Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1
Hort. brit., ed. 1, 2: 323 (1826).
Verbenaceae (APG: Lamiaceae)
2n = 32
Vitex cuneata Thonn. (1827), Vitex cienkowskii Kotschy & Peyr. (1867), Vitex pachyphylla Baker (1900).
Black plum, West African plum (En). Prunier noir, koro (Fr). Cetona (Po). Mfudu, mfuru, mfuu (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Vitex doniana is extremely widespread in tropical Africa, occurring from Senegal east to Somalia and south to South Africa; also in Comoros and Seychelles. It is occasionally cultivated elsewhere, e.g. in Mauritius.
The wood is popular for house building, vats, furniture, stools, carving, tool handles, gunstocks, bowls, spoons, drums, guitars and beehives. It is also suitable for light construction, light flooring, joinery, interior trim, shipbuilding, vehicle bodies, agricultural implements, toys, novelties, boxes, crates, matches, veneer, plywood, hardboard, particle board, wood-wool and pulpwood. The wood is used as firewood and for charcoal production.
Cooked young leaves are eaten as a vegetable or in sauces. The blackish pulp of the fruits is edible and sweet, and eaten raw. It is often used to make jam. A beverage is made from the fruit juice, and boiled fruits are the basis for an alcoholic liquor and wine. The seeds inside the fruit stone are also edible.
Vitex doniana has numerous applications in traditional medicine. Leaf sap is used as an eye drop to treat conjunctivitis and other eye complaints. A leaf decoction is applied externally as a galactagogue and against headache, stiffness, measles, rash, fever, chickenpox and hemiplegia, and internally as a tonic, anodyne and febrifuge, and to treat respiratory diseases. Pastes of pounded leaves and bark are applied to wounds and burns. Leaf infusions are added to alcoholic drinks to make them stronger. A root decoction is administered orally to treat ankylostomiasis, rachitis, gastro-intestinal disorders and jaundice, and as an anodyne. Powdered bark added to water is taken to treat colic, and a bark extract is used to treat stomach complaints and kidney troubles. The bark is also used against leprosy and liver diseases, and to control bleeding after childbirth. Dried and fresh fruits are eaten against diarrhoea, and as a remedy against lack of vitamin A and B. The twigs are used as chewing sticks for teeth cleaning.
The blackish extract obtained by boiling leaves, bark, roots and/or fruits is used as ink and as a dye for clothes. The flowers serve as source of nectar for honeybees. Cattle browse the foliage. Vitex doniana is planted as an ornamental shade tree. It contributes to the improvement of soil fertility by litter production.
Production and international trade
Vitex doniana timber appears to be traded mainly in local markets and in small amounts. Very small volumes have been traded from Gabon to Europe under the name ‘evino’. Fruits are also traded on local markets and are locally common in the fruiting season. The leaves are traded locally as a vegetable.
The heartwood is creamy white to pale brown, yellowish brown or greyish brown and indistinctly demarcated from the 2.5–6 cm wide sapwood. The grain is straight to wavy or interlocked, texture moderately fine to moderately coarse. The wood resembles teak. It is medium-weight, with a density of 430–620 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, and soft. The wood air dries fairly easily, with little deformation although there is a tendency to cup. The rates of shrinkage from green to oven dry are 1.8–3.1% radial and 5.5–7.0% tangential, and from green to 12% moisture content about 1.1% radial and 3.3% tangential. Once dry, the wood is stable in service.
At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 41–129 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 5000–6500 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 27–50 N/mm², shear 7–9 N/mm², cleavage 59 N/mm radial and 74 N/mm tangential, and Janka side hardness 3020 N.
The wood is easy to saw and work with hand and machine tools. It often planes to a silky or furry surface due to the presence of interlocked grain. The wood nails well with little splitting, but it does not always hold nails well. Veneer of good quality can be produced, but the logs are often too irregular to be suitable for rotary peeling. The wood is often too soft for turnery. It is usually not durable, although good durability has also been reported, especially resistance against termites. The wood is moderately resistant to impregnation with preservatives. The wood dust may cause dermatitis in workers.
The fruits are acidic, the fruit juice has a pH of about 4.5. Per 100 g edible portion, the composition of the fruit pulp is: water 59.5–73.5 g, energy 435 kJ (104 kcal), protein 0.6–0.8 g, fat 0.1–1.3 g, carbohydrate 27.5 g, fibre 1.3 g, Ca 20–47 mg, P 47 mg, Fe 2.0–4.5 mg, ascorbic acid 6–18 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968). Jam prepared from the fruit showed no significant difference in flavour, colour and overall acceptability from a commercial plum jam, and the Vitex doniana jam was even preferred for consistency and spreadability. The fruits are a good source of potassium and iron. The syrup made from the fruit pulp can be used instead of other syrups as a nutritive sweetener. Wine obtained from controlled fermentation had 10.5% alcohol content, and wine obtained from spontaneous fermentation 5.0%. Several mycotoxigenic yeasts and fungi were isolated from deteriorating fruits; they may cause a health hazard to livestock. Consumption of large amounts of fruits causes a transient reduction in reproductive functioning in female olive baboons (Papio hamadryas anubis). The presence of progestogen-like compounds in the fruit has been suggested as the probable cause. The seed oil has high iodine and low saponification values and can be used for skin cream, resin and paint production. Dried seeds yield about 30% oil.
Oral and intravenous administration of an aqueous stem bark extract produced a dose-dependant hypotensive effect in both normotensive and hypertensive rats. The results of tests on rats suggest that an aqueous extract of the stem bark is hepato-protective. The aqueous extract of chewing sticks made of Vitex doniana purchased in the market exhibited strong activity against a wide spectrum of bacteria including medically and dentally relevant bacteria, although the extracts of chewing sticks from Garcinia kola Heckel and Anogeissus leiocarpa (DC.) Guill. & Perr. had broader and generally stronger effects. This supports the traditional use of these chewing sticks with reported anticaries effect. From tests with hot water extracts of the bark on uterine muscle strip preparations, it was concluded that the use of the bark to control postpartum bleeding may be justified. The traditional use of Vitex doniana against diarrhoea was supported in tests with aqueous methanol extracts of the stem bark on perfused isolated rabbit jejunum and on castor oil-induced diarrhoea in mice. Stem bark extracts were able to inhibit the growth of clinical isolates of Salmonella typhi, Shigella dysenteriae and Escherichia coli, suggesting that they may be valuable in the treatment of dysentery and other gastroenteritic infections.
The annual quantity of dry litter produced by Vitex doniana in northern Cameroon is about 200 g/m².
Deciduous small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall; bole branchless for up to 11 m, up to 90(–160) cm in diameter, often slightly fluted at base; bark surface greyish white to pale greyish brown, fissured and scaly, inner bark yellowish white, darkening to brown; crown rounded; young branches shortly hairy, glabrescent. Leaves opposite, digitately compound with (3–)5(–7) leaflets; stipules absent; petiole 5–20 cm long; petiolules up to 2.5 cm long; leaflets obovate to elliptical, 4–25 cm × 2.5–10.5 cm, notched to rounded or shortly acuminate at apex, entire, leathery, nearly glabrous. Inflorescence an axillary cyme up to 10 cm long and 16 cm wide, orange-brown hairy; peduncle 2–7.5 cm long; bracts up to 6 mm long. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, 5-merous; pedicel up to 2 mm long; calyx conical, 3–5 mm long, with short teeth, enlarging in fruit; corolla white to pale purple, tube 6–8 mm long, curved, limb 4-lobed, lobes c. 3 mm long and middle lower lobe up to 4.5 mm long; stamens 4, inserted in the corolla tube, 2 long and 2 short; ovary superior, obovoid, 4-celled, style c. 7 mm long. Fruit an obovoid to oblong-ellipsoid drupe 2–3 cm long, purplish black, fleshy, with woody, 4-celled stone, up to 4-seeded. Seeds without endosperm.
Other botanical information
Vitex comprises about 150 species and is pantropical with a few species in temperate regions. Approximately 60 species occur in tropical Africa, of which Vitex doniana is most widespread. The variability of Vitex doniana is remarkable, regarding its morphology as well as its habitat choice, and biosystematic research is warranted.
Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):
Growth rings: (1: growth ring boundaries distinct); (2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent). Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; (21: intervessel pits opposite); 22: intervessel pits alternate; (25: intervessel pits small (4–7 μm)); 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); (30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell); 31: vessel-ray pits with much reduced borders to apparently simple: pits rounded or angular; 32: vessel-ray pits with much reduced borders to apparently simple: pits horizontal (scalariform, gash-like) to vertical (palisade); 42: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 100–200 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; 65: septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled. Axial parenchyma: 78: axial parenchyma scanty paratracheal; (79: axial parenchyma vasicentric); 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand; 93: eight (5–8) cells per parenchyma strand. Rays: 98: larger rays commonly 4- to 10-seriate; 106: body ray cells procumbent with one row of upright and/or square marginal cells; 115: 4–12 rays per mm. Mineral inclusions: 152: crystals of other shapes (mostly small); (154: more than one crystal of about the same size per cell or chamber).
(M. Thiam, P. Baas & P. Détienne)
Growth and development
The growth rate of Vitex doniana is moderate. In plantations in northern Côte d’Ivoire, seedlings were on average 70–90 cm tall after 3 years, the tallest ones reaching 170 cm. On good soils in southern Burkina Faso early growth is a bit faster. In drier regions of West Africa trees flower in the second half of the dry season or at the beginning of the rainy season. In Gabon they lose their leaves in December–February and flower in March–May. The flowers are commonly visited by bees and sunbirds. In Gabon fruits start to ripen in August. They are eaten by monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants, which probably disperse the seeds. In Tanzania fruits ripen in April–July, in Zambia in April–September.
Vitex doniana occurs in a variety of habitats, from forest to savanna, often in wet localities and along rivers, and on termite mounds, up to 2000 m altitude. It occurs in regions with a mean annual rainfall of 750–2000 mm. It is most commonly found on alluvial soils. In Central Africa it is often the first species to establish when gallery forests evolve in low-lying areas in the savanna.
Propagation and planting
Vitex doniana is propagated by seed or root suckers. The weight of 1000 fruit stones is about 1 kg. Stones should be sown fresh after removal of the pulp and soaking in cold or warm water for 24 hours. In Côte d’Ivoire, stones dipped into sulphuric acid 95% for 60 minutes and subsequently in water for 72 hours germinated after 26 days, but the germination rate was only 34%. Untreated fruits may take very long to germinate; fire may accelerate germination. Stones may contain several seeds and several seedlings may germinate from one stone. Seeds can be stored for up to 1 year at 3–5°C. Propagation by cuttings has been successful in Malawi. Wildlings are sometimes also used for planting. Survival rates in plantations are normally good, about 80–90% after 3 years.
Vitex doniana trees are often retained when clearing forest or savanna bushland. The tree can be managed by coppicing and lopping.
Fruits are usually collected from the wild, but in Nigeria they are sometimes also collected from trees planted on farms.
Handling after harvest
Felled logs are liable to blue stain and should not be left untreated in the forest for longer periods. Fresh logs float in water and can be transported by river. In Nigeria the fruit juice is fermented using a traditional technology to produce wine.
Vitex doniana is very widespread and common in many regions. It is not threatened by genetic erosion, although locally populations may be under pressure.
Vitex doniana, a tree highly valued by people in various parts of Africa and for various purposes, deserves protection in the wild and its domestication should be promoted. In a study in Burkina Faso, Vitex doniana was amongst the 8 species most highly valued by the local population, especially as a source of construction timber, edible fruits and leaves to make a vegetable sauce. It has interesting prospects for the development of modern phytotherapeutical medicines, especially for treating gastro-intestinal diseases and for dental hygiene, traditional uses which have been confirmed by pharmacological research and which are mainly based on antibacterial activities.
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Correct citation of this article:
Ky, K.J.M., 2008. Vitex doniana Sweet. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). Prota 7(1): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, tree habit; 2, part of flowering branch; 3, part of fruiting branch; 4, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin
bark of branch
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section
transverse surface of wood