Combretum zeyheri (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Carbohydrate / starch|
|Forage / feed|
Combretum zeyheri Sond.
- Protologue: Linnaea 23: 46 (1850).
- Family: Combretaceae
- Chromosome number: 26
- Large-fruited bushwillow, large-fruited combretum (En).
- Msana (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Combretum zeyheri occurs from Kenya south through eastern DR Congo to northern Namibia and north-eastern South Africa.
Combretum zeyheri is much used medicinal plant in East and southern Africa. Pounded roots are cooked in porridge and eaten to treat hookworm and dysentery. Roots are chewed to treat bilharzia. Ground roots are cooked and applied to wounds to dry them. A root decoction is drunk to treat stomach-ache, sore throat, coughs, pneumonia, vomiting, peptic ulcers and diarrhoea. The pounded roots are applied to snakebites, and to stop nose bleeds and excessive menstrual flow. Root powder with fat or a leaf pulp and bark decoction are applied to haemorrhoids and rectal prolapse. Roots and leaves, together with several other plants, are used as a vapor bath to treat malaria. Crushed leaves with oil are applied as an embrocation to treat backache, rheumatism and joint pain. A decoction of the finely ground leaves or bark ash is used as eye drops to treat conjunctivitis and sore eyes. As an ointment, it is also rubbed around the eyes for this purpose. Dried leaves are smoked to treat coughs. A leaf infusion is taken to treat diarrhoea and coughs. A stem bark infusion is drunk to treat leprosy.
The wood is yellow and is used as a general purpose timber and to make fences, agricultural implements and chairs. It is easy to work, but only durable when thoroughly seasoned. It is moderately attacked by termites and stem borers. The wood is also used as firewood. The leaves are browsed by livestock and game, and is considered a valuable browse during the dry season.
The fibrous roots are used to make baskets, bow strings and fishing traps, and to attach spear heads. In Namibia the roots are used to make initiation necklaces and wedding bands for girls. Gum from the stem bark is considered a delicacy. The leaves produce a yellow dye used to dye cloth. The flowers produce much nectar and are readily visited by bees. Combretum zeyheri is used in religious rituals.
Production and international trade
The roots, as well as the leaves and stem bark are traded on a local scale only.
Very few phytochemical analyses have been done on Combretum zeyheri, which is surprising in view of its importance as a local medicinal plant. From the seeds the amino acids L-3–3 aminomethyl phenyl alanine and N-methyl-L-tyrosine were isolated. From the leaves linolenic acid was isolated. From the stem bark exudate a range of amino acids was isolated, including aspartic acid, proline and alanine.
A methanolic stem extract showed moderate antiplasmodial activity in vitro. Methanolic stem bark, root and fruit extracts showed moderate antibacterial activity against a range of pathogenic bacteria, and low to moderate antifungal activity against a range of Candida spp. Several extracts also showed moderate anti-inflammatory activity in vitro.
The nutritional composition of the leaves on dry weight basis is approximately: crude protein 11.4–14.7%, neutral detergent fibre 35.0%, acid detergent fibre 30.2%, Ca 1.1% and P 0.1–0.2%. Palatability was moderate. The fruit contains 17.8% tannin and the seed 12.9%.
The wood is tough and heavy.
Small to medium-sized deciduous tree up to 10(–12) m tall; crown rounded or flat-rounded; bark brown or grey-brown, smooth to scaly, generally fissured; young branches usually densely woolly-hairy. Leaves opposite or in whorls of 3, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole up to 1 cm long; blade broadly to narrowly elliptical or obovate-elliptical to oblong-elliptical, up to 14(–22) cm × 9(–11) cm, apex rounded to obtuse, sometimes acute, base rounded, papery, densely short-hairy when young, later short-hairy to glabrous, except for scales, pinnately veined with 5–12 pairs of lateral nerves, prominent below. Inflorescences an axillary spike up to 8 cm long, including the short woolly-hairy peduncle. Flowers bisexual, 4-merous, regular, protogynous, yellowish, sessile, sweet-scented; receptacle consisting of 2 parts, lower part densely woolly-hairy, upper part c. 3 mm × 2.5–3 mm, funnel-shaped, short-hairy and scaly; sepals triangular, 1.5–2 mm × 1.5–2 mm; petals free, obovate to spoon-shaped, 1.5–2.5 mm × 0.8–1.2 mm, stamens 8, 5–8 mm long, often reflexed towards the anthers, anthers orange; ovary inferior, 1-celled, style c. 5 mm long, exserted. Fruit a 4-winged nut, almost orbicular in outline, c. 5.5(–10) cm × c. 5(–9) cm, stipe 1–3 cm long, yellowish-green, brown to orange when dry, wings up to 3.5 cm 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 zeyheri is a very variable species, especially concerning leaf shape, hairiness and fruit size. There seems to be some positive correlation between fruit size and annual rainfall. The large fruits with rigid wings, better adapted for blowing along the ground than for transport by air, are thought to be adaptations for survival in areas subject to annual fires.
Growth and development
Combretum zeyheri flowers between August and December and fruits from October to May. Sometimes 2 flowering periods are observed. Seedlings are very susceptible to frost damage and should be protected for the first 3–4 winters. Combretum zeyheri is extremely resistant to drought. The fruits remain on the tree after the leaves have fallen.
Combretum zeyheri is fairly common in savannah, dry forest, also on termite mounts, river banks and dunes, from sea-level up to 1700 m altitude. It usually occurs on poorer sandy soils, and is very tolerant of metalliferous soils.
Propagation and planting
Combretum zeyheri is propagated by seed. The seed should be removed from the fruit, and soaked in water for c. 12 hours before sowing. After soaking the seed is very easily damaged and must be handled with care. Each seed should just be covered with sand at sowing. The germination period varies from 11–29 days with unheated soil, and 8–10 days with heated soil. Seedling emergence varies from 0–70%. Seedlings can reach 2.5 m after one year. Average 1000-seed weight is 964 g.
Combretum zeyheri can be coppiced.
Diseases and pests
Combretum zeyheri is a host of the wattle wilt fungus, Ceratocystis albofundus. It is also a host of the false codling moth Argyroploce leucotreta, and 10–50% of the fruits can be attacked each year. Caterpillars of the butterfly Deudorix dinochares feed on the seeds.
The leaves and roots of Combretum zeyheri can be harvested during the rainy season; roots can be harvested during the dry season as well if the soil is not too hard.
Handling after harvest
Roots can be dried and stored in airtight containers for later use.
Combretum zeyheri is widespread and common through its distribution area and is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Combretum zeyheri is locally much used as a medicinal plant. Pharmacological tests on a range of Combretum spp., however, showed only moderate antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory activities, and tests focussing in particular on Combretum zeyheri are lacking. Phytochemical tests identifying pharmacologically active compounds are scarce as well, and more research is therefore needed to evaluate its potential.
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- Fyhrquist, P., Mwasumbi, L., Haeggstrom, C.A., Vuorela, H., Hitunen, R. & Vuorela, P., 2004. Antifungal activity of selected species of Terminalia, Pteleopsis and Combretum (Combretaceae) collected in Tanzania. Pharmaceutical Biology 42(4/5): 308–317.
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- Lukhele, M.S. & van Ryssen, J.B.J., 2003. The chemical composition and potential nutritive value of the foliage of four subtropical tree species in southern Africa for ruminants. South African Journal of Animal Science 33(2): 132–141.
- McGaw, L.J., Rabe, T., Sparg, S.G., Jäger, A.K., Eloff, J.N. & van Staden, J., 2001. An investigation on the biological activity of Combretum species. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 75: 45–50.
- G.H. Schmelzer, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article
Schmelzer, G.H., 2012. Combretum zeyheri Sond. 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.