Calophyllum inophyllum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

General importance Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage Africa Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage World Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
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Timber Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Ornamental Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Conservation status Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg

distribution in Africa (wild)
1, tree habit; 2, flowering twig; 3, fruits. Source: PROSEA
tree habit
resprouting trunks
bole (University of Hawaii)
flowering branch (Botanypictures)
inflorescence (R.A. Howard)
fruiting branch
fruit (GRIN)
seedling (University of Hawaii)
wood (tangential surface)
wood (radial surface)
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section

Calophyllum inophyllum L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 513 (1753).
Family: Clusiaceae (Guttiferae, Hypericaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 32

Vernacular names

  • Alexandrian laurel, beauty leaf, bintangor (En).
  • Vintanina, bintangor (Fr).
  • Loureiro de Alexandria (Po).
  • Motondoo, mtondoo, mkanja (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Calophyllum inophyllum is widespread along the coasts of eastern Africa (from Kenya to northern Mozambique), Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands, tropical Asia, northern Australia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Although it is considered wild in most of this area, it is often unclear where it is truly wild or a relict of former cultivation. In Réunion and Mauritius it has possibly been introduced. It is locally planted outside the natural distribution area, e.g. in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon, where seemingly wild trees and seedlings can be found near beaches. In Uganda it has been established near Lake Victoria. It is also planted in tropical America.


Throughout its area of distribution Calophyllum inophyllum is used for the construction of canoes and small boats, but also for masts, keels, knees and pulley blocks. Its wood was already used around 1600 AD by the Spaniards in the Philippines for parts of their ships, especially the keel, ribs and cheek. The wood is occasionally also used for construction, carpentry, flooring, stairs, furniture and cabinet work, cart-wheel hubs, vessels and musical instruments.

Calophyllum inophyllum is planted as a roadside tree, in hedges and as a wind break, e.g. in Ghana and Nigeria. The seed oil is used for illumination while the purified oil can be used in soap production and as a carrier oil, skin moisturizer and hair oil in cosmetics and also in aromatherapy. In Mauritius a root decoction is used to treat ulcers, boils and ophthalmia, the bark to treat orchitis, the latex rubbed on the skin against rheumatism and psoriasis, and a leaf decoction to treat eye infections. In the Seychelles the resin is used to treat wounds and insect bites. In Kenya the seed oil is applied to glandular swellings in the neck and jaws. Numerous uses in traditional medicine have been recorded from tropical Asia and the Pacific: the latex and pounded bark are applied externally on wounds, ulcers and to treat phthisis, orchitis and lung affections, and internally as a purgative, after childbirth and to treat gonorrhoea; a leaf infusion is used to treat sore eyes, haemorrhoids and dysentery; heated leaves are applied to cuts, sores, ulcers, boils and skin rash; leaves are used in inhalations to treat migraine and vertigo; the seed oil is applied externally as an analgesic against rheumatism and sciatica, and as a medication against swellings, ulcers, scabies, ringworm, boils and itch; and the flowers are used as a heart tonic. The seeds are used as a fish poison. The stones of the fruit are used as marbles. The pulp of immature fruits is recorded as edible, but caution is needed as toxic compounds may be present in mature fruits.

Production and international trade

Calophyllum timber (‘bintangor’) is of considerable importance on the international market. However, the bulk is produced in Borneo and New Guinea and consists of other Calophyllum species. Calophyllum inophyllum has only local importance. Timber of Calophyllum species from Madagascar is known as ‘vintanina’. The oil is traded internationally as tamanu oil or foraha oil, but quantities involved are not known. It is expensive; in 2005 the retail price was over US$ 450/l.


The heartwood is pinkish to reddish brown, and clearly demarcated from the pale sapwood. The grain is interlocked, spiral or wavy, texture moderately coarse and uneven. Planed surface lustrous; stripe figure present on radial surface and darker coloured zigzag markings on tangential surface.

The wood of Calophyllum inophyllum is medium-weight to moderately heavy (560–800 kg/m³ at 15% moisture content) and moderately hard. The rates of shrinkage are medium, from green to oven dry 4.2% radial and 5.3% tangential. Drying is moderately difficult; the wood seasons fairly slowly with moderate defects such as end checking, splitting, cupping and springing. Weighting down of stacks during air drying is recommended as this reduces the tendency of the timber to warp and twist.

In a test in the Philippines, the wood of Calophyllum inophyllum showed the following mechanical properties at 15% moisture content: modulus of rupture 48 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 7545 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 42 N/mm², shear 6 N/mm², cleavage 60 N/mm radial and 72 N/mm tangential, Janka side hardness 4820 N and Janka end hardness 6045 N.

The wood is often rather difficult to saw, and sawn surfaces tend to be woolly. The wood is not easy to plane because of spiral or interlocked grain. It is not recommended to use this timber for lengths over 3 m because it is often bent. Calophyllum inophyllum timber is rated as moderately durable under exposed conditions. It is durable when used under water. The wood is resistant to termites. The heartwood is resistant to preservative treatment.

The wood contains 58% cellulose, 31.5% lignin, 17% pentosan and no silica. The solubility is 4.4% in alcohol-benzene, 1.0% in cold water, 4.5% in hot water and 12.4% in a 1% NaOH solution. The energy value is 19,100 kJ/kg.

Mature and dried seed contains 50–60(–73)% of a bluish yellow to dark green viscous oil with a disagreeable flavour, that may contain up to 30% resinous materials. The fatty acid composition of the seed oil is: palmitic acid 15%, stearic acid 13%, oleic acid 49%, linoleic acid 21%, linolenic acid 0.3%, eicosanoic acid 0.9% and eicosenoic acid 0.7%. The oil also contains glycolipids (6.4%) and phospholipids (1.6%). It has cicatrizing properties, explaining its traditional and modern use in a wide range of skin problems. The oil has also shown anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial and insecticidal activity. It stimulates phagocytosis of cells of the reticulo-endothelial system and has protective activity on the vascular system. Clinical tests showed that the oil may reduce old scars. Refined oil, which is pale yellow, has strongly diminished medicinal properties.

Inophyllums (4-phenyl-pyranocoumarins) have been isolated from the leaves and seeds of Calophyllum inophyllum and these coumarins proved to be non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors of HIV type 1. Inophyllum B and P are the most active compounds isolated. They are closely related to the anti-HIV compound (+)-calanolide A originally extracted from Calophyllum lanigerum Miq. Some of the 4-phenyl-coumarins isolated from Calophyllum inophyllum might be valuable as cancer chemopreventive agents. Seed extracts showed significant molluscicidal activity; the hydroxy-acid calophyllic acid was isolated as the active compound. The ether extract of the leaves showed piscicidal activity.

The bark is astringent and contains 11–19% tannins and is reportedly antiseptic and disinfectant. The oleoresin from the bark, which contains benzoic acid, shows cicatrising properties.


  • Medium-sized tree up to 25(–35) m tall, with sticky yellowish latex, usually with twisted or leaning bole up to 150 cm in diameter, without buttresses; bark shallowly longitudinally fissured, pale grey and fawn, inner bark usually thick, soft, fibrous and laminated, pink to red, darkening to brownish on exposure; twigs 4-angled or rounded, terminal bud plump, 4–9 mm long.
  • Leaves decussately opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–2 cm long; blade elliptical, ovate, obovate or oblong, (5.5–)8–20(–23) cm long, rounded to cuneate at base, retuse to obtuse at apex, leathery, with closely parallel secondary venation alternating with latex canals.
  • Inflorescence an axillary false raceme 7–15 cm long, sometimes branched, 5–15(–30)-flowered.
  • Flowers bisexual, regular, sweetly scented; pedicel 1.5–4 cm long; tepals 8(–13), obovate, c. 1 cm long, white; stamens numerous, in 4 bundles, slightly connate at base, orange-yellow; ovary superior, globose, 1-celled, style long and slender, flexuous, stigma peltate.
  • Fruit a globose to obovoid drupe 2.5–5 cm long, smooth, greyish green, 1-seeded.
  • Seed globose to ovoid, 1.5–2 cm long, brown, very oily.
  • Seedling with hypogeal germination; cotyledons remaining enclosed in stone.

Other botanical information

Calophyllum is a very large genus comprising about 190 species. Tropical Asia is richest in species, but Madagascar and the Mascarene islands are also comparatively rich with together about 20 species. Calophyllum inophyllum is the only species occurring in mainland Africa. It is the most widespread Calophyllum species and it shows some variation, especially in fruit size; the fruits of tropical African specimens are usually comparatively small.

Calophyllum tacamahaca

Calophyllum tacamahaca Willd., endemic to Réunion and Mauritius, is closely related to Calophyllum inophyllum; it usually occurs more inland than the latter and differs in the more close venation of the leaf. The two species have been confused, and their wood and seed oil are used for the same purposes.

Madagascar species

In Madagascar the wood of several other Calophyllum species is also used for construction, carpentry, furniture and canoes, e.g. Calophyllum chapelieri Drake, Calophyllum drouhardii H.Perrier, Calophyllum fibrosum P.F.Stevens, Calophyllum lingulatum P.F.Stevens, Calophyllum milvum P.F.Stevens, Calophyllum paniculatum P.F.Stevens, Calophyllum recedens Jum. & H.Perrier and Calophyllum verticillatum P.F.Stevens.


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; 7: vessels in diagonal and/or radial pattern; 9: vessels exclusively solitary (90% or more); 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 25: intervessel pits small (4–7 μm); 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; (45: vessels of two distinct diameter classes, wood not ring-porous); 46: 5 vessels per square millimetre; 47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre; 56: tyloses common. Tracheids and fibres: 60: vascular/vasicentric tracheids present; 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; (63: fibre pits common in both radial and tangential walls); 66: non-septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled.
  • Axial parenchyma: 76: axial parenchyma diffuse; (85: axial parenchyma bands more than three cells wide); 86: axial parenchyma in narrow bands or lines up to three cells wide; 93: eight (5–8) cells per parenchyma strand.
  • Rays: 96: rays exclusively uniseriate; 104: all ray cells procumbent; 106: body ray cells procumbent with one row of upright and/or square marginal cells; (107: body ray cells procumbent with mostly 2–4 rows of upright and/or square marginal cells); 115: 4–12 rays per mm.
  • Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; (141: prismatic crystals in non-chambered axial parenchyma cells); 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.
(E. Ebanyenle, A.A. Oteng-Amoako, P. Baas & P. Détienne)

Growth and development

Under natural conditions in tropical Asia, seedlings reach a height of 40–50 cm in 6 months after germination. Growth of young trees is discontinuous and branching is rhythmic. The bole and branches are orthotropic, although the orthotropy of the bole is weaker than in other Calophyllum species, often resulting in a procumbent bole, especially in trees growing on beaches. However, Calophyllum inophyllum is sometimes an erect tree of closed forest. Older trees show sympodial growth. Young trees start fruiting after about 10 years. The fruits are mainly dispersed by water and can often be found washed up on beaches. When the outer layer of the fruit has rotted away, fruits float easily and can be dispersed by sea currents. However, fruits are also dispersed by fruit bats.


Calophyllum inophyllum occurs wild on rocky and sandy sea shores, where it grows just above the high-tide mark. Temperatures where it grows are moderated by the proximity of the sea. Annual rainfall is 750–5000 mm. The habitat is often pronouncedly xerophytic due to the exposed situation, brackish groundwater and salt-laden winds. Calophyllum inophyllum is sensitive to frost and fire. It is sometimes found inland on sandy soils up to 200 m altitude, especially on islands. It is planted inland, up to 1200 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Natural regeneration usually occurs near the mother tree. Seedlings grown in nurseries require shade. Removal of the endocarp significantly reduces the germination period to about 22 days, increases the germination rate and improves seedling growth and development. Initial growth is slow and repeated weeding is necessary. There are up to 200 seeds/kg. Seed storage behaviour is recalcitrant.


Calophyllum inophyllum is rarely planted for its timber, more commonly as an ornamental or roadside tree.

Diseases and pests

In the Seychelles many Calophyllum inophyllum trees are affected by a vascular wilt disease caused by the fungus Leptographium calophylli, which causes severe die-back and ultimately death of the tree. The beetle Cryphalus trypanus is the likely vector of the pathogen.


For production of timber longer than 3 m trees with straight boles should be selected. For seed oil extraction, seeds are shelled; initially the kernels contain little apparent oil, but after about a month the kernels turn chocolate brown and become sticky with oil; they are chopped, dried, pounded and then boiled. The oil is skimmed from the top of the boiling water. The seeds may also be crushed to a paste and the oil is then drained off. Industrially the oil is extracted by cold expression, and is not refined so as to conserve all medicinal properties.


Calophyllum inophyllum timber is rarely available in large quantities. A mature tree may yield 50 kg of dry fruits and 18 kg of seed oil.

Genetic resources

Calophyllum inophyllum is very widespread, both in the wild and planted, and does not seem to be in danger of genetic erosion. However, wild populations are not common in tropical Africa, and need to be documented. Some of the Calophyllum species endemic to Madagascar and the Mascarene islands might easily become endangered.


Types with straight boles might be interesting for cultivation as timber tree, but research on silvicultural aspects is required, as well as more detailed information on working properties, drying, preservative treatment and mechanical properties. Interest in the oil for cosmetic purposes is likely to increase.

Calophyllum inophyllum is a source of potential cancer chemopreventive agents and may also play a role in combination therapy against AIDS.

Major references

  • Bamps, P., Robson, N. & Verdcourt, B., 1978. Guttiferae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 34 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A. & Brendler, T., 2004. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mascarenes. Medpharm, Stuttgart, Germany. 568 pp.
  • Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2003. Calophyllum L. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(3). Medicinal and poisonous plants 3. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 102–106.
  • Lim, S.C. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 1993. Calophyllum L. In: Soerianegara, I. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(1). Timber trees: Major commercial timbers. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 114–132.
  • Patil, A.D., Freyer, A.J., Eggleston, D.S., Haltiwanger, R.C., Bean, M.F., Taylor, P.B., Caranfa, M.J., Breen, A.L., Bartus, H.R., Johnson, R.K., Hertzberg, R.P. & Westley, J.W., 1993. The inophyllums, novel inhibitors of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase isolated from the Malaysian tree Calophyllum inophyllum Linn. Journal of Medical Chemistry 36: 4131–4138.
  • Perrier de la Bâthie, H., 1951. Guttifères (Guttiferae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), familles 135–136. Firmin-Didot et cie., Paris, France. 96 pp.
  • Stevens, P.F., 1980. A revision of the Old World species of Calophyllum. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 61(2): 117–424.
  • Tomlinson, P.B., 1986. The botany of mangroves. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 413 pp.
  • Wainhouse, D., Murphy, S., Greig, B., Webber, J. & Veille, M., 1998. The role of the bark beetle Cryphalus trypanus in the transmission of the vascular wilt pathogen of takamaka (Calophyllum inophyllum) in the Seychelles. Forest Ecology and Management 108(3): 193–199.

Other references

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille, 54e année, 6e série, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1995. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 1. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 495 pp.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Robson, N.K.B., 1961. Guttiferae (incl. Hypericaceae). In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 2. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 378–404.
  • Robson, N.K.B. & Stevens, P.F., 1980. Guttifères (incl. Hypéricacées). In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Julien, H.R. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Familles 31–50. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Office de la Recherche Scientifique Outre-Mer, Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 17 pp.
  • Williams, R.O., 1949. The useful and ornamental plants in Zanzibar and Pemba. Zanzibar, Tanzania. 497 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Lim, S.C. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 1993. Calophyllum L. In: Soerianegara, I. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(1). Timber trees: Major commercial timbers. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 114–132.


  • R.H.M.J. Lemmens, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2005. Calophyllum inophyllum L. 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 3 June 2023.