, turnery, veneer and plywood. It is less suitable for flooring because it is too soft.
The leaves, bark and fruits are aromatic; the leaves and fruits are used as condiment, the bark is added to locally prepared alcoholic drinks.
The heartwood is pale brown and usually indistinctly demarcated from the sapwood. The grain is usually interlocked, texture medium. Radial surfaces often show a marked stripe or ribbon figure. Freshly sawn wood has an unpleasant smell.
The wood is moderately lightweight, with a density of about 560 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It air dries well with little degrade, but best results are obtained with quarter-sawn logs. The rates of shrinkage are moderately high: from green to oven dry about 4.2% radial and 8.0% tangential. Boards of 2.5 cm thick take about 1 month to dry to 30% moisture content. The wood is moderately stable in service. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 119 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 43 N/mm², cleavage 16 N/mm and Chalais-Meudon side hardness 2.7.
The wood is easy to saw and work with both hand and machine tools. Sanding is sometimes needed for good results in planing operations. The wood is fairly easy to glue, paint and varnish. It nails well, with good nail-holding capacity. The peeling and slicing properties are good. The moulding properties are satisfactory and the wood is suitable for carving. The wood is often attacked by pinhole borers, but is moderately resistant to fungi, dry-wood borers, termites and marine borers. It is resistant to impregnation by preservatives.
Medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall; bole branchless for up to 16 m, but often bent, up to 80 cm in diameter, sometimes with buttresses up to 1.5 m high; bark with numerous lenticels, with aromatic scent when cut; twigs slightly angular, densely powdery-hairy. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–2 cm long, grooved above; blade elliptical, 6–17 cm × 2–8 cm, cuneate at base, acuminate at apex, papery, glossy green, glabrous, pinnately veined with 5–8 pairs of lateral veins, with aromatic scent. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal cyme or panicle up to 6 cm long, densely short-hairy but glabrescent, 3–20-flowered; peduncle 1–3 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, fragrant; pedicel 1–3 mm long; perianth lobes 6, elliptical, c. 3 mm long; stamens 9 in 3 whorls, anthers 4-celled, stamens of inner whorl with 2 glands at base, staminodes 1–2, minute; ovary superior, ovoid to ellipsoid, 1–1.5 mm long, glabrous, 1-celled, style c. 1 mm long, stigma disk-shaped. Fruit an ovoid drupe-like berry up to 2 cm long, at base enclosed in the cup-like enlarged receptacle 1–1.5 cm long, 1-seeded.
Ocotea cymosa trees grow slowly.
The estimated number of species in Ocotea ranges from 200 to 350, most of them in tropical America. Mainland Africa has about 7 species, Madagascar about 35.
In Madagascar several other Ocotea spp. are valued for their wood, which is quite similar to that of Ocotea cymosa, also known under the name ‘varongy’ and used for similar purposes. The most important of these are Ocotea faucherei (Danguy) Kosterm., Ocotea laevis Kosterm., Ocotea macrocarpa Kosterm., Ocotea platydisca Kosterm., Ocotea racemosa (Danguy) Kosterm., Ocotea thouvenotii (Danguy) Kosterm. and Ocotea trichophlebia Baker. These all occur in eastern Madagascar but have smaller distribution areas than Ocotea cymosa, except Ocotea laevis and Ocotea racemosa, which occur throughout eastern Madagascar like Ocotea cymosa.
Ocotea comoriensis Kosterm. is endemic to the Comoros. Its wood is also similar to that of Ocotea cymosa and used for similar purposes. A bark decoction is used to treat headache, urinary disorders and stomach complaints. Ocotea comoriensis showed in-vitro antimalarial activity.
Ocotea obtusata (Nees) Kosterm. is a shrub or small tree up to 15 m tall, endemic to Réunion and Mauritius; in Réunion it occurs locally frequently, but in Mauritius it is rare. The wood, known as ‘bois de cannelle’, is used for furniture. Oil extracted from the fruits is used for lighting.
Ocotea cymosa occurs in forest and coastal dunes, from sea-level to 1250(–1900) m altitude. It is locally common. It has been classified as a semi-heliophyte, but trials showed that it is extremely shade tolerant.
The growing stock of Ocotea cymosa has been estimated at 42 million m³ in 1990 and 40 million m³ in 2000. Although the wood is suitable for peeling, it is often difficult to obtain logs that are large enough; moreover, larger-diameter logs are commonly hollow.
Genetic resources and breeding
Ocotea cymosa is widespread in eastern Madagascar and is locally common. There are no indications that it is in immediate danger of genetic erosion, but the popularity of its wood and the ongoing forest fragmentation are reasons for concern.
Although Ocotea cymosa belongs to the more highly esteemed timber species of Madagascar, very little research has been done on it.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2008. Ocotea cymosa (Nees) Palacký. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.