Dombeya mollis (PROTA)

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Dombeya mollis Hook.

Protologue: Bot. Mag. 77: t. 4578 (1851).
Family: Sterculiaceae (APG: Malvaceae)

Origin and geographic distribution

Dombeya mollis is distributed in Madagascar, where it occurs in the central and eastern parts of the country. It is sometimes planted elsewhere as an ornamental.


The bark is used for tying, and the bark fibre for making rope and coarse textiles. The leaves are used as toilet paper for children. The wood is used for construction and for making a range of articles, such as mandolins, drums and other musical instruments, hollow cylinders for bellows in smithies and measuring tools for rice. The plant has ornamental value.


The wood is white, lightweight and soft, and it works well.


Shrub or small tree up to 12 m tall; all parts densely stellate hairy; branches cylindrical, densely covered with stellate hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules ovate-lanceolate, 12–14 mm × 4–6 mm, acuminate, persistent; petiole up to 13.5 cm long, stellate hairy; blade broadly ovate, undivided to 3-lobed, up to 35 cm × 25 cm, base deeply cordate, lobes triangular, acuminate at apex, margin irregularly toothed, more or less bullate, lower surface paler than upper one, both surfaces covered with stellate hairs, palmately veined with 5–9 basal veins. Inflorescence an axillary umbel c. 20 cm long, often with narrowly lanceolate bracts 5–6 mm long, many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel slender, 2–10 mm long; epicalyx bracts 3, narrowly linear, c. 5 mm long; calyx deeply 5-lobed, hairy outside, glabrous inside, lobes lanceolate or lanceolate-linear, 4–9 mm long, acuminate; petals free, narrowly obovate, asymmetrical, c. 7 mm × 2–3 mm, pinkish, persistent on fruit; androecium utricle-shaped, stamens 15, filaments unequal, 0.5–2 mm long, free or connate above the utricle, alternating with 5 staminodes 3.5 mm long; ovary superior, hairy, stylar column 1.5–2 mm long, with 5 branches c. 2 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.

In Madagascar the bark and bark fibre of various other endemic Dombeya species are used in similar ways as those ofDombeya mollis, such as Dombeya macrantha Baker, a shrub or small tree up to 5 m tall, sometimes cultivated, Dombeya magnifolia Arènes, a shrub up to 6 m tall, Dombeya megaphyllopsis Hochr., a small to medium-sized tree up to 18 m tall, and Dombeya modestiformis Arènes.


Dombeya mollis occurs from sea-level up to 1600 m altitude in forest, rocky places, along rivers and in disturbed locations. It is an important tree component of evergreen forest in highland Madagascar.


Dombeya mollis is often planted or spared around villages because the fibre from its bark is considered very useful. It can be propagated by seed or cuttings. 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. Fibre extraction was traditionally done by women.

Genetic resources

Dombeya mollis is unlikely to be threatened with genetic erosion, as it occurs in disturbed habitats and it is often planted.


Dombeya mollis is considered a very useful local source of material for tying and rope making, resulting in the species being planted or spared around villages. Detailed information on the fibre properties is lacking, however, making it is difficult to assess the prospects of this species.

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.
  • Huxley, A. (Editor), 1992. The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. Volume 2. MacMillan Press, London, United Kingdom. 747 pp.
  • Nagasaki, M.S., 2005. Transmission of environmental and conservation knowledge in Andohahela. National Park. SIT Graduate Institute / SIT Study Abroad. Internet.

Other references

  • 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.
  • Gade, D.W., 1996. Deforestation and Its Effects in Highland Madagascar. Mountain Research and Development 16(2): 101–116.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, undated. VAST (VAScular Tropicos) nomenclatural database. Internet. December 2009.
  • Schatz, G., undated. A catalogue of the vascular plants of Madagascar. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, United States. [1]. 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 mollis Hook. [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.