Prota 14: Vegetable oils/Oléagineux
Agric. prat. Pays chauds 21(2): 19 (1912).
Origin and geographic distribution
Symphonia louvelii is endemic to northern and eastern Madagascar.
The seed oil, fruit, wood and exudate of Symphonia louvelii, locally called ‘kizavahy’, and several other Symphonia species are used in Madagascar. Seed is collected for its oil, which is not edible, but used as hair and body oil and in pharmaceutical ointments. The fruit pulp is edible and often fermented to make a distilled drink. The wood is valued for furniture, cabinet making, joinery and ship building, but is also suitable for interior construction, flooring, boxes, crates and implements, and as firewood. The exudate obtained by incision of the bark is used to caulk boats and to fix tool handles. In traditional medicine it is used in fumigation to prevent a variety of diseases including smallpox, and it is applied externally to tumours, sores and scabies. Branches of several Symphonia spp. are used to make wreaths worn on the head during ceremonies and festivals.
Production and international trade
The fruits are sometimes offered for sale in village markets.
The seeds of Symphonia louvelii yield about 40% oil. The melting-point of the oil is 15–16°C. The oil contains about 65% unsaturated fatty acids, mainly oleic acid. It is suited for soap and candle production. The golden-yellow bark exudate quickly turns brown on exposure. It contains xanthones and is said to have anticancer activity.
The heartwood of Madagascan Symphonia spp. (called ‘kijy’) is buff-brown with shades of yellow or orange, and is distinctly demarcated from the sapwood. The grain is generally straight, texture moderately coarse to coarse. The wood has medium lustre and a mealy appearance, with conspicuous lines and arches on the radial surface and mottling on the tangential surface. It is moderately heavy and hard. Shrinkage during drying is considerable. Air drying of 25 mm thick boards takes about 2 months, and 80 mm thick boards 6 months. The wood works easily, and the gluing, painting and varnishing properties are good. It is flexible and has excellent steam-bending properties, which makes it a favourite wood for shipbuilding. It is only moderately durable under humid conditions or in contact with the ground, but it is not easily affected by salt water.
Evergreen tree up to 20 m tall, with sticky, golden-yellow exudate, glabrous; bark smooth, yellowish; branches horizontal. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 2–5(–12) mm long; blade obovate-oblong to oblanceolate, 3–6 cm × 1–2.5 cm, cuneate at base, obtuse or rounded at apex, leathery, dark green, pinnately veined with 12–16 pairs of poorly visible lateral veins. Inflorescence a short terminal umbel-like cyme, 2–6-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, orange-red; pedicel 1–2 cm long; sepals ovate to almost orbicular, unequal, 4–6 mm × 4–6 mm; petals ovate to almost orbicular, 10–12 mm long, fleshy and waxy; disk cupule-like, c. 2 mm thick, undulate; stamens in 5 groups of (3–)4, basally merged into a c. 10 mm long tube, anthers with appendices as long as anthers; ovary superior, grooved, 5-celled, style elongate, with 5 short stigmas. Fruit an ovoid, fleshy berry with 5 rounded sides, up to 16 cm × 10 cm, pointed, smooth or warty, pale brown, 3–5-seeded. Seeds kidney-shaped, testa thin.
Symphonia comprises about 20 species, all except Symphonia globulifera L.f. endemic to Madagascar. Several species are indiscriminately exploited in Madagascar for their seed oil, edible fruit, wood and exudate, which all have similar properties. The most important species after Symphonia louvelii are Symphonia clusioides Baker from the mountains in central Madagascar, Symphonia fasciculata (Noronha ex Thouars) Vesque, widespread in eastern Madagascar, Symphonia macrocarpa Jum. & H.Perrier, which is uncommon in eastern Madagascar, Symphonia tanalensis Jum. & H.Perrier, occurring in central and eastern Madagascar, Symphonia urophylla (Decne. ex Planch. & Triana) Benth. & Hook.f. ex Vesque (synonym: Symphonia laevis Jum. & H.Perrier) from the mountains in central Madagascar, and Symphonia verrucosa (Hils. & Bojer ex Planch. & Triana) Benth. & Hook.f., which is uncommon in eastern Madagascar.
The Madagascan Symphonia spp. are shade-loving forest trees growing below the uppermost canopy storey. Symphonia louvelii occurs in moist evergreen forest, from sea-level up to 1700(–2300) m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
The centre of diversity of Symphonia is Madagascar, where it is restricted to evergreen forest. With the ongoing deforestation in Madagascar, several species are probably threatened at present, e.g. those from central Madagascar, where little natural forest remains. However, no Symphonia species is yet included in red lists. Symphonia louvelii is one of the more widespread species, but its status concerning threats and conservation measures is uncertain and should be evaluated, as is the case for other Symphonia species.
Although Symphonia spp. are multipurpose trees in Madagascar, too little is known about them to evaluate their prospects. Research on all aspects is urgently needed and several species deserve domestication.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2007. Symphonia louvelii Jum. & H.Perrier In: van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Mkamilo, G.S. (Editors). PROTA 14: Vegetable oils/Oléagineux. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.