Dombeya acerifolia (PROTA)

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Dombeya acerifolia Baker

Protologue: J. Linn. Soc., Bot. 22: 449 (1887).
Family: Sterculiaceae (APG: Malvaceae)

Origin and geographic distribution

Dombeya acerifolia is endemic to Madagascar, where it occurs in the eastern and central parts of the country.


Fibre from the bark is made into rope and used for weaving. Fishermen use the rope to thread crabs they caught. The bark is used for tying, and was formerly made into barkcloth. The large, soft leaves are used for washing dishes.

The wood is locally used for purposes where workability is more important than durability. It is used for making rafts and considered suitable for non-visible parts of furniture, interior trim, boxes and other forms of packaging.


The fibre is of good quality, and easy to extract and process. The best fibre is obtained from young, thin bark.

The darker heartwood is normally distinctly demarcated from the paler, cream-coloured sapwood, but in young trees both may have the same white or pink colour. The wood turns reddish on drying. It is lightweight, soft and easy to work, with an average stability in service. The wood is liable to attacks by fungi and insects, and the relatively small size of the logs limits its usability.


Small tree up to 15 m tall, with the branches, petioles, inflorescence axes and pedicels covered with a dense reddish indumentum consisting of short stellate hairs and long hirsute hairs. Leaves alternate, clustered with inflorescences at the end of branches, simple; stipules suborbicular, up to 2 cm × 3 cm, apex rounded or cuspidate, densely hairy, persistent; petiole up to 22.5 cm long, cylindrical, first densely hairy, later glabrescent except for the upper part; blade broadly ovate to suborbicular, unlobed or 3–5-lobed, up to 45 cm × 45 cm, base cordate, apex acute, margin toothed, thick, discolorous, bullate, upper surface dark green and stellate hairy, lower surface greyish or reddish and tomentose, palmately veined with 7 basal veins. Inflorescence an axillary umbel, many-flowered; axis simple or bifurcate, up to 20 cm long, thick. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 2–4 cm long; epicalyx bracts 3, suborbicular, c. 7 mm long, apex rounded or cuspidate, hairy, caducous; calyx deeply 5-fid, lobes lanceolate, 9–10 mm long, apex acuminate, hairy outside, glabrous inside, becoming reflexed; petals free, obliquely obovate, 14–20 mm × 10–14 mm, white to pinkish; androecium utricular, 4–7 mm long, stamens 10–15, filaments unequal, 0.5–5 mm long, free or connate above the utricule, alternating by 2–3 with 5 staminodes 4.5–8 mm long; ovary superior, hairy, 5-celled, stylar column 4.5–8 mm long, with 4–6 branches 2.5–5.5 mm long. Fruit a loculicidal capsule.

Dombeya comprises about 200 species, mainly distributed in Madagascar, with about 20 species in mainland Africa and 14 in the Mascarenes. Revisions of the genus have been carried out for mainland Africa and the Mascarenes, but not for Madagascar, and the number of species described for Madagascar is possibly too high.

Many other Dombeya species endemic to Madagascar are used as fibre plants. The bark fibre of Dombeya albisquama Arènes, a small to medium-sized tree up to 16 m tall, is used for making rope and weaving cloth. The strong bark was formerly used for tying captives. The wood is used in construction. The bark of Dombeya alleizettei Arènes, a small tree up to 8 m tall yields good cordage fibre. The strong fibre from the bark of Dombeya ambalabeensis Arènes, a shrub or small to large tree up to 12(–30) m tall is used for making cords to tether cattle.


Dombeya acerifolia occurs up to 1200 m altitude in forest and secondary vegetation. It thrives in humid locations such as along water courses.


Formerly the bark was beaten with a mallet to obtain barkcloth, later the fibre was extracted by crushing the bark, after which the fibre was combed or scutched, making it suitable for spinning and weaving. Nowadays, the fibre is usually extracted after retting, and combed. It is locally stored until needed.

Genetic resources

It is unknown whether Dombeya acerifolia is threatened by genetic erosion.


Dombeya acerifolia is a useful local source of fibre used for a range of purposes. Detailed information on the fibre properties as well as on the conservation status of the species is lacking, making it difficult to assess the prospects of this species. However, the fact that it is stocked indicates that it is locally highly valued. The small size of the logs limits the prospects of the wood.

Major references

  • Arènes, J., 1959. Sterculiacées (Sterculiaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), famille 131. Firmin-Didot et cie., Paris, France. 537 pp.
  • Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
  • Guéneau, P., Bedel, J. & Thiel, J., 1970–1975. Bois et essences malgaches. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 150 pp.

Other references

  • Cailliez, F. & Guéneau, P., 1972. Analyse en composantes principales des propriétés technologiques des bois Malgaches. Annales des Sciences Forestières 30: 215–266.
  • Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille, 54e année, 6e série, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, undated. VAST (VAScular Tropicos) nomenclatural database. [Internet] W3T/Search/ vast.html. September 2009.
  • Schatz, G., undated. A catalogue of the vascular plants of Madagascar. [Internet]. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, United States. flora_info.aspx?flora_id=12. September 2009.
  • Seyani, J.H., 1991. The genus Dombeya (Sterculiaceae) in continental Africa. Opera Botanica Belgica 2. National Botanic Garden of Belgium, Meise, Belgium. 186 pp.
  • Vololomboahangy, T.E.S., 2004. Attractions culturelles. In: Proposition d’un plan d’aménagement pour le développement de l’écotourisme dans les deux communes rurales d’Ambohimitombo et d’Antoetra dans la sous préfecture d’Ambositra Province autonome de Fianarantsoa. Mémoire de fin d’étude pour l’obtention du diplôme de maîtrise spécialisée en GRENE, Université de Toamasina, Madagascar. pp. 16–22.


  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2010. Dombeya acerifolia Baker. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 7 December 2020.