Dombeya cacuminum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Dombeya cacuminum Hochr.

Protologue: Candollea 3: 102 (1926).
Family: Sterculiaceae (APG: Malvaceae)

Vernacular names

  • Strawberry snowball tree (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Dombeya cacuminum is endemic to Madagascar. It is cultivated outside Madagascar as an ornamental, for instance in South Africa and the United States.


The bark yields a good cordage fibre, which is also used for weaving cloth. The bark was formerly made into barkcloth. Dombeya cacuminum is grown as an ornamental outside Madagascar.


This evergreen tree has ornamental value, because of its beautiful flowers which fall before withering. The leaf is recorded to have a nauseous odour.


Small to medium-sized tree up to 16 m tall; bole up to 30 cm in diameter; bark of flowering branches brown and glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules broadly ovate or suborbicular, c. 15 mm long, almost glabrous, caducous; petiole up to 25 cm long, cylindrical, glabrous except for the top; blade suborbicular to 3-lobate, up to 26 cm × 22 cm, base deeply cordate, lobes triangular, the central one the largest, apex of lobes long-acuminate, margin toothed, both surfaces glabrous except for the basal veins, palmately veined with 9–11 basal veins, venation prominent, especially below. Inflorescence an axillary umbellate cyme, grouped at the tops of branches, up to 15 cm long; axis irregularly bifurcated, glabrous, branches glabrous. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 3–4.5 cm long, glabrous; epicalyx bracts 3, suborbicular, c. 1 cm long, glabrous, caducous; calyx deeply 5-fid, c. 2 cm long, hairy outside, lobes lanceolate, ultimately reflexed; petals free, broadly and asymmetrically obovate, up to 45 mm × 35 mm, red to purple; androecium crown-shaped, staminal crown 1–1.5 mm long, stamens 15, filaments unequal, 4.5–10 mm long, free or connate above the crown, alternating with 5 staminodes 20–23 mm long; ovary superior, hairy, stylar column 30–35 mm long, with 5 branches. Fruit an ovoid capsule c. 13 mm long, hairy, loculicidal. Seeds obovoid-trigonous, c. 2.5 mm long, brown.

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.

Species endemic to Madagascar of which the bark fibre is used for similar purposes as that of Dombeya cacuminum include Dombeya condensata Hochr., a small tree up to 12 m tall, and Dombeya costulatinervia Arènes, a small tree up to 15 m tall. The bark fibre of Dombeya dichotomopsis Hochr., a shrub or small tree up to 11 m tall is also used for making rope. In the past the strong bark was used for tying captives. A decoction of the leaf is used against cough.


Dombeya cacuminum occurs in forest up to 2000 m altitude. It is locally common. The plant tolerates temperatures down to –2°C.


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.

Genetic resources

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


Dombeya cacuminum is a useful local source of fibre for cordage and weaving, but quantitative information on the fibre properties is lacking. On a worldwide scale the prospects as an ornamental plant are better.

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.
  • 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.

Other references

  • Carrière, S.M., Andrianotahiananahary, H., Ranaivoarivelo, N, & Randriamalala, J., 2005. Savoirs et usages des recrus post-agricoles du pays Betsileo: valorisation d’une biodiversité oubliée à Madagascar. VertigO 6(1) : 1–15.
  • 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. March 2010.
  • 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.


  • 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 cacuminum Hochr. [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 6 March 2020.