Cordia africana (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Cordia africana Lam.

distribution in Africa (wild)
flowers (Zimbabweflora)
flowers (Zimbabweflora)
fruiting branch
fruiting branch (Zimbabweflora)
fruiting branch
wood in transverse section
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
Protologue: Tab. encycl. 1: 420 (1792).
Family: Boraginaceae


  • Cordia abyssinica R.Br. (1814).

Vernacular names

  • Large-leaved cordia, East African cordia, Sudan teak (En).
  • Sébestier d’Afrique, faux teck, teck d’Arabie (Fr).
  • Makobokobo, mringamringa (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Cordia africana is widespread, from Guinea east to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya, and south to Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and northern South Africa. It is also found in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and has been planted in many tropical countries, including Réunion and Mauritius.


The wood, in East Africa often known as ‘mukumari’, is commonly used for joinery, interior trim, panelling, furniture, cabinet work, drums, beehives, boxes, mortars and canoes. It is suitable for light construction, ship building, vehicle bodies, toys, novelties, vats, draining boards, food containers, matches, veneer, plywood, hardboard, particle board and pulp for paper making. It is also used as firewood. The fruit pulp is edible and is added as a sweetener to food. The leaves serve as fodder for livestock. Several parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine. Leaf decoctions are administered to treat headache, nose bleeding, dizziness and vomiting during pregnancy, wounds and worms. Fresh bark is applied to fractures and bark extracts and taken against fatigue. Root decoctions are drunk to treat jaundice and schistosomiasis. Wood ash is applied to skin diseases. Cordia africana is planted as a shade tree in coffee plantations, and as roadside tree, ornamental shade tree and boundary marker. The leaves make a good mulch. The flowers provide nectar for honey bees.


The heartwood is pinkish brown to reddish brown and fairly distinctly demarcated from the greyish, 2.5–4 cm wide sapwood. The grain is usually interlocked, texture medium to coarse but even. The wood is lustrous.

The wood is moderately lightweight, with a density of 440–580 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It air dries well without serious degrade. Once dry, it is exceptionally stable in service. The rates of shrinkage are quite low, from green to oven dry 3.4% radial and 5.7% tangential. At 12% moisture content the modulus of rupture is 91 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 8040 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 47 N/mm², shear 9 N/mm², cleavage 9 N/mm, Brinell side hardness 23.5 N/mm² and Brinell end hardness 40 N/mm².

The wood works well with both machine and hand tools, and it planes and moulds to a nice surface. It polishes well when a filler is used. It holds nails and screws well and has good gluing properties. The peeling and slicing characteristics are satisfactory. The wood is moderately durable, being moderately susceptible to termite and pinhole borer attacks.

The polysaccharide from the fruit pulp of Cordia africana consists mainly of galactose, mannose, xylose, arabinose, glucose, rhamnose, galacturonic acid and about 2.5% protein. It may have applications in food, textile and pharmaceutical industries, and could act as an emulsifying agent also in systems with relatively high salt concentrations.


  • Deciduous shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 25(–30) m tall; bole branchless for up to 8(–12) m, often curved or crooked, up to 90 cm in diameter; bark surface smooth in young trees, becoming cracked or longitudinally fissured, pale brown to dark brown, inner bark fibrous, whitish, turning greyish to nearly blackish upon exposure; crown rounded, dense, much-branched; twigs velvety hairy, becoming glabrous.
  • Leaves alternate, simple; stipules absent; petiole 1–13 cm long; blade ovate to elliptical or nearly orbicular, 7.5–20(–30) cm × 3.5–18(–22.5) cm, rounded to cordate at base, rounded to acuminate at apex, margins entire to slightly toothed, leathery, rough above, short-hairy below, pinnately veined with 5–7 pairs of lateral veins.
  • Inflorescence a terminal compact panicle up to 15 cm long, composed of cymes, minutely hairy, many-flowered.
  • Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, nearly sessile, sweet-scented; calyx tubular, (5–)7–9 mm long, 10-ribbed, slightly irregularly toothed; corolla funnel-shaped, (1.5–)2–2.5 cm long, strongly folded, white, with short lobes; stamens inserted near base of corolla tube, c. 1 cm long, included; ovary superior, ovoid, 2–3 mm long, glabrous, style 1–2 cm long, twice bifid with 4 stigmas.
  • Fruit an ovoid to nearly globose drupe 10–12 mm × 6–10 mm, glabrous, yellow, enclosed at base by the persistent calyx, with sweet pulp and slightly 4-angled stone containing 1–2(–4) seeds.
  • Seeds ovoid, flattened, up to 6 mm × 3 mm, creamy white.

Other botanical information

Trees have been reported to reach 7–8 m tall after 7 years. In trial plots at 2100 m altitude in Kenya, mean annual increments of 30-years-old trees were 0.5 m in height and 0.9 cm in diameter. Trees may start flowering when they are 3–5 years old. They usually flower during the dry season, but in Ethiopia flowering trees have been recorded throughout the year. The flowers are pollinated by insects such as bees. Fruits take 3–5 months to ripen after flowering. They are probably mainly dispersed by birds.

Cordia is a large pantropical genus of about 250 species, with the majority of the species occurring in the New World and about 35 species indigenous in tropical Africa. It is a variable genus and it has been suggested that it should be split up in several genera.

Cordia senegalensis

Cordia senegalensis Juss. is a shrub to small or medium-sized tree with bole up to 40 cm in diameter occurring in savanna and drier forest from Senegal east to Rwanda. The yellowish wood is used in West Africa for drums and canoes. The bark fibre is used for wickerwork and tying material. Leaf decoctions and macerations are applied as a wash or bath to treat oedema, fatigue and stiffness, and as anodyne, and they are taken to treat colic and also against pain. The sweet fruit pulp is edible.


Cordia africana occurs in open forest, riverine forest, edges and clearings in montane forest, and wooded grassland at 500–2200(–2700) m altitude. The annual rainfall in its area of distribution is 900–2000 mm, with a dry period of 3–4 months and an estimated mean annual temperature of 16–22°C. Cordia africana prefers deep, moist but well-drained soils, but can also be found on rocky slopes.


Natural regeneration of Cordia africana in more closed forest is restricted to gaps. In the nursery seedlings showed good growth rates at an irradiance level of 19% of full sun, but growth was enhanced by increasing irradiance, as well as the supply of nutrients at high level. The results of tests in Ethiopia indicated that Cordia africana has evolved a light-quality sensing mechanism that prevents seed germination beneath the forest canopy. Deep sowing as well as covering and shading of seed beds in nurseries with leaf litter should be avoided.

One kg contains about 1700 seeds. Germination of seeds usually starts after 40–60 days and is promoted by soaking in water for 12–48 hours, and the germination rate of healthy seed is 50–80%. Seeds can be stored at 3°C for at least 1 year when they have been dried in the sun to 6–8% moisture content. Seedlings can be transplanted from the nursery into the field after 4–6 months. Seeds are commonly infested by insects; tests showed that near-infrared spectroscopy can be used in the seed cleaning process to select sound seeds.

Cordia africana is in many areas quite common although trees usually occur scattered. It is locally retained after forest clearing and commonly planted in agricultural fields. In an inventory in southern Ethiopia it occurred in more than 88% of the farms, being the most preferred indigenous tree species, often planted together with enset (Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman). The tree can be managed by coppicing, pollarding and pruning, Regular pollarding is recommended when Cordia africana is used as shade tree for crops to reduce shading.

As a timber tree, Cordia africana can be grown in rotations of 40–50 years. Close spacing and regular pruning are recommended because the boles have a tendency to develop a poor form and numerous branches.

Young trees can be attacked by nematodes.

Genetic resources

Locally, especially in Ethiopia and Kenya, the exploitation of Cordia africana has been severe and led to depletion of natural stands. However, it seems unlikely that this species is under serious threat because it is widespread in different types of habitat, appears to have fair rates of regeneration and is commonly planted.

The genetic variability is considerable. Several provenance tests have been performed. In Ethiopia the differential growth characteristics were tested using 19 provenances. The annual height growth of 3-year-old trees varied between 2 cm and 62 cm, but all provenances produced multi-leader stems and numerous branches. Other tests in Ethiopia showed considerable genetic variation in seed morphometric traits, seed germination and seedling growth. The results of exposure of seedlings to drought in southern Sudan showed considerable intraspecific variation, with provenances from Kordofan having the best response and thus most suitable as a seed source for afforestation in drought-prone environments.


Cordia africana is an important multipurpose tree used mainly for timber production, as an auxiliary plant in agriculture and as medicinal plant, but also yielding edible fruits, forage and firewood. In southern Ethiopia it is considered one of the most important indigenous tree species, and the demand for seed is still increasing. Research in selectively logged rainforest in south-western Ethiopia demonstrated that Cordia africana has adequate regeneration and seems to have good prospects for sustainable management of timber production forest. More provenance trials are needed to select elite trees that can be used for establishing seed orchards or establishing plantations. The main drawback as a timber tree is the often short and poorly shaped bole, which could be overcome by silvicultural practices, i.e. close planting and regular pruning, and by selection of superior tree types.

Major 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.
  • Janick, J. & Paull, R.E. (Editors), 2006. Encyclopedia of fruit and nuts. CABI, Wallingford, United Kingdom. 954 pp.
  • 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.
  • Verdcourt, B., 1991. Boraginaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 125 pp.
  • World Agroforestry Centre, undated. Agroforestree Database. [Internet] World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya. resources/databases/ agroforestree. August 2009.

Other references

  • Arbonnier, M., 2004. Trees, shrubs and lianas of West African dry zones. CIRAD, Margraf Publishers Gmbh, MNHN, Paris, France. 573 pp.
  • Benhura, M.A.N. & Chidewe, C.K., 2004. The emulsifying properties of a polysaccharide isolated from the fruit of Cordia abyssinica. International Journal of Food Science and Technology 39: 579–583.
  • Bolza, E. & Keating, W.G., 1972. African timbers: the properties, uses and characteristics of 700 species. Division of Building Research, CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia. 710 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
  • Chikamai, B.N., Githiomi, J.K., Gachathi, F.N. & Njenga, M.G., undated. Commercial timber resources of Kenya. Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Nairobi, Kenya. 164 pp.
  • Feuillet, C. & Bosser, J., 2005. Boraginacées. In: Autry, J.C., Bosser, J. & Ferguson, I.K. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 121–126. Institut de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement, Paris, France, Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 39 pp.
  • Martins, E.S. & Brummitt, R.K., 1990. Boraginaceae. In: Launert, E. & Pope, G.V. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 7, part 4. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 59–110.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.


  • E.A. Obeng, Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), University P.O. Box 63, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana

Correct citation of this article

Obeng, E.A., 2010. Cordia africana Lam. [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.

Accessed 8 June 2023.