Prota 7(2): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 2
Engl. & Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. III, 8: 38 (1894).
Origin and geographic distribution
Schefflera abyssinica occurs in mountain regions from Nigeria and Cameroon east to Ethiopia and Kenya, and south to Malawi and Zambia.
The wood is used for furniture, boxes and agricultural implements. It is suitable for inner layers of plywood. Occasionally it is also used as firewood. The flowers are a source of nectar and pollen for honey bees. Schefflera abyssinica is planted as life fence.
The heartwood is yellowish brown and indistinctly demarcated from the sapwood. The texture is coarse. The wood is lightweight, with a density of about 460 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It is soft and easy to work. Some triterpene saponins have been isolated from the leaves.
Small to medium-sized tree up to 30 m tall, sometimes an epiphyte; bole often twisted; bark surface smooth to fissured, corky, grey-brown to grey-black, inner bark whitish; crown large, spreading. Leaves arranged spirally, digitately compound with 5–8 leaflets; stipules triangular, 1–1.5 cm long; petiole up to 42 cm long, slightly grooved; petiolules up to 12.5 cm long; leaflets elliptical to ovate, 6–25(–40) cm × 3–15(–20) cm, rounded to cordate at base, acuminate at apex, margins finely toothed, papery to leathery, glabrous, pinnately veined with 9–14 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a false raceme up to 40 cm long, often many together at ends of branches, consisting of stalked umbels; bracts at base of inflorescences broadly ovate, up to 1.5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5–8-merous, creamy to greenish yellow, fragrant; pedicel 2–11 mm long; calyx wavy; petals fused, 1.5–2 mm long, falling as a small cap; stamens the same number as petals, free, 2–3 mm long; ovary inferior, 5–8-celled, styles 5–8, 0.5–1 mm long. Fruit a nearly globose drupe-like berry c. 5 mm in diameter, ribbed, reddish when ripe, glabrous or slightly hairy, several-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid, compressed, smooth.
In Ethiopia trees flower from February to March, and fruits mature 2–3 months later. The flowers are pollinated by insects including bees. The fruits are eaten by birds, which may serve as seed dispersers.
Schefflera probably comprises about 700 species and is widely distributed in the tropics and subtropics. In mainland Africa about 12 species occur, and in Madagascar about 15.
Schefflera umbellifera (Sond.) Baill. is a small to medium-sized tree up to 20 m tall, usually with a straight bole up to 60 cm in diameter, occurring in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. The whitish, lightweight and soft wood is used for boxes and matches. A bark extract is taken to treat malaria, leaf extracts are drunk against rheumatism, colic and insanity, and root infusions against inflammations. The use of the bark in traditional medicine to treat malaria has been rationalized in experiments with bark extracts, which showed in-vitro activity against chloroquine-resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum. Schefflera umbellifera is planted as an ornamental tree in gardens.
Schefflera abyssinica occurs in mountain rainforest at (1200–)1400–2800 m altitude, often in secondary forest. In Ethiopia it is locally one of the dominant forest trees, e.g. with Hagenia abyssinica (Bruce) J.F.Gmel. at 2400–2800 m altitude, whereas in mountain forest in southern Sudan it is common.
Schefflera abyssinica is propagated by seed, cuttings and wildlings. Seeds do not require any pre-treatment; they start germinating about 2 weeks after sowing. Cuttings should be planted at the end of the rainy season.
Genetic resources and breeding
Schefflera abyssinica is widespread in mountainous regions of Africa, and is not threatened. However, isolated populations, like those in Nigeria and Cameroon, may become threatened with ongoing forest clearing.
Schefflera abyssinica will probably remain of some importance for local applications, but does not seem to have prospects for commercial exploitation, with its often poorly shaped bole and low-quality timber.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2009. Schefflera abyssinica (Hochst. ex A.Rich.) Harms. 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.