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Quassia undulata (Guill. & Perr.) D.Dietr.

Syn. pl. 2: 1416 (1840).
Chromosome number
2n = 28, 30
Hannoa undulata (Guill. & Perr.) Planch. (1846), Hannoa ferruginea Engl. (1902), Hannoa chlorantha Engl. & Gilg (1903), Hannoa klaineana Pierre & Engl. (1911), Hannoa kitombetombe G.C.C.Gilbert (1958), Hannoa njariensis G.C.C.Gilbert (1958), Hannoa longipes (Sprague) G.C.C.Gilbert (1958).
Vernacular names
Mjoho (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Quassia undulata is distributed from Senegal eastward to Kenya, and southward to Zambia and Angola.
The wood (trade name: effeu) is mainly suitable for indoor construction, on account of its low durability, and for the production of shipping crates to transport easily bruised or breakable products, such as machinery and fruit, because of its softness. It is also suitable for veneer, plywood and modelling. Locally it is used for house construction, planks, doors, ceilings, (painted) carpentry, musical instruments, toys, stools, carvings, troughs and canoes. Poles obtained from the tree are used in northern Ghana as yam supports. The wood is used to keep heavier wood of other species floating. It is used as fuelwood and for making charcoal, and for paper making.
The fruit is recorded as being eaten, although various sources claim it is not edible. The seed and oil from the seed are used in soap making. A paste of the boiled bark and pulped seed is used in Nigeria as a hair pomade, and in Zimbabwe women use the seed oil similarly. The seed cake is eaten. Quassia undulata is used as an ornamental tree, a honey plant and a source of fodder.
In African traditional medicine decoctions of the stem bark or root bark are drunk against fever, cough and stomach complaints. Extracts of the stem bark or root bark are drunk as an antidote and purgative, and against leprosy. A maceration or decoction of the stem bark is used as a wash for children to prevent abscesses. A maceration or decoction of the stem bark, root bark and leaves is drunk or used in baths in cases of insanity or dementia. Root extracts are used for eye treatments and as aphrodisiac. Sap from the root bark diluted in water is used as an enema against stomach problems. A decoction of leaves is used as a stimulant and for treatment of rickets, ankylosis and varicose veins. The fruit is used against nocturnal enuresis. A mixture of the ground fruit or kernel with oil is rubbed into the hair against head lice; ash of burnt fruit mixed with shea butter is used similarly. The seed is considered poisonous, but in Nigeria it is taken against fever.
Production and international trade
The wood of Quassia undulata has no importance in the world timber market at present.
The heartwood is greyish white to pale yellow, somewhat lustrous, and is not clearly differentiated from the sapwood. The grain is usually straight, sometimes interlocked, texture medium to coarse and even. Fine striations are present on quarter-sawn surfaces.
The wood is lightweight, with a density of 290–450 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It air dries rapidly; in Liberia boards 2.5 cm thick take only 2 weeks to dry to about 20% moisture content. The rates of shrinkage are moderate: from green to oven dry 3.3–4.8% radial and 5.9–6.0% tangential. The wood is soft, not strong and occasionally brittle. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 44–53 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 3800–8200 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 17–26 N/mm², cleavage 6–7 N/mm and Chalais-Meudon side hardness 0.4–0.8.
The wood saws easily and works well with hand and machine tools. It planes to a nice surface, moulds well and sands well, but sanding must be done perpendicular to the direction of the fibres. It does not split on nailing and holds nails and screws well. It drills easily. The peeling and slicing properties are excellent, but the wood is too soft for turning. It glues and finishes well. The wood is not durable, being susceptible to attacks by fungi, marine borers and termites. The heartwood is resistant to impregnation with preservatives, the sapwood is permeable.
The wood fibres are 1.1–1.4 mm long, with a diameter of 31–33.5 μm, a lumen width of 18–29.5 μm and a cell wall thickness of 2.1–6 μm. The wood contains 57.5% cellulose, 42.7% α-cellulose, 31.3% lignin and 9.6% pentosans. The solubility in ether is 0.2%, in alcohol-benzene 0.8%, in hot water 0.9% and in 1% NaOH 10.1%.
The seed yields 56% oil, with as main fatty acids: oleic acid (46–61%), stearic acid (20–26%), palmitic acid (8–11%) and linoleic acid (8–10%). The seed is said to be poisonous to livestock, but it loses its toxicity on drying.
Stem, stem bark and root bark extracts and various quassinoids isolated from the plant have shown antimalarial activity against Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium berghei. The quassinoid 15-desacetylundulatone, isolated from the root bark, has shown antitumour activity against P388 mouse lymphocytic leukaemia cells and colon 38 adenocarcinoma. Eniotorin, a coumarin also isolated from the root bark, has shown antimalarial properties in vitro. Alkaloids have been isolated from the root bark. Hexane and methanol extracts of the leaves and stems exhibited marked antibacterial and antifungal activities, inhibiting the growth of Aspergillus niger, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus faecalis. The quassinoid fraction of the seed (a mixture of chaparrinone, glaucarubolone and klaineanone) inhibits penetration of Meloidogyne javanica into tomato roots and reduces reproduction of the nematode. Chaparrinone showed in-vitro antiviral activity against the carcinogenic Rous sarcoma virus (RSV). A seed extract has shown insecticidal and arachnicidal properties. All parts of the tree are bitter.
Adulterations and substitutes
The wood properties are comparable to those of Triplochiton scleroxylon K.Schum.
Shrub or small to fairly large tree up to 42 m tall; bole branchless for up to 24 m, up to 120 cm in diameter, straight, cylindrical, usually without buttresses but sometimes with small ones; bark surface smooth or fissured, grey, flaking, inner bark white to yellow-brown and fibrous; crown rounded, dense; branchlets glabrous. Leaves alternate, imparipinnately compound with 2–9 pairs of leaflets, 8–40(–55) cm long; stipules absent; rachis terete; petiolules up to 4 cm long; leaflets oblong to elliptical or obovate, 2–20 cm × 1–8 cm, terminal and basal leaflets usually smallest, base rounded to cuneate, often oblique, apex notched or rounded to short-acuminate, margin entire, sometimes slightly wavy, leathery, glabrous, often with pitted glands on the upper surface, pinnately veined with 6–10 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal thyrse, lax, up to 40 cm long, branches glabrous to pubescent. Flowers unisexual or bisexual, white to yellowish, fragrant; pedicel 1–10 mm long; calyx 2–5-lobed, 2–4.5 mm long, glabrous inside, glabrous to slightly hairy outside; petals 5, free, narrowly ovate to oblong, 3–7 mm × 1–2.5 mm, acute, hairy on both sides; stamens usually 10, up to 7 mm long in male flowers, 1.5–3 mm long in female or bisexual flowers; ovary consisting of 5 free carpels, 1–1.5 mm long in female or bisexual flowers, reduced in male flowers, style 0.5–2 mm long. Fruit consisting of 1–3(–4) ellipsoidal to oblong drupes 1.5–3.5 cm × 1–2.5 cm, often slightly 2-keeled and somewhat flattened, purplish or black, shiny, each drupe 1-seeded. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl c. 3.5 cm long, epicotyl c. 5 cm long; first 2 leaves opposite, 3-foliolate.
Other botanical information
Quassia comprises 35–40 species, distributed in tropical and subtropical America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Quassia undulata is a variable species in which several distinct species have been distinguished, mainly on the basis of length of petiolules, number and shape of leaflets or size of inflorescences and fruits. However, there is much overlap in characters and the former species have been merged under the name Quassia undulata, although some authors maintain several of them as distinct species.
Quassia indica (Gaertn.) Noot. (‘simaruba de Madagascar’; synonyms: Samadera indica Gaertn., Samadera madagascariensis A.Juss.) is a shrub or small tree up to 10 m tall and up to 50 cm in diameter, distributed in Pemba (Tanzania), Comoros, Madagascar and tropical Asia. In Madagascar the white and lightweight wood is used for beams in canoes. Decoctions of the stem or root bark are drunk against dysentery and fever. The grated bark is applied to burns and bleeding wounds. The bark is an ingredient in the preparation of ‘toaka’, a distilled alcoholic drink made from rice and sugar cane. Several quassinoids isolated from Quassia indica have shown a variety of pharmacological effects, such as anti-inflammatory activity, antileukaemic activity, and growth inhibitory activity against Plasmodium falciparum.
Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):
Growth rings: 2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent. Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 23: shape of alternate pits polygonal; 24: intervessel pits minute ( 4 μm); 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; 41: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 50–100 μm; 46: 5 vessels per square millimetre; 47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre. Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled. Axial parenchyma: 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 82: axial parenchyma winged-aliform; 83: axial parenchyma confluent; 85: axial parenchyma bands more than three cells wide; (89: axial parenchyma in marginal or in seemingly marginal bands); 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand; 93: eight (5–8) cells per parenchyma strand. Rays: 97: ray width 1–3 cells; 104: all ray cells procumbent; (106: body ray cells procumbent with one row of upright and/or square marginal cells); 115: 4–12 rays per mm. Mineral inclusions: (136: prismatic crystals present); (142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells).
(E. Uetimane, H. Beeckman & P.E. Gasson)
Growth and development
Quassia undulata grows fast. In Sierra Leone mean annual increments in diameter of about 1.2 cm have been recorded. In Guinea 5-year-old saplings were recorded to be on average 4.1 m tall, but some trees were already 3.5 m tall after only 2 years. The tree is normally evergreen, but sometimes very briefly deciduous. Reddish purple flushes of new leaves appear in the dry season. In West Africa flowering is in August–November and fruiting in September–February. Seeds are likely to be dispersed by animals and by water, the seeds being buoyant.
Quassia undulata occurs up to 2500 m altitude in a wide range of habitats, including open grassland, wooded grassland, thickets and all forest types, including evergreen, deciduous, secondary, riverine and semi-swamp forest. As it is light demanding, regeneration in savanna conditions is better than in forest conditions. It soon colonizes clearings and old farm land. Quassia undulata is tolerant to fire.
Propagation and planting
Quassia undulata reproduces readily from seed. The 1000-seed weight is 750–1800 g. For good germination, seeds should be sown immediately after being collected, because they lose their viability rapidly. Seeds germinate in 6–22 days. Initial growth in the nursery is slow, with 5-month-old seedlings being only 11–12 cm tall. Seedlings are ready to be planted out when they are about 14 months old. They are planted in full sun in pure stands or mixed with other light-demanding and not too fast growing species.
In natural forest in Liberia the standing volume of trees with a diameter at breast height above 50 cm is 0–1.93 m³/ha, averaging 0.45 m³/ha. In Sierra Leone plantations have been established. Weeding is necessary during the first years after planting.
Diseases and pests
Young shoots are browsed by herbivores such as antelopes.
Handling after harvest
The wood is liable to blue stain if it is not dried promptly and kept dry, and logs must be removed from the forest soon after they have been felled. Ends of logs often have large, irregular checks or shakes.
Genetic resources
Quassia undulata has a wide distribution and occurs in a range of habitats, and as such it seems not liable to genetic erosion. Locally it may become rare because of overexploitation due to high demand for traditional medicine and habitat decline, e.g. in Nigeria. In many other countries, such as Ghana, it is considered common and of no particular conservation concern.
Although at present the wood of Quassia undulata has no importance in the world timber market, it may become more important as the wood properties are comparable to those of Triplochiton scleroxylon, which is currently the economically most important timber species of Ghana and Cameroon. In Liberia it is considered to have potential as an export timber, and investigation of the potential of the species in afforestation has been recommended. Various quassinoids isolated from the plant have shown antimalarial and other interesting properties and may have pharmacological potential.
Major references
• Ajaiyeoba, E.O. & Krebs, H.C., 2003. Antibacterial and antifungal activities of Quassia undulata and Quassia amara extracts in vitro. African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences 32(4): 353–356.
• Bolza, E. & Keating, W.G., 1972. African timbers: the properties, uses and characteristics of 700 species. Division of Building Research, CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia. 710 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.
• Dudek, S., Förster, B. & Klissenbauer, K., 1981. Lesser known Liberian timber species. Description of physical and mechanical properties, natural durability, treatability, workability and suggested uses. GTZ, Eschborn, Germany. 168 pp.
• Nooteboom, H.P., 1962. Generic delimitation in Simaroubaceae tribus Simaroubeae and a conspectus of the genus Quassia L. Blumea 11(2): 509–528.
• Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editor), 2006. 100 tropical African timber trees from Ghana: tree description and wood identification with notes on distribution, ecology, silviculture, ethnobotany and wood uses. 304 pp.
• Phongphaew, P., 2003. The commercial woods of Africa. Linden Publishing, Fresno, California, United States. 206 pp.
• Savill, P.S. & Fox, J.E.D., 1967. Trees of Sierra Leone. Forest Department, Freetown, Sierra Leone. 316 pp.
• Stannard, B.L., 2000. Simaroubaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 15 pp.
• Voorhoeve, A.G., 1979. Liberian high forest trees. A systematic botanical study of the 75 most important or frequent high forest trees, with reference to numerous related species. Agricultural Research Reports 652, 2nd Impression. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 416 pp.
Other references
• Adekunle, L.O., Ojo, M.F. & Oluwalana, S.A., 2002. Environment resources utilization: a case study of forest plants in traditional health care in Ogun State, Nigeria. International Journal of Forest Usufructs Management 3(1/2): 19–24.
• Adesanwo, J.K., Ekundayo, O., Shode, F.O., Njar, V.C.O., van den Berge, A.J.J. & Oludahunsi, O.A.T., 2004. Eniotorin, an anti-malarial coumarin from the root bark of Quassia undulata. Nigerian Journal of Natural Products and Medicine 8: 69–73.
• Ajaiyeoba, E.O., Abalogua, U.I., Krebs, H.C. & Oduola, A.M.J., 1999. In vivo antimalarial activities of Quassia amara and Quassia undulata plant extracts in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 67(3): 321–325.
• Capuron, R., 1961. Contributions à l’étude de la flore forestière de Madagascar, III. Sur quelques plantes ayant contribué au peuplement de Madagascar. Adansonia, séries 2, 1(1): 65–92.
• CTFT (Centre Technique Forestier Tropical), 1962. Effeu (Hannoa klaineana). Information technique No 177. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 1 pp.
• Fouarge, J. & Gérard, G., 1964. Bois du Mayumbe. Institut National pour l’Etude Agronomique du Congo (INEAC), Brussels, Belgium. 579 pp.
• François, G., Diakanamwa, C., Timperman, G., Bringmann, G., Steenackers, T., Atassi, G., van Looveren, M., Holenz, J., Tassin, J.-P., Aké Assi, L., Vanhaelen-Fastré, R. & Vanhaelen, M., 1998. Antimalarial and cytotoxic potential of four quassinoids from Hannoa chlorantha and Hannoa klaineana, and their structure-activity relationships. International Journal for Parasitology 28(4): 635–640.
• Gurib-Fakim, A. & Brendler, T., 2004. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mascarenes. Medpharm, Stuttgart, Germany. 568 pp.
• 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.
• InsideWood, undated. [Internet] Accessed May 2007.
• Istas, J.R., Raekelboom, E.L. & Heremans, R., 1959. Etude de quelques bois congolais. Série technique No 59. Institut National pour l’Etude Agronomique du Congo (INEAC), Brussels, Belgium. 183 pp.
• Kryn, J.M. & Fobes, E.W., 1959. The woods of Liberia. Report 2159. USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, United States. 147 pp.
• Lumonadio, L., Atassi, G., Vanhaelen, M. & Vanhaelen-Fastre, R., 1991. Antitumor activity of quassinoids from Hannoa klaineana. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 31(1): 59–65.
• Martret, J.M., Farines, M. & Soulier, J., 1992. Composition chimique des lipides de graines d’Hannoa undulata (Planch.), Simaroubacées. Revue Francaise des Corps Gras 39(7–8): 195–199.
• Miralles, J., Nongonierma, R., Sagna, C., Kornprobst, J.M. & Gaydou, E., 1988. Composition en lipides et en quassinoides des graines de Hannoa undulata (Planch.), Simarubacée. Revue Francaise des Corps Gras 35(1): 13–16.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Ong, H.C., 2001. Quassia L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 463–466.
• Perez, R.M., 2003. Antiviral activity of compounds isolated from plants. Pharmaceutical Biology 41(2): 107–157.
• Prot, J.C. & Kornprobst, J.M., 1985. Effects of quassinoids extracted from Hannoa undulata seed on the penetration and reproduction of Meloidogyne javanica on tomato. Revue de Nematologie 8(4): 383–389.
• Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.
• Van den Eynden, V., Van Damme, P. & de Wolf, J., 1994. Inventaire et modelage de la gestion du couvert végétal pérenne dans une zone forestière du sud du Sénégal. Rapport final, Partie C: Etude ethnobotanique. University of Gent, Gent, Belgium. 111 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Voorhoeve, A.G., 1979. Liberian high forest trees. A systematic botanical study of the 75 most important or frequent high forest trees, with reference to numerous related species. Agricultural Research Reports 652, 2nd Impression. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 416 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.
J.N. Gyakari
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
J.R. Cobbinah
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana

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:
Gyakari, J.N. & Cobbinah, J.R., 2008. Quassia undulata (Guill. & Perr.) D.Dietr. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, base of bole; 2, flowering twig; 3, flower; 4, fruits.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

base of bole