Allophylus abyssinicus (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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distribution in Africa (wild)

Allophylus abyssinicus (Hochst.) Radlk.

Protologue: Engl. & Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. III, 5: 313 (1895).
Family: Sapindaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 28

Origin and geographic distribution

Allophylus abyssinicus is found in the highlands from Sudan and Ethiopia in the north to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the south.


The wood of Allophylus abyssinicus is used in Ethiopia and Uganda, especially for the manufacture of farm tools and yokes, and sometimes for joinery and boxes. It is also used as firewood and for charcoal. In Uganda it is considered useful as a shade tree for crops, but the continuous shedding of leaves and ripe fruits makes its surroundings untidy. In Ethiopia the leaves are used as an anthelmintic and the fruits to cure venereal diseases. In Kenya roots are grated and eaten in small quantity to treat coughs and rheumatism.


The wood of Allophylus abyssinicus is white to pale brown, taking a nice polish. It is medium-weight with a density of 550–700 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. The wood requires careful seasoning and, although hard, is easy to work. It is not durable.


  • Small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall, rarely a shrub; bole up to 90 cm in diameter, sometimes slightly buttressed; bark surface grey to greyish white, smooth or slightly rough, sometimes peeling in flakes; young braches densely reddish brown short-hairy, with many lenticels.
  • Leaves alternate, 3-foliolate; stipules absent; petiole 2.5–10.5 mm long, soft-hairy; leaflets elliptical to obovate, (3–)5.5–21 cm × (1–)3–11 cm, cuneate at base, acute to acuminate at apex, margins with small teeth, slightly leathery, long-hairy when young, later becoming glabrous on both sides, pinnately veined, with tufts of hairs in vein axils beneath.
  • Inflorescence an axillary, panicle 5–22 cm long, with 2–10 branches, finely hairy.
  • Flowers unisexual, slightly zygomorphic, 4-merous; pedicel 1–3 mm long; sepals free, c. 1.5 mm long; petals c. 1.5 mm × 1 mm, dirty white or yellowish; stamens 8, filaments 2–3 mm long, glabrous; ovary superior, deeply 2–3-lobed, style 2–3 mm long, 2–3-fid; male flowers with rudimentary ovary, female flowers with rudimentary stamens.
  • Fruit a 1–2(–3)-lobed drupe c. 6 mm in diameter, red or orange, sparsely hairy, 1–2(–3)-seeded.
  • Seeds ellipsoid, c. 5.5 mm long, straw-coloured.

Other botanical information

Allophylus is widespread throughout the tropics and subtropics. Most authors estimate the number of species in the range of 150–200, but species are difficult to delimit. In an extreme view Allophylus has been considered to represent a single but extremely variable species, Allophylus cobbe (L.) Rausch.

Allophylus pseudopaniculatus

Allophylus pseudopaniculatus Baker f. (synonym: Allophylus kiwuensis Gilg) is a small tree up to 15 m tall from eastern DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. In eastern DR Congo the wood is used in house construction.

Allophylus pervillei

Allophylus pervillei Blume, called ‘mchacha’ in Swahili, is a small tree up to 9 m tall, but more often a shrub, occurring in Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles. In coastal Kenya the wood is used for poles in construction, whereas a decoction of the roots is taken to treat stomach-ache and leaves are applied as a dressing to treat headache.

Allophylus arboreus and macrocarpus

Allophylus arboreus Choux and Allophylus macrocarpus Danguy & Choux are endemic species of Madagascar. Both are medium-sized trees of which the wood is used in boat building.


Allophylus abyssinicus occurs in mountain forest, riverine forest and at forest edges at altitudes of over 1000 m.


Seeds can be stored for considerable time if kept cool, dry and insect-free. Treating the seed before sowing is not necessary. Allophylus abyssinicus can be grown in pure stands or intercropped with food crops. Trees grow slowly and can be pollarded or coppiced.

Genetic resources

Allophylus abyssinicus is widespread and not under threat of extinction or genetic erosion.


The wood of Allophylus abyssinicus will remain of only local importance, as is also the case for other Allophylus spp.

Major references

  • Dale, I.R. & Greenway, P.J., 1961. Kenya trees and shrubs. Buchanan’s Kenya Estates Limited, Nairobi, Kenya. 654 pp.
  • Davies, F.G. & Verdcourt, B., 1998. Sapindaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 108 pp.
  • Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1995. Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 10. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 710 pp.

Other references

  • Bekele-Tesemma, A., 2007. Useful trees and shrubs for Ethiopia: identification, propagation and management for 17 agroclimatic zones. Technical Manual No 6. RELMA in ICRAF Project, Nairobi, Kenya. 552 pp.
  • Exell, A.W., 1966. Sapindaceae. In: Exell, A.W., Fernandes, A. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 2, part 2. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 494–543.
  • Hauman, L., 1960. Sapindaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 9. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 279–384.
  • Irwanto, R.R.P., 1998. Allophylus L. In: Sosef, M.S.M., Hong, L.T. & Prawirohatmodjo, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(3). Timber trees: Lesser-known timbers. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 62–63.
  • Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Vollesen, K., 1989. Sapindaceae. In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3. Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 490–510.
  • Yamada, T., 1999. A report of the ethnobotany of the Nyindu in the eastern part of the former Zaire. African Study Monographs 20(1): 1–72.


  • C.H. Bosch, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Bosch, C.H., 2011. Allophylus abyssinicus (Hochst.) Radlk. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Louppe, D. & Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 8 February 2019.