Prota 7(2): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 2
Engl. & Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. IV, 3b: 250, t. 93H (1895).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phyllarthron madagascariense is endemic to Madagascar, where it is widespread in the eastern and central parts of the island. It is commonly planted in Madagascar.
The tough wood, known as ‘zahana’, is traditionally used for the handles of weapons, especially of assegais. It is also in demand for bridges, fence posts, mine props and railway sleepers because of its durability. It is suitable for heavy flooring and framework, joinery, interior trim, vehicle bodies, sporting goods, toys, novelties, agricultural implements and turnery.
The fruits are edible although not very palatable, with a consistency and taste of dried banana. The stem bark is used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea, inflammations, wounds and cough. The leaves are applied externally to treat sores, whereas leaf decoctions are administered against blennorrhoea, and as antineuralgic and relaxant. Men drink tea made from the leaves to treat impotence.
The heartwood is yellowish brown and distinctly demarcated from the sapwood. The grain is straight, sometimes slightly interlocked, texture moderately fine. The wood is very heavy, with a density of 1050–1210 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. The wood air dries very slowly with little degrade, although there is a slight tendency to surface checking. The rates of shrinkage from green to oven dry are quite high, 5.0–6.9% radial and 7.2–13.6% tangential. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 214–282 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 14,800–23,540 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 90–122 N/mm², shear 11 N/mm², cleavage 23 N/mm and Chalais-Meudon side hardness 9.1–15.3.
The wood is rather difficult to saw and work. The use of stellite-tipped sawteeth is recommended. It can be finished to a smooth surface. Pre-boring is needed in nailing. The wood glues, stains and polishes satisfactorily. It is very durable. It is resistant to impregnation with preservatives.
The roots, heartwood and stem bark contain lapachol, a known elicitor of contact dermatitis. The roots and heartwood also contain sesamin, which also may cause contact allergy. Several iridoid and phenethyl glycosides were isolated from the leaves, as well as flavonoids.
Evergreen, small to medium-sized tree up to 20(–40) m tall; bole branchless for up to 15 m, usually straight, sometimes fluted at base, up to 80 cm in diameter; bark surface fissured, blackish, inner bark fibrous; twigs glandular hairy. Leaves opposite, occasionally in whorls of 3, consisting of 2 flattened and winged articles formed by petiole and rachis, without leaflets; stipules absent; basal article obovate-oblong, 4.5–15 cm × 1.5–4 cm, terminal article elliptical to oblong-lanceolate, 4–19 cm × 1–5.5 cm, leathery, glabrous, pinnately veined with numerous lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal cyme or raceme, up to 20-flowered. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, 5-merous, large; pedicel 0.5–1 cm long; calyx campanulate, 0.5–1 cm long, ribbed; corolla funnel-shaped but narrowly cylindrical at base, 3–4(–5) cm long, 2-lipped with 2 upper and 3 lower obtuse lobes, white to pink or purplish red, with yellow markings in throat, hairy; stamens 4 in 2 unequal pairs, inserted on the corolla, included; disk annular; ovary superior, c. 3 mm long, slightly 4-angled, 2-celled, style slender, 12–15 mm long. Fruit a fleshy spindle-shaped berry 6–8 cm × c. 2 cm, smooth, covered with sticky resin, indehiscent, many-seeded. Seeds globose to obovoid, 1–1.5 cm long.
Phyllarthron madagascariense flowers and fruits from November to May. The flowers are pollinated by large insects such as bees and by sunbirds. The fruits are eaten by lemurs, which probably disperse the seeds.
Phyllarthron comprises about 15 species and is restricted to Comoros (1 species) and Madagascar. It can be easily recognized by its leaves consisting of flattened articles (phyllodes) and by its large, sticky, indehiscent fruits.
Phyllarthron articulatum (Desf. ex Poir.) K.Schum. is a small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall that is widespread in eastern Madagascar. It differs from Phyllarthron madagascariense in its leaves having 3–5 articles. Its wood is similar, also known as ‘zahana’, and used for the same purposes. Other Phyllarthron spp. are either too small trees or occur too local to be of importance for their timber. However, some of them are used in traditional medicine.
Phyllarthron madagascariense usually occurs in more humid types of forest, often in littoral forest on sand, but up to 1600(–2200) m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
There are no indications that Phyllarthron madagascariense or Phyllarthron articulatum are immediately threatened. Both species are comparatively widespread and locally common in eastern Madagascar, whereas they are also locally planted.
Information on propagation, planting and growth rates of Phyllarthron madagascariense and other Phyllarthron spp. is needed before their prospects as timber plantation trees can be judged.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2009. Phyllarthron madagascariense K.Schum. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Louppe, D. & Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editors). Prota 7(2): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 2. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.