Dombeya hilsenbergii (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Dombeya hilsenbergii Baill.

Protologue: Bull. Mens. Soc. Linn. Paris 1: 495 (1885).
Family: Sterculiaceae (APG: Malvaceae)

Origin and geographic distribution

Dombeya hilsenbergii occurs in Madagascar and the Comoros.


Fibre from the bark is used for making rope. Properly prepared, it can be woven in the same way as jute. Formerly the bark was made into barkcloth, and the fibres were used in circumcision ceremonies. The large, soft leaves are used for washing dishes.


The fibre is of good quality. The wood is white, soft and brittle.


Tree up to 20 m tall; bole up to 30 cm in diameter; branches rounded, bark greyish brown with paler lenticels. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules ovate-lanceolate, up to 1.5 cm long, early caducous; petiole 5–20 cm long, rounded, glabrous; blade broadly ovate, 10–30 cm × 8–20 cm, base deeply cordate, apex long-acuminate, margin toothed, both sides glabrous or glabrescent, palmately veined with 7–9 basal veins, venation strongly prominent, especially below. Inflorescence an axillary corymb, pendant, dense, many-flowered; peduncle 10–25 cm long; bracts 1–2, early caducous. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant; epicalyx bracts 3; calyx deeply 5-fid, 8–10 mm long, lobes lanceolate, 6–7 mm long, apex acute, reddish hairy outside, more or less reflexed; petals free, elliptical, 8–12 mm × 4–5 mm, white to cream; androecium tubular, staminal tube 17–21 mm long, white, carrying 10–12 stamens and 5 staminodes, anthers almost sessile, red, alternating by 2–3 with staminodes 2–3 mm long; ovary superior, hairy, 5-celled, stylar column 3 cm long, 5-lobed. Fruit a loculicidal capsule.

Dombeya hilsenbergii is often self-propagating around houses.

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.

Other Dombeya species endemic to Madagascar of which the bark fibre is used for making rope include Dombeya glabripes Arènes, Dombeya hafodahy Arènes, Dombeya hafodahyformis Arènes and Dombeya halapo Arènes. The leaves of Dombeya hafodahy are used as toilet paper.


Dombeya hilsenbergii occurs at 600–1100 m altitude, in forest, secondary vegetation and along rivers.


Dombeya hilsenbergii is often planted near dwellings to have tying material at hand. 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 hilsenbergii is threatened by genetic erosion.


Although quantitative information on the fibre properties is lacking, Dombeya hilsenbergii seems a very useful local source of cordage fibre, as the fibre is recorded to be of good quality, and the species is often planted.

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.

Other references

  • Brown, K.A., Ingram, J.C., Flynn, D.F.B., Razafindrazaka, R. & Jeannoda, V., 2009. Protected area safeguard tree and shrub communities from degradation and invasion: a case study in eastern Madagascar. Environmental Management 44:136–148
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, undated. VAST (VAScular Tropicos) nomenclatural database. [Internet] W3T/Search/ vast.html. January 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 hilsenbergii Baill. [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.