Gnidia latifolia (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Gnidia latifolia (Oliv.) Gilg

Protologue: Engl., Pflanzenw. Ost-Afrikas C: 283 (1895).
Family: Thymelaeaceae


  • Lasiosiphon latifolius (Oliv.) Brenan (1949).

Vernacular names

  • Mwata, mnunguwa-mwitu, kinyunywa (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Gnidia latifolia is distributed in Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania, and possibly Ethiopia.


The bark yields a strong fibre that is made into rope. Stems and branches are used for building and fencing in Kenya, because they are never attacked by termites. Plant material is also placed around seedlings to keep termites away, and plant parts are burned to produce pesticidal smoke. An extract of the bark or root is drunk as a purgative. The young leaves are said to be used for making poison.


The diterpenoid esters gnidilatin 20-palmitate and gnidilatidin 20-palmitate, isolated from the stem wood and bark, have shown strong in-vivo inhibitory activity against P-388 leukaemia in mice. Other compounds isolated from the stem wood and bark are gnidilatin, showing moderate antileukaemic activity, gnidilatidin, and the furanosesquiterpene gnididione. Gnidilatin and gnidilatidin have shown piscicidal activity. The leaf and stem are poisonous, and grass underneath Gnidia latifolia is not eaten by livestock.


Large, much-branched shrub up to 5 m tall; branches hairy when young, later glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–2 mm long; blade oblong to oblanceolate, 18–55 mm × 5–14 mm, base cuneate, apex obtuse, with scattered hairs or glabrous above, sparsely appressed hairy beneath. Inflorescence a head, 5–12(–15)-flowered; peduncle 14–30 mm long, leafless, sparsely hairy, glabrescent; bracts 4–6, oblong or elliptical, 10–16 mm × 4–6 mm, ciliate, finely silvery hairy outside, sparsely hairy or glabrous inside, caducous. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, yellow or orange; pedicel c. 2 mm long, hairy; calyx tube cylindrical, 13–16 mm long, articulate above the ovary, densely hairy above the articulation, with 3–4 mm long white hairs below the articulation, lobes imbricate, oblong to elliptical, 3–5 mm × 2–3 mm, apex rounded, hairy beneath; petals 8, inserted in the throat of the calyx tube, linear, up to 0.5 mm long; stamens 10, in 2 whorls of unequal length, inserted in the throat of the calyx tube, upper whorl slightly exserted; ovary superior, shortly stalked, 1-locular, upper part hairy, style filiform, 6–8 mm long. Fruit dry, small, enclosed by the persistent base of the calyx tube. Seeds 4–4.5 mm × c. 2 mm.

In Kenya Gnidia latifolia flowers throughout the year.

Gnidia comprises about 140 species, mainly distributed in tropical Africa, with 20 species endemic to Madagascar, but it also extends into Arabia, western India and Sri Lanka.


Gnidia latifolia occurs from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude, in deciduous and evergreen bushland and wooded grassland.

Genetic resources

Gnidia latifolia is fairly widely distributed and does not seem in danger of genetic erosion.


Gnidia latifolia is a useful local source of fibre and termite-resistant material for building and fencing. The fibre is said to be strong, but further information on the fibre properties is unavailable. The plant contains compounds with antileukaemic activity, but it has also been recorded to be toxic, so more research on its phytochemistry seems useful.

Major references

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Kupchan, S.M., Shizuri, Y., Sumner, W.C., Haynes, H.R., Leighton, A.P. & Sickles, B.R., 1976. Isolation and structural elucidation of new potent antileukemic diterpenoid esters from Gnidia species. Journal of Organic Chemistry 41(24): 3850–3853.
  • Peterson, B., 1978. Thymelaeaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 37 pp.
  • Peterson, B., 2000. Thymelaeaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 429–435.

Other references

  • Cuccuini, P., 1993. Thymelaeaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 1. Pteridophyta; Gymnospermae; Angiospermae (Annonaceae-Fabaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 200–202.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Kupchan, S.M., Shizuri, Y., Baxter, R.L. & Haynes, H.R., 1977. Gnididione, a new furanosesquiterpene from Gnidia latifolia. Journal of Organic Chemistry 42(2): 348–350.
  • Macharia, P.N., 2004. Community based interventions as a strategy to combat desertification in the arid and semi-arid rangelands of Kajiado District, Kenya. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 99: 141–147.
  • Macharia, P.N. & Ekaya, W.N., 2005. The impact of rangeland condition and trend to the grazing resources of a semi-arid environment in Kenya. Journal of Human Ecology 17(2): 143–147.
  • Medley, K.E. & Kalibo, H.W., 2007. Ethnobotanical survey of 'wild' woody plant resources at Mount Kasigau, Kenya. Journal of East African Natural History 96(2): 149–186.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Weiss, E.A., 1979. Some indigenous plants used domestically by East African coastal fishermen. Economic Botany 33(1): 35–51.


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

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2009. Gnidia latifolia (Oliv.) Gilg. [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 20 November 2020.