Combretum molle (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Dye / tannin|
|Essential oil / exudate|
|Forage / feed|
Combretum molle R.Br. ex G.Don
- Protologue: Trans. Linn. Soc. London 15: 431 (1827).
- Family: Combretaceae
- Chromosome number: 56
- Velvet bush-willow, velvet leaf combretum, velvet leaf willow, soft-leaved combretum (En).
- Kinkeliba velouté (Fr).
- Mlama, msana (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Combretum molle occurs throughout tropical Africa, avoiding the humid forest areas. It also occurs in South Africa and in Yemen.
Combretum molle is widely used in African traditional medicine in the treatment of various ailments and diseases. An infusion or decoction of the roots, stem bark or leaves is taken to treat a large variety of intestinal problems, including abdominal pain, colic, constipation, intestinal worms and dysentery, and further to treat fever, malaria, jaundice, oedema, headache, backache, leprosy, HIV infections, cough, angina, tuberculosis and other chest complaints. It is also taken to induce abortion and to treat post-partum bleeding. Sometimes a fruit decoction is taken after a difficult delivery. A decoction of the roots, mixed with roots of several other plant species, is drunk to treat impotence, syphilis and female sterility and also as an aphrodisiac. Crushed fresh leaves, gum from the bark or powdered inner part of the root is applied as a wound dressing. A leaf decoction is used to wash wounds and to treat itch and skin infections. The crushed fresh roots or leaves, alone or mixed with other plants, are applied to snakebites, and an infusion of the pounded root or stem bark is taken to treat the same. The breasts are washed with a root extract as a galactagogue. A leaf decoction or dried leaves in food is taken to treat dropsy. In veterinary medicine, leaves are fed to sheep to treat intestinal worms.
The wood is yellow, hard, coarse, brittle when dry and difficult to work. It is considered to be reasonably termite resistant. It is suitable for making farm implements, stools, mortars, drums, construction poles and fence posts. Combretum molle is one of the widely used source of fuel wood and high quality charcoal. The wood burns slowly, giving intense heat. A red or black dye can be obtained from the leaves (dependent on the mordant) and a yellow dye from the roots. The sweetly scented flowers attract bees and make good forage for honey production. The leaves are readily browsed by livestock and game, and can also be used for mulching. The bark slash exudes a gum, which has been a minor source of trade in northern Nigeria, but is considered of lower quality than gum arabic. The use of Combretum molle as firewood is locally prohibited due to magico-religious reasons.
Production and international trade
Trade of leaves, roots and stem bark only occurs on a local scale. Wood is widely sold for fuel.
From the stem bark, the ellagitannin punicalagin has been isolated, in addition to several tetra- and pentacyclic triterpenes and their glycosides, e.g. mollic acid and mollic acid glucoside, combregenin and combreglucoside, arjungenin and arjunglucoside (4-epi-sericoside), arjunolic acid, and sericoside. From the aerial parts the stilbenoids combretastatins A and B and the lanosteroid-type triterpenes combretene A and combretene B were isolated. From the wood two phenanthrenes, a 9,10-dihydrophenanthrene and a phenolic bibenzyl, were isolated. Several stem bark extracts showed highly significant antibacterial, antiprotozoal and antifungal activities against a range of pathogenic organisms. A crude root extract also showed significant antifungal activity in vitro. Different leaf extracts showed anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic and antischistosomal activities in vitro.
In several mammalian experimental models, mollic acid glucoside showed significant cardiovascular effects, including bradycardia, vasorelaxation and hypotension. The compound also showed significant analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities in rats and mice, and also produced dose-dependent and significant hypoglycaemic and antidiabetic effects in normal and streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Mollic acid glucoside also showed significant antifungal activity in vitro. Punicalagin showed significant antibacterial activity as well as selective inhibition of HIV-1 replication.
Methanol and acetone extracts of the twigs were shown to be safe in male Swiss albino mice at a dose of 849–900 mg/kg. A methanolic root extracts showed promising selective inhibition of HIV-1 replication. Extracts from leaves and stem bark showed significant inhibitory activities against acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase. An acetone leaf extract showed significant anthelmintic activity against the gastrointestinal sheep nematode Haemonchus contortus. A methanolic leaf extract showed moderate antiplasmodial activity against the multi-resistant strain (W2) of Plasmodium falciparum. The extracts tested also displayed low levels of cytotoxicity against K562S cells.
Adulterations and substitutes
Several other Combretum species have similar traditional medicinal uses as Combretum molle, and showed significant antimicrobial properties.
Semi-deciduous shrub or small tree up to 10(–16) m tall; crown rounded to flat-rounded; bark black-brown to grey-brown, rough, deeply fissured; branchlets densely woolly-hairy to almost glabrous with bark peeling in fibrous strips. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 2–3(–9) mm long, leaving a prominent scar; blade variable, narrowly elliptical, narrowly ovate-elliptical or obovate to obovate-elliptical, up to 14(–16) cm × c. 9 cm, apex acute to obtuse or notched, base rounded to almost cordate, densely woolly-hairy, drying dark brown, sometimes almost glabrous, scaly on both sides, pinnately veined with 6–12 pairs of lateral veins, reticulation very prominent beneath. Inflorescences an axillary spike up to 7–11 cm long, occasionally forming panicles by suppression of the upper leaves; rachis woolly-hairy. Flowers bisexual, 4-merous, regular, yellow to greenish-yellow, sweetly scented, sessile; receptacle consisting of 2 parts, lower part 1.5–2 mm long, woolly-hairy, upper part 1.3–3 mm × 2–3 mm, campanulate, woolly-hairy; sepals ovoid, 0.5–1 mm long; petals free, irregularly obovate to kidney-shaped, 0.5–1 mm × 0.5–1 mm, sometimes minute or absent, apex ciliate, stamens 8, 5–6 mm long; ovary inferior, 1-celled, style c. 5 mm long. Fruit a 4-winged nut, almost circular to elliptical in outline, 1.5–2(–2.5) cm × 1.5–2(–2.5) cm long, stipe 2–3(–5) mm long, yellow green when young, bright golden brown when drying, wings 5–7 mm broad, indehiscent, 1-seeded. Seedling with hypogeal germination.
Other botanical information
Combretum is a very large genus, comprising about 250 species and distributed worldwide in the tropics and subtropics. About 140 species occur in tropical Africa; c. 20 species are endemic to Madagascar.
Combretum molle is considered a very polymorphic aggregate species, as it is extremely variable in leaf shape, leaf reticulation, hairiness and size of the fruits. These characters appear in various combinations throughout the distribution range and further confusion is caused through the presence of intermediate forms.
Combretum hartmannianum Schweinf. occurs in Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. In Sudan a leafy stem and stem bark decoction is taken to treat fever, jaundice and bacterial infections. The bark is used for tanning. Wood is used as construction poles and yields fuelwood and charcoal. Extracts of stem bark, stem and leaves possessed significant activity against the chloroquine-sensitive Plasmodium falciparum strain NF54. The leaf extracts also totally inhibited the enzyme HIV-1 reverse transcriptase.
Growth and development
Combretum molle flowers and fruits during different months throughout its large distribution area. Flowers appear before the new leaves.
Combretum molle is widespread in dry tree and shrub savanna, often forming pure stands, from sea-level up to 2300 m altitude. It occurs on many types of soil, including rocky slopes, quartzite outcrops and termite mounts, and also on soil with high concentrations of nickel, copper or other metals. In southern Africa Combretum molle is one of the most common constituents in Brachystegia-Julbernardia (Miombo) woodland. It occurs mainly in areas with annual rainfall up to 800 mm. It tolerates partial shade and is drought and frost hardy. Combretum molle is highly fire resistant.
Propagation and planting
Combretum molle is propagated by seed, root suckers or truncheons. Seeds number 10,000–15,000 per kg. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox and seeds can be stored for long periods under favourable conditions. Removal of the fruit coat and scarification with hot water improves germination rate and uniformity of germination. Soaking the seeds a few hours before sowing also improves germination. Seeds germinate within 5–12(–20) days with a germination rate of 45–82%. Seedlings require about 6 months in a nursery before planting out in the field. They grow best in deep, well-drained soil with ample water, and must be protected from frost or severe drought for the first 2–3 years.
Combretum molle is fast growing. Pollarding, coppicing, trimming and pruning are recommended management strategies. It is often left standing in pasture fields and farm land for shade. The old leaves have attractive reddish and purple colours. Over-watering results in poor flowering.
Diseases and pests
Combretum molle is attacked by the fungus Ceratocystis albofundus, which results in stems cankers, dead branches or sometimes even kills the whole tree. A number of pests feed on Combretum molle, including larvae of the stink bug Pentascelis remipes, and whiteflies (Tetraleurodes spp.). Seeds are often parasitized.
The main parts of Combretum molle harvested for medicinal purposes are leaves, bark and roots. Young and older trees are both used. The wood is exploited for timber and fuel wood.
Handling after harvest
The harvested bark, leaves, stems and roots of Combretum molle are washed and air-dried before use or trade. A decoction of the leaves, roots or stem bark can be used immediately or put in bottles to be used within a week. If refrigerated, the decoction can be stored for much longer. For long term storage (e.g. 6 months), the plant parts are dried in the sun and stored in airtight containers.
Combretum molle is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion, but in regions where population pressure is high, the wood is overexploitation for fuel wood. It is also frequently cut down on agricultural land, and this can lead to its local disappearance.
Combretum molle is widely used as a medicinal plant in rural communities. Although pharmacological research corroborates its traditional internal use against a range of pathogenic organisms, clinical tests to confirm its safe use would be of great value. It would also be useful to evaluate its pharmacological properties with regards to its use for HIV- and tuberculosis-related illnesses. Domestication or controlled harvesting practices are worth further investigation as a sustainable conservation measure.
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Sources of illustration
- Engler, A., 1899. Monographien Afrikanischer Pflanzen-Familien und - Gattungen. 3. Combretaceae - Combretum. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig, Germany. 116 pp. + 30 tables.
- A. Maroyi, Department of Biodiversity, School of Molecular and Life Sciences, University of Limpopo, Private Bag X 1106, Sovenga 0727, South Africa
Correct citation of this article
Maroyi, A., 2012. Combretum molle R.Br. ex G.Don. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 8 July 2021.
- See this page on the Prota4U database.