Dombeya rotundifolia (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Carbohydrate / starch|
|Forage / feed|
Dombeya rotundifolia (Hochst.) Planch.
- Protologue: Fl. Serres Jard. Eur. 6: 225 (1850–1851).
- Family: Sterculiaceae (APG: Malvaceae)
- Chromosome number: 2n = 56
- Wild pear, common wild pear, dombeya (En).
- Mtorobwe, mkebu (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Dombeya rotundifolia is distributed from Ethiopia southward through Central, East and southern Africa to Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland.
The strong but flexible branches of Dombeya rotundifolia are made into poles, bows, tool handles and ornaments. The wood is also used as firewood. The young bark is made into rope. The leaves serve as fodder. The flowers are visited by bees that use the nectar to produce pale amber-coloured honey. The tree has ornamental value and is an excellent avenue tree. It can be trained as a bonsai.
In East Africa the boiled root is pounded and soaked in water, and the liquid is drunk by children to treat diarrhoea. Boiled roots are also applied to treat rheumatism, and root decoctions are drunk against stomach pain. An infusion of the root is drunk to treat syphilis, and the root is used in the treatment of infertility. A bark decoction is drunk against dizziness and meningitis. In southern Africa infusions of the bark, wood, stems, leaves or roots are taken orally or applied as enema to treat intestinal ulcers, haemorrhoids, diarrhoea and stomach problems. A decoction of the bark is taken against chest complaints, palpitations, cardiac weakness, fever, irregular periods, to hasten the onset of labour, and against nausea in pregnant women.
The wood of Dombeya rotundifolia is bluish grey. The grain is interlocked, texture fine. The wood is heavy, strong, tough and durable.
Ethanolic and dichloromethane extracts of the leaves and young shoots of Dombeya rotundifolia from South Africa have shown anti-inflammatory activity; antibacterial activity was highest in the ethanolic extracts. Tannins are present in the leaf and young shoot, saponins in the bark, and cardiac glycosides in the leaf, shoot and bark.
- Small tree up to 9(–15) m tall; bark dark grey, dark brown or blackish, thick, rough and deeply longitudinally furrowed; crown light and usually rounded; young branches reddish and hairy, older ones dark brown to purplish.
- Leaves alternate, simple; stipules 3–6 mm × 1–2 mm, caducous; petiole up to 9(–17) cm long; blade broadly obovate to broadly reniform, very rarely slightly lobed, 3–21(–33) cm × 3–24(–33) cm, shortly hairy, leathery, base cordate, apex acute to rounded, margin usually toothed, basal veins 5–7(–9).
- Inflorescence an axillary, compound, raceme-like or umbel-like cyme, borne in fascicles of 2–5, hairy, many-flowered; peduncle up to 6(–10) cm long; branches 0.5–2.5 cm long.
- Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant; pedicel 4–20 mm long; calyx with short tube, lobes 5–7 mm × 1.5–4 mm, hairy outside; petals obliquely obovate, 7–14 mm × 4–9 mm, white to pale pink, persistent and papery in fruit; stamens up to 7 mm long, in 5 groups of 2–3(–4) alternating with 5 linear staminodes 4–9 mm long, all united into a basal tube 0.5–1 mm long; ovary superior, depressed globose, hairy, 3-celled, style c. 2 mm long, stigmas usually 3.
- Fruit a depressed-globose capsule 5–6 mm in diameter, pale brown or cream, long-hairy, 1–3-seeded.
- Seeds trigonous, c. 3 mm × 2.5 mm, brown, testa slightly wrinkled.
- Seedling with epigeal germination.
Other botanical information
Dombeya comprises about 200 species, mainly distributed in Madagascar, with about 20 species in mainland Africa.
Dombeya cymosa Harv. (Natal wild pear or Natal dombeya) is a shrub or small tree up to 8 m tall. It is distributed from southern Mozambique southward into South Africa and Swaziland, and it occurs from sea-level up to 1200 m altitude on river banks, in forest margins, and in semi-evergreen bushland and scrub forest, often in rocky locations. The wood is dark brown, fine-grained, hard and suitable for ornaments. Excellent honey is recorded to be produced by bees visiting the plant.
Closely related to Dombeya cymosa is Dombeya kirkii Mast. (river wild pear or river dombeya; synonym: Dombeya mukole Sprague), a shrub or tree up to 15 m tall, distributed from Ethiopia through DR Congo and East Africa to South Africa. It occurs up to 2200 m altitude along rivers, in forest edges, woodland and bushland, often in rocky locations, and occasionally in dry forest margins. The branches of Dombeya kirkii are used in construction and for making bows and arrows, spear shafts and tool handles. They are also used as fuel. The bark is made into cordage and a decoction of the root is drunk against yaws and abdominal pain in East Africa. The tree is used for ornamental purposes.
Germination of Dombeya rotundifolia is usually completed within 3 weeks and growth is fast. Flowering often occurs before the start of the rainy season, when the tree is leafless. In southern Africa flowering is in July–October, and fruiting in October–December.
Dombeya rotundifolia occurs up to 2250 m altitude in grassland, woodland and forest, often on termite mounds. In East Africa it is usually found above 1000 m altitude, but in southern Africa almost as low as sea-level. Dombeya rotundifolia is sun-loving, hardy and resistant to drought, frost and fire.
Dombeya rotundifolia can easily be propagated from seed. There are 35,000–40,000 seeds/kg. At room temperature viability of the seed is retained for about 3 months only. Seedlings and young plants transplant well. Seedlings may also be collected from the wild. Lopping and pollarding of the tree are possible.
In view of its wide distribution, Dombeya rotundifolia is not threatened with genetic erosion. The variation within Dombeya rotundifolia is much wider in Angola and Namibia than in the eastern part of the distribution area.
At present the wood of Dombeya rotundifolia is only used locally and for only a few specific purposes. It is considered to have limited potential as a general purpose timber, because the pieces available are usually too small and twisted.
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- M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article
Brink, M., 2007. Dombeya rotundifolia (Hochst.) Planch. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 4 July 2022.
- See the Prota4U database.