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Synsepalum afzelii (Engl.) T.D.Penn.

Gen. Sapotaceae: 248 (1991).
Chromosome number
2n = 28
Pachystela micrantha (A.Chev.) Hutch. & Dalziel (1931), Sersalisia micrantha (A.Chev.) Aubrév. & Pellegr. (1935), Afrosersalisia afzelii (Engl.) A.Chev. (1943).
Origin and geographic distribution
Synsepalum afzelii occurs from Sierra Leone east to Cameroon and Gabon.
In Ghana the wood is used for poles. It is suitable for heavy construction, heavy flooring, mine props, vehicle bodies, sporting goods, railway sleepers and implements. It can be made into good-quality charcoal. The sweetly sour fruit pulp is edible.
The heartwood is reddish brown, the sapwood reddish yellow. The grain is usually straight, texture fine. The wood is heavy, with a density of about 990 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, and hard. It is difficult to dry, with high shrinkage rates. Once dry, the wood is stable. At 12% moisture content the modulus of rupture is 238 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 20,100 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 83 N/mm², cleavage 38 N/mm and Chalais-Meudon side hardness 5.7. The wood saws slowly, with occasional charring and a strong dulling effect on sawteeth; it is recommended that logs be quartersawn to reduce warping. The wood can be finished to a smooth surface. The gluing properties are moderate. The wood is durable, but occasionally attacked by termites. The heartwood is very resistant to impregnation with preservatives. Both the leaves and bark contain tannins and sterols.
Evergreen medium-sized tree up to 30 m tall; bole often fluted at base and sinuous, up to 170(–200) cm in diameter, often with broad buttresses at base; bark surface shallowly fissured and finely scaly, inner bark orange brown to pinkish, soft-fibrous, exuding latex; young branches initially shortly hairy, but soon glabrous. Leaves arranged spirally, clustered at ends of branches, simple and entire; stipules small, early caducous; petiole c. 1 cm long; blade elliptical to obovate, 6–13 cm × 2.5–4 cm, cuneate at base, rounded to shortly acuminate at apex, glabrous, pinnately veined with c. 10 pairs of indistinct lateral veins. Flowers in fascicles on branches below the leaves. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, small, with short pedicels; sepals fused at base, broadly ovate, shortly reddish hairy; corolla c. 3.5 mm long, with short tube and longer, oblong lobes; stamens inserted at apex of corolla tube opposite the corolla lobes, alternating with short staminodes toothed at margins; ovary superior, globose, hairy, 5-celled, gradually narrowing into the cylindrical style. Fruit an ellipsoid berry c. 2.5 cm long, red when ripe, 1-seeded. Seed ellipsoid, c. 2 cm long, brown, with very large scar. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 2–3 cm long, epicotyl 5–6 cm long; cotyledons fleshy, c. 2 cm × 1 cm.
Synsepalum afzelii flowers in Côte d’Ivoire from December to May and fruits from June to November.
Synsepalum comprises about 20 species and is confined to tropical Africa. It is most closely related to Englerophytum, which might be better included in Synsepalum. The greyish wood of Synsepalum stipulatum (Radlk.) Engl., a small tree occurring from southern Nigeria to the Central African Republic, Gabon and DR Congo, is used for planks and axe handles. It can also be made into good-quality charcoal. The sweetish fruit pulp is edible and used in jams and jellies. A water infusion from the bark is applied as eardrops to treat earache and a bark decoction is drunk as a galactagogue. In Nigeria Synsepalum stipulatum and Synsepalum afzelii have the same name in some local languages.
Synsepalum afzelii occurs in lowland evergreen forest, most commonly in humid localities, where it is often found in small groups.
Natural regeneration is often abundant, with many seedlings below parent trees. The seedlings are shade tolerant. The bole of Synsepalum afzelii may split during or soon after felling.
Genetic resources and breeding
Synsepalum afzelii is fairly widely distributed and locally fairly common, and there are no indications that it is threatened by genetic erosion.
There is very little information on many aspects of Synsepalum afzelii, and evaluation of its potential as a timber tree in managed natural forest is recommended.
Major references
• Aubréville, A., 1959. La flore forestière de la Côte d’Ivoire. Deuxième édition révisée. Tome troisième. Publication No 15. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 334 pp.
• Aubréville, A., 1964. Sapotacées. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 2. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 143 pp.
• 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.
• Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.
Other references
• Aubréville, A., 1961. Sapotacées. Flore du Gabon. Volume 1. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 162 pp.
• 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.
• 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.
• Keay, R.W.J., 1989. Trees of Nigeria. A revised version of Nigerian trees (1960, 1964) by R.W.J. Keay, C.F.A. Onochie and D.P. Stanfield. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. 476 pp.
• Kunkel, G., 1965. The trees of Liberia. Field notes on the more important trees of the Liberian forests, and a field identification key. Report No 3 of the German Forestry Mission to Liberia. Bayerischer Landwirtschaftsverlag, München, Basel, Wien. 270 pp.
• 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.
• 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.
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. Synsepalum afzelii (Engl.) T.D.Penn. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
various parts of the tree
obtained from
The Virtual Field Herbarium

wood in transverse section

wood in tangential section

wood in radial section