Bussea occidentalis (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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distribution in Africa (wild)
1, leaf; 2, flowering branch; 3, fruit. Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin
wood in transverse section

Bussea occidentalis Hutch. & Dalziel

Protologue: Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew 1928(10): 400 (1928).
Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 22

Origin and geographic distribution

Bussea occidentalis occurs from Guinea eastwards to Ghana.


The wood of Bussea occidentalis, known in trade as ‘samanta’ together with Calpocalyx spp. and Xylia spp., is recommended for heavy construction, industrial flooring, tools, turnery and ornaments. In Liberia it is especially valued for axe handles. Wedges made of Bussea occidentalis wood and used for felling trees proved superior to those made from the wood of other species.

The seeds are eaten after roasting; they are much appreciated in Guinea. In Liberia stem bark is added to palm wine and taken as diuretic. The bark is also used as a medicine for treating sleeping sickness, yellow fever, jaundice and heart troubles. The seeds are also used to treat heart troubles. Bark mixed with maize is used to poison monkeys in Côte d’Ivoire; the same mixture may kill cattle as well. The bark has been used in mixtures to prepare arrow poison. The bark and leaves are used in Côte d’Ivoire as a fish poison. The ash from pods serves as vegetable salt and for making soap.

Production and international trade

The timber of Bussea occidentalis is rarely traded on the international market and usually only used locally.


The heartwood is brown to olive brown or dark brown, darkening upon exposure, and distinctly demarcated from the greyish white to pale brown, c. 5 cm wide sapwood. The grain is interlocked, texture moderately coarse.

The wood is heavy, with a density of 870–1090 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, and very hard. It air dries comparatively rapidly for such a heavy wood; boards of 2.5 cm thick dry to 20% moisture content in about 2 months. End checks may develop during drying. The rates of shrinkage are moderate, from green to oven dry 4.3–6.0% radial and 7.7–9.8% tangential. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 156–171 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 19,600–20,480 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 72 N/mm² and Janka side hardness 14,500 N.

The wood is difficult to work with hand tools because of its hardness, but is not difficult to machine. It is rather difficult to plane because of the presence of interlocked grain. However, it takes a good finish. It tends to split upon nailing and pre-boring is needed. The wood glues well and gives good results in turnery. The heartwood is durable, being resistant to termites and borers, but the sapwood is susceptible to Lyctus attack. The wood is resistant to impregnation with preservatives.

The seed coat contains a haemolytic compound and a fish poison. Roasting makes the seeds safe for human consumption. The toxicity of the leaves is attributed to saponins, and the leaves also contain traces of alkaloids. Bark and roots contain tannins.

The amino acid azetidine-2-carboxylic acid has been found in high concentration in the seed, and 3-hydroxyproline and γ-methylglutamic acid are also present. Bark extracts of Bussea occidentalis showed promising in-vitro trypanocidal activity against Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense with IC50 values below 10 μg/ml. The extract was found to show a modest selectivity index, in contrast to commercially available trypanocides with a more distinct selective toxicity. High cytotoxicity for a human fibroblast cell line (WI-38) has also been reported for a methanol extract of the bark.

Adulterations and substitutes

In the timber trade Bussea occidentalis is sometimes confused with Peltophorum africanum Sond., which has quite similar wood but a completely different distribution area, from DR Congo southwards throughout a large part of southern Africa. The wood is also similar to that of Erythrophleum suaveolens (Guill. & Perr.) Brenan, which becomes slightly less dark after exposure.


  • Evergreen, medium-sized to fairly large tree up to 35(–45) m tall; bole straight and cylindrical to crooked or knotted, up to 75 cm in diameter, often fluted at base, sometimes with small buttresses up to 1 m high; bark surface smooth but with numerous lenticels, slightly scaly in old trees, pale grey to greenish grey, inner bark gritty, pale orange-brown, with copious watery exudate; crown often rounded and small, dense, sometimes with spreading branches; young twigs densely brown short-hairy.
  • Leaves alternate, bipinnately compound; stipules needle-shaped, 4–8 mm long, curved inwards, early caducous; petiole c. 10 cm long, jointed at base, rachis ribbed, rusty brown short-hairy; pinnae 4–6 pairs, opposite; petiolules 2–4 mm long; leaflets 12–22 per pinna, alternate, oblong-elliptical to ovate-elliptical, 4–10 cm × 1.5–4 cm, base asymmetrically cuneate, long-acuminate at apex, glabrous.
  • Inflorescence an axillary or terminal panicle consisting of dense racemes, up to 30 cm long, densely brown short-hairy.
  • Flowers bisexual, slightly zygomorphic, 5-merous, bright yellow, sessile; sepals free, 7–15 mm × 6–8 mm, outside red-brown hairy; petals shortly clawed, one c. 2 cm × 1 cm, other 4 obovate, c. 2.5 cm × 1.5 cm; stamens 10, free, c. 1 cm long; ovary superior, c. 0.5 cm long, sessile, 1-celled, style slender, c. 7 mm long.
  • Fruit a woody, narrowly obovate, flattened pod 15–30 cm × c. 3 cm, red-brown short-hairy, dehiscing with 2 valves splitting from top and recurving, 1–2-seeded.
  • Seeds elliptical to rounded, flattened, c. 3.5(–5) cm × 2 cm, yellowish brown.
  • Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 5–9 cm long, epicotyl 5–18 cm long; cotyledons sessile, 2–4 cm long, thick and fleshy, rounded at apex; first leaves opposite, paripinnate with 2–3 pairs of leaflets.

Other botanical information

Bussea comprises 7 species, 5 of which occur in continental tropical Africa and 2 are endemic to Madagascar. Bussea massaiensis (Taub.) Harms is a shrub or small tree up to 12 m tall, occurring in Tanzania and northern Zambia. Its wood is hard and termite resistant and is used in Tanzania for construction, tool handles, pestles and carvings. The seeds are roasted and eaten as a snack or powdered and added to soup, vegetables or meat. Leaves and seeds are fed to goats and sheep. Bussea massaiensis is useful as ornamental and shade tree.

Bussea perrieri and sakalava

Bussea perrieri R.Vig. and Bussea sakalava Du Puy & R.Rabev. are small to medium-sized trees up to 25 m tall. They are both distributed in dry deciduous forest in Madagascar, where their hard wood is used for construction. The wood of Bussea sakalava is additionally used as firewood, whereas a bark infusion of Bussea perrieri is taken to combat fatigue.


Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):

  • Growth rings: 2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent.
  • Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 23: shape of alternate pits polygonal; 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); 29: vestured pits; 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; 42: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 100–200 μm; 46: 5 vessels per square millimetre; 47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre; 58: gums and other deposits in heartwood vessels.
  • Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; 70: fibres very thick-walled.
  • Axial parenchyma: (79: axial parenchyma vasicentric); 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 81: axial parenchyma lozenge-aliform; (83: axial parenchyma confluent); (89: axial parenchyma in marginal or in seemingly marginal bands); 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand.
  • Rays: 97: ray width 1–3 cells; (98: larger rays commonly 4- to 10-seriate); 104: all ray cells procumbent; 115: 4–12 rays per mm.
  • Storied structure: 122: rays and/or axial elements irregularly storied.
  • Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells; (143: prismatic crystals in fibres).
(E.A. Obeng, P. Baas & H. Beeckman)

Growth and development

Young trees reached a mean height of 6.5 m and an average bole diameter of 8.5 cm when 7 years old, but the mortality was quite high, about 40%, apparently due to termite attack. In plantations trees may already start fruiting 4 years after planting. Trees flower throughout the rainy period, from May to October, and fruits are ripe in December–January. The fruits open explosively, dispersing the seeds over short distances. The seeds are eaten by colobus monkeys. No nodulation of the roots of Bussea occidentalis has been observed, but association with vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae has been recorded.


Bussea occidentalis can be found in all types of forest in its area of distribution, including gallery and secondary forest. It is most frequent in areas with an annual rainfall of 1500–2000 mm. It is locally dominant in the lower and middle storey of the forest and prefers well-drained soils.

Propagation and planting

Natural regeneration is recorded as poor; numerous seeds germinate but few survive, probably due to poor light conditions and insect attacks. Survival of seedlings is best in small gaps in the forest canopy; the seedlings seem to prefer some shade.

There are about 250 seeds per kg. Seedlings can be easily produced from seeds, which germinate within 1–2 weeks at a germination rate close to 70%. They are easy to grow in the nursery, reaching about 30 cm tall 4 months after sowing, and can be transplanted into the field in full sun. Two-year old stumps transplant well.


In Liberia the total standing stock of Bussea occidentalis trees of more than 50 cm in bole diameter has been estimated at less than 500,000 m³. In Ghana it has been found that where canopy openings were made to encourage natural regeneration, the dense crown of Bussea occidentalis tends to become spreading and to suppress young trees. Careful management is required to obtain straight boles.

Diseases and pests

In nurseries seedlings of Bussea occidentalis are sometimes attacked by shoot borers, but damage is not serious and the seedlings usually recover.


There is no prescribed minimum bole diameter for felling, but the recommendation in Ghana is 50 cm.

Handling after harvest

Freshly felled logs sink in water and therefore can not be transported by river.

Genetic resources

Although the range of Bussea occidentalis is limited, there are no clear indications that it is threatened at present. There are no known germplasm collections.


The prospects as a timber tree of more economic importance are not bright unless specific applications of the hard wood are developed, for instance for durable parquetry. Availability of larger boles is limited, which hampers exploitation. Planting for seed production might be interesting, but more research on phytochemistry and nutritional value of the seeds is needed. Although promising, the trypanocidal properties of Bussea occidentalis have not been fully explored yet.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
  • Dudek, S., Förster, B. & Klissenbauer, K., 1981. Lesser known Liberian timber species. Description of physical and mechanical properties, natural durability, treatability, workability and suggested uses. GTZ, Eschborn, Germany. 168 pp.
  • Freiburghaus, F., Kaminsky, R., Nkunya, M.H.H. & Brun, R., 1996. Evaluation of African medicinal plants for their in vitro trypanocidal activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 55: 1–11.
  • Hawthorne, W. & Jongkind, C., 2006. Woody plants of western African forests: a guide to the forest trees, shrubs and lianes from Senegal to Ghana. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 1023 pp.
  • Holmgren, M., Poorter, L., Siepel, A., Bongers, F., Buitelaar, M., Chatelain, C., Gautier, L., Hawthorne, W.D., Helmink, A.T.F., Jongkind, C.C.H., Os-Breijer, H.J., Wieringa, J.J. & van Zoest, A.R., 2004. Ecological profiles of rare and endemic species. In: Poorter, L., Bongers, F., Kouamé, F.N’. & Hawthorne, W.D. (Editors). Biodiversity of West African forests. An ecological atlas of woody plant species. CAB International, Wallingford, United Kingdom. pp. 101–389.
  • Kryn, J.M. & Fobes, E.W., 1959. The woods of Liberia. Report 2159. USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, United States. 147 pp.
  • Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editor), 2006. 100 tropical African timber trees from Ghana: tree description and wood identification with notes on distribution, ecology, silviculture, ethnobotany and wood uses. 304 pp.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan. 248 pp.
  • Taylor, C.J., 1960. Synecology and silviculture in Ghana. Thomas Nelson and Sons, Edinburgh, United Kingdom. 418 pp.
  • Voorhoeve, A.G., 1979. Liberian high forest trees. A systematic botanical study of the 75 most important or frequent high forest trees, with reference to numerous related species. Agricultural Research Reports 652, 2nd Impression. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 416 pp.

Other references

  • Atindehou, K.K., Koné, M., Terreaux, C., Traoré, D., Hostettmann, K. & Dosso, M., 2002. Evaluation of the antimicrobial potential of medicinal plants from the Ivory Coast. Phytotherapy Research 16(5): 497–502.
  • Atindehou, K.K., Schmid, C., Brun, R., Koné, M.W. & Traoré, D., 2004. Antitrypanosomal and antiplasmodial activity of medicinal plants from Côte d’Ivoire. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90(2): 221–227.
  • Aubréville, A., 1959. La flore forestière de la Côte d’Ivoire. Deuxième édition révisée. Tome premier. Publication No 15. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 369 pp.
  • Bakarr, M.I. & Janos, D.P., 1996. Mycorrhizal associations of tropical legume trees in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Forest Ecology and Management 89(1–3): 89–92.
  • Brummitt, R.K., Chikuni, A.C., Lock, J.M. & Polhill, R.M., 2007. Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Timberlake, J.R., Pope, G.V., Polhill, R.M. & Martins, E.S. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 3, part 2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 218 pp.
  • Busson, F., 1965. Plantes alimentaires de l’ouest Africain: étude botanique, biologique et chimique. Leconte, Marseille, France. 568 pp.
  • de Koning, J., 1983. La forêt de Banco. Part 2: La Flore. Mededelingen Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen 83–1. Wageningen, Netherlands. 921 pp.
  • de la Mensbruge, G., 1966. La germination et les plantules des essences arborées de la forêt dense humide de la Côte d’Ivoire. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 389 pp.
  • Diabate, M., Munive, A., Miana de Faria, S., Ba, A., Dreyfus, B. & Galiana, A., 2005. Occurrence of nodulation in unexplored leguminous trees native to the West African tropical rainforest and inoculation response of native species useful in reforestation. New Phytologist 166(1): 231–239.
  • du Puy, D.J., Labat, J.N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J., 2002. The Leguminosae of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 750 pp.
  • Evans, C.S. & Bell, E.A., 1978. `Uncommon' amino acids in the seeds of 64 species of Caesalpinieae. Phytochemistry 17(7): 1127-1129.
  • Hawthorne, W.D., 1995. Ecological profiles of Ghanaian forest trees. Tropical Forestry Papers 29. Oxford Forestry Institute, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. 345 pp.
  • Hawthorne, W.D. & Gyakari, N., 2006. Photoguide for the forest trees of Ghana: a tree-spotter’s field guide for identifying the largest trees. Oxford Forestry Institute, Department of Plant Sciences, Oxford, United Kingdom. 432 pp.
  • Koné, I., Lambert, J.E., Refisch, J. & Bakayoko, A., 2008. Primate seed dispersal and its potential role in maintaining useful tree species in the Taï region, Côte-d’Ivoire: implications for the conservation of forest fragments. Tropical Conservation Science 1(3): 293-306.
  • Lisowski, S., 2009. Flore (Angiospermes) de la République de Guinée: première partie. Scripta Botanica Belgica. Volume 41. Jardin Botanique National de Belgique, Belgium. 517 pp.
  • Mangenot, S. & Mangenot, G., 1958. Deuxième liste de nombres chromosomiques nouveaux chez diverses Dicotyledones et Monocotyledones d'Afrique occidentale. Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de l'Etat (Bruxelles) 28(4): 315–329.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 1998. Afrikanische Arzneipflanzen und Jagdgifte. Chemie, Pharmakologie, Toxikologie. 2nd Edition. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Stuttgart, Germany. 960 pp.
  • Pan, E., Harinantenaina, L., Brodie, P.J., Miller, J.S., Callmander, M.W., Rakotonandrasana, S., Rakotobe, E., Rasamison, V.E. & Kingston, D.G.I., in press. Four diphenylpropanes and a cycloheptadibenzofuran from Bussea sakalava from the Madagascar Dry Forest (1). Journal of Natural Products
  • Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
  • Schatz, G.E., 2001. Generic tree flora of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 477 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Voorhoeve, A.G., 1979. Liberian high forest trees. A systematic botanical study of the 75 most important or frequent high forest trees, with reference to numerous related species. Agricultural Research Reports 652, 2nd Impression. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 416 pp.


  • G.D. Djagbletey, Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Ghana
  • C.H. Bosch, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Djagbletey, G.D. & Bosch, C.H., 2011. Bussea occidentalis Hutch. & Dalziel. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. 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. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 13 April 2019.