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Omphalocarpum elatum Miers

Trans. Linn. Soc. London, Bot. ser. 2, 1: 16 (1875).
Chromosome number
2n = 26
Omphalocarpum anocentrum Pierre ex Engl. (1904).
Origin and geographic distribution
Omphalocarpum elatum occurs from Sierra Leone east to the Central African Republic and south to Gabon and Congo.
The wood is used for planks, implements such as mortars and bowls, handles, seats and drums. It is also used for dugout canoes. The latex has been used as an adulterant of rubber. In Nigeria a bark decoction is used in traditional medicine to treat constipation. In Cameroon the Bata Pygmies use a bark decoction together with fruits of Capsicum annuum L. and Solanum anguivi Lam. to treat malaria, whereas a decoction or maceration of the bark is taken in case of lactation failure, and a decoction of the young leaves for the treatment of cough. In Côte d’Ivoire a mixture of the seeds and crushed bark, diluted in palm wine, is used as a purgative in case of poisoning and to treat scrotal elephantiasis. In Sierra Leone the seeds are used in the treatment of yaws. The seeds are used for decorative purposes, e.g. for necklaces.
The heartwood is pale reddish brown or pale brown with a pinkish tinge, and indistinctly demarcated from the whitish sapwood. The grain is straight or slightly wavy, texture is moderately fine. Fresh wood has a foetid smell, but dry wood is odourless. In a test in Liberia, the wood had a density of 640 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, Janka side hardness was 5840 N and Janka end hardness 6800 N. The wood is fairly easy to work and finishes smoothly. It is only moderately durable.
In tests the bark showed high in-vitro anthelmintic activity against Haemonchus contortus larvae. The seeds contain alkaloids and saponins.
Evergreen medium-sized tree up to 30 m tall, with latex; bole straight and cylindrical but often slightly fluted, up to 80(–180) cm in diameter, without buttresses; bark surface scaly, brown, with lenticels in longitudinal rows, inner bark reddish brown, finely fibrous; crown compact; young branches glabrous. Leaves arranged spirally, clustered at ends of branches, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole short, up to 1 cm long; blade oblong-obovate to oblanceolate, 12–25 cm × 4–8 cm, cuneate at base, rounded to shortly acuminate at apex, glabrous, pinnately veined with 10–15 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a fascicle on bole or older branches. Flowers bisexual or unisexual, regular; pedicel c. 1 cm long; sepals 5, free, thick; corolla up to 2 cm long, white, with c. 6 mm long tube and 5(–7) elliptical lobes hairy at margins; stamens inserted at apex of corolla tube, in bundles of 5–6 opposite each corolla lobe, about as long as lobes, in female flowers rudimentary, bundles alternating with large, petaloid, fringed staminodes; ovary superior, glabrous, up to 30-celled, style cylindrical, included. Fruit a large depressed globose berry up to 15(–20) cm in diameter, with greyish brown, woody wall and whitish pulp, many-seeded. Seeds flattened ellipsoid, c. 4 cm × 2.5 cm, black, with linear scar. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 6–10 cm long, epicotyl c. 2 cm long; cotyledons leafy, broadly elliptical, c. 6.5 cm × 4.5 cm.
Omphalocarpum comprises about 7 species, and is most closely related to the genus Tridesmostemon from Central Africa. It is characterized by the large fruits attached to the bole. The wood of Omphalocarpum ahia A.Chev., occurring from Sierra Leone to Ghana, is used in Ghana for house building and carpentry, whereas its bark is used to treat stomach-ache and rheumatism; the seeds have ornamental value. Omphalocarpum ahia has larger leaves than Omphalocarpum elatum (up to 45 cm × 18 cm). In Central Africa the wood of several other Omphalocarpum spp. and that of Omphalocarpum elatum is probably used indiscriminately. Omphalocarpum elatum can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year, but in Côte d’Ivoire it flowers mainly in June–July. The fruits take about one year to ripen. They are eaten by elephants, which are the only animals able to crack open the hard, thick shell. The elephants swallow the pulp together with the seeds, which are deposited in the dung and thus dispersed. It seems that the presence of elephants is needed for successful seed germination under natural conditions, because the seeds of rotten fruits on the ground are destroyed by insects and seedlings are not found under trees in regions where elephants have disappeared.
Omphalocarpum elatum occurs scattered in evergreen forest, often in humid localities.
The 1000-seed weight is about 2.5 kg. Seeds that have passed through an elephant’s gut germinate after about 2 weeks; seeds extracted from the fruits take 3–9 weeks. The seedlings are probably shade tolerant.
Genetic resources and breeding
Omphalocarpum elatum is fairly widespread and locally not uncommon, and consequently it does not seem to be endangered at present. However, as its regeneration seems to be dependent from forest elephants, it may become threatened in the near future in regions where the elephant populations are under much pressure, as is especially the case in West Africa.
There is very little information on many aspects of Omphalocarpum elatum, and an evaluation of its potential as a timber tree in managed natural forest and/or timber plantations is recommended.
Major references
• Aubréville, A., 1964. Sapotacées. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 2. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 143 pp.
• Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
• Cooper, G.P. & Record, S.J., 1931. The evergreen forests of Liberia. School of Forestry, Yale University, Bulletin 31, New Haven, United States. 153 pp.
• Normand, D. & Paquis, J., 1976. Manuel d’identification des bois commerciaux. Tome 2. Afrique guinéo-congolaise. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 335 pp.
• Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.
Other references
• Betti, J.L., 2004. An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants among the Baka pygmies in the Dja biosphere reserve, Cameroon. African Study Monographs 25(1): 1–27.
• Bouquet, A. & Debray, M., 1974. Plantes médicinales de la Côte d’Ivoire. Travaux et Documents No 32. ORSTOM, Paris, France. 231 pp.
• de la Mensbruge, G., 1966. La germination et les plantules des essences arborées de la forêt dense humide de la Côte d’Ivoire. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 389 pp.
• Diehl, M.S., Atindehou, K.K., Téré, H. & Betschart, B., 2004. Prospect for anthelminthic plants in the Ivory Coast using ethnobotanical criteria. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 95: 277–284.
• Hawthorne, W.D., 1995. Ecological profiles of Ghanaian forest trees. Tropical Forestry Papers 29. Oxford Forestry Institute, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. 345 pp.
• Nchanji, A.C. & Plumptre, A.J., 2003. Seed germination and early seedling establishment of some elephant-dispersed species in Banyang-Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary, south-western Cameroon. Journal of Tropical Ecology 19(3): 229–237.
• Pennington, T.D., 1991. The genera of Sapotaceae. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom and the New York Botanical Garden, New York, United States. 295 pp.
• Savill, P.S. & Fox, J.E.D., 1967. Trees of Sierra Leone. Forest Department, Freetown, Sierra Leone. 316 pp.
• Vivien, J. & Faure, J.J., 1985. Arbres des forêts denses d’Afrique Centrale. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 565 pp.
• Wilks, C. & Issembé, Y., 2000. Les arbres de la Guinée Equatoriale: Guide pratique d’identification: région continentale. Projet CUREF, Bata, Guinée Equatoriale. 546 pp.
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

D. Louppe
CIRAD, Département Environnements et Sociétés, Cirad es-dir, Campus international de Baillarguet, TA C-DIR / B (Bât. C, Bur. 113), 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
A.A. Oteng-Amoako
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
J.R. Cobbinah
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
Photo editor
G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2007. Omphalocarpum elatum Miers. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
base of bole



bole and fruits

leaves, fruit and seeds

wood in transverse and tangential section