Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1
Acta Univ. Upsal., Symb. Bot. Upsal. 30(1): 74 (1992).
Teclea nobilis Delile (1843).
Small-fruited teclea (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Vepris nobilis occurs from the Central African Republic, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia south to Zimbabwe, and additionally in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The wood is used for poles and posts in house building, fences, tool handles and utensils, e.g. walking sticks, clubs, spear shafts, bows and spoons. The wood is excellent for turning and inlay work, and is also suitable for heavy construction, flooring, joinery, shipbuilding, vehicle bodies, furniture, cabinet work, mine props, sporting goods, agricultural implements, toys, novelties and vats. It is used as firewood and for charcoal production.
The fruits are edible. The flowers are a source of nectar for honeybees. The tree is occasionally planted for improving the soil by its leaf litter, and as a shade and amenity tree. The leaves are used in a vapour bath to treat fever, and leaf and root decoctions are drunk to treat pneumonia, rheumatism and itching. The roots serve as an anthelmintic and for treatment of pneumonia. Pounded root bark is applied to syphilitic ulcers, whereas the stem bark is taken as an expectorant. Bark and leaves are used as an analgesic. Roots and twigs are used as toothbrushes.
The heartwood is creamy white, often with a dark brown core, and rather indistinctly demarcated from the slightly paler sapwood. The grain is usually straight, texture fine and even. Growth rings are distinct. Fresh wood often has an unpleasant smell.
The wood is fairly heavy, with a density of 800–880 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It is hard and tough but fissile. It should be air dried slowly to avoid serious deformation. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 134 N/mm².
The wood is rather difficult to saw and work, but it can be finished to a smooth surface. The polishing and varnishing properties are satisfactory, but the nailing properties are poor; pre-boring is necessary in nailing. Steam bending gives good results. The wood is moderately durable, being fairly resistant to termites, but liable to Lyctus and marine borer attacks.
Tests in rats and mice showed anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic activities of leaf extracts, without toxic effects, and the triterpenoid lupeol was isolated as the main active compound. Several quinoline alkaloids have also been isolated from the leaves, as well as axane and oppositane sesquiterpenes.
Evergreen shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 20(–25) m tall; bole branchless for up to 7.5 m, often crooked, up to 60 cm in diameter; bark surface grey, smooth or finely grooved; crown spreading; twigs glabrous. Leaves alternate, 3-foliolate; stipules absent; petiole 1.5–6(–8) cm long, terete; petiolules up to 1 cm long; leaflets elliptical to oblong-elliptical, 5–15(–18) cm × 1.5–4(–5.5) cm, cuneate at base, acute to acuminate at apex, margin entire, glabrous, with numerous glandular dots, pinnately veined with numerous lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal panicle up to 15(–21) cm long, glabrous. Flowers unisexual, regular, 4-merous, fragrant; pedicel up to 2 mm long; sepals united, up to 1 mm long, with small ovate lobes; petals free, narrowly elliptical, c. 4 mm × 1.5 mm, whitish yellow; male flowers with 4 stamens up to 5.5 mm long and rudimentary ovary; female flowers with superior, globose ovary 1–1.5 mm in diameter, 1-celled, with short style and disk-shaped stigma, stamens rudimentary. Fruit an obovoid drupe 6–8 mm × 5–6 mm, orange-red, smooth, glabrous, 1-seeded. Seed ovoid, 5–6 mm long.
Vepris nobilis grows moderately slowly. In southern Africa trees flower in August–December, in Kenya in January–April and June–December, and fruits ripen 1–2 months after flowering.
Vepris comprises about 80 species, most of them in mainland Africa, about 30 endemic to Madagascar, and 1 in India. The wood of several other Vepris species is occasionally used in East Africa:
Vepris arushensis Kokwaro is a small to medium-sized tree up to 17 m tall, endemic to northern Tanzania. Its wood is used for poles, tool handles, walking sticks, bows and spoons. It is also used as fuelwood. Vepris arushensis is planted as an ornamental shade tree and roadside tree. Vepris arushensis is classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Red list.
Vepris dainellii (Pic.Serm.) Kokwaro (synonym: Diphasia dainellii Pic.Serm.) is endemic to southern Ethiopia, where it is a small understorey tree up to 15 m tall in moist montane forest. It differs from Vepris nobilis by its opposite leaves and 2-lobed fruit. The tough wood is used for furniture and agricultural implements, and as firewood. The fruit is edible.
Vepris glomerata (F.Hoffm.) Engl. (synonym: Teclea pilosa (Engl.) I.Verd.) occurs from southern Sudan and Ethiopia south to Tanzania. It is a shrub or small tree up to 7.5 m tall. Its wood is used for similar purposes as that of Vepris nobilis, e.g. for house poles, sticks and clubs. A root decoction is taken as a tonic and to treat malaria, and a bark decoction to treat cardiac pain. The vapours of a root bark decoction are applied in cases of eye complaints, and ground roots are taken against hookworm. The foliage is browsed by goats and camels. The fruit is edible.
Vepris glandulosa (Hoyle & Leakey) Kokwaro, a shrub or small tree up to 7 m tall and endemic to Kenya, resembles Vepris glomerata, but differs in its stalked and larger leaflets and fruits. Its wood is used for tool handles. Vepris glandulosa is classified as endangered in the IUCN Red list. In 1995, fewer than 200 adults were counted.
Vepris grandifolia Engl. is a shrub or small tree up to 11 m tall occurring from Cameroon east to Kenya and south to Angola and Zambia, and differs from Vepris nobilis in its hairy inflorescences and smaller flowers. The hard and tough wood is used for utensils, tool handles, bows, sticks, poles and pegs. It is also used as fuelwood. The tree is planted as an ornamental shade tree and roadside tree.
Vepris hanangensis (Kokwaro) Mziray (synonym: Teclea hanangensis Kokwaro) is a medium-sized tree up to 20 m tall, occurring in Kenya and Tanzania. Its wood is used for poles, tool handles, bows and spoons, and as fuelwood. Vepris hanangensis is planted as a roadside tree.
Vepris morogorensis (Kokwaro) Mziray (synonym: Diphasia morogorensis Kokwaro) is a small tree up to 10 m tall, endemic to Tanzania. Its wood is used for poles, tool handles, spoons and bows. It is also used as fuelwood. Vepris morogorensis is planted as an ornamental shade tree and roadside tree.
Vepris simplicifolia (Engl.) Mziray non Endl. (synonym: Teclea simplicifolia (Engl.) I.Verd.) is an illegitimate name used for a small 1-foliolate tree up to 10(–20) m tall, occurring in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Its wood is very similar to that of Vepris nobilis, and used for similar purposes. In traditional medicine a bark decoction is drunk to treat chest complaints and a root decoction to treat stomach-ache, backache, leprosy, gonorrhoea and brucellosis. Leaves and twigs are used for treating pleurisy. A leaf decoction is taken against pneumonia, leaf ash is applied externally against leprosy, and fruits are chewed to relieve toothache. Twigs are used as toothbrushes.
Vepris stolzii I.Verd. is a small tree up to 15 m tall, distributed in Central and East Africa and in Angola. Its wood is used for poles in building, spoons, handles, bows and as firewood. Vepris stolzii is planted as an ornamental shade tree and roadside tree.
Vepris nobilis occurs in evergreen forest, often together with Podocarpus and Juniperus, and in riverine forest and woodland, at 900–2700 m altitude in East Africa, but in southern Africa also at lower altitudes.
There may be abundant natural regeneration under parent trees. Pre-treatment of seed is not necessary before sowing, but the germination rate of fresh seed is generally low and seeds lose their viability within a few months. One kg contains about 20,000 seeds. Wildlings are sometimes used for propagation. Trees can be managed by pruning and pollarding.
Genetic resources and breeding
Vepris nobilis is widespread, but within its area of distribution it is often uncommon and it has been subject to overexploitation in several regions, either for its timber, e.g. throughout Uganda, or for medicinal purposes, e.g. in several regions in Kenya. Therefore, some caution is needed to avoid genetic erosion.
Vepris nobilis provides timber of fair quality, but its production is hampered by the often poor shape and small size of the bole. It is good for turnery and inlay work where smaller dimensions are acceptable. Tests in animals confirmed several of the claimed medicinal properties, such as analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory activities. This deserves further research on possibilities for drug development.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2008. Vepris nobilis (Delile) Mziray. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
obtained from Zimbabweflora
obtained from Zimbabweflora