Helictonema velutinum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Helictonema velutinum (Afzel.) Pierre ex N.Hallé

Protologue: Thèses Fac. Sci. Univ. Paris, Monogr. Afr. Occ.: 48 (1958).
Family: Celastraceae (Hippocrateaceae)


  • Hippocratea velutina Afzel. (1813).

Vernacular names

  • Bois charbon (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Helictonema velutinum is distributed in the more humid regions of mainland tropical Africa, from Guinea eastwards to Sudan, Uganda and DR Congo. It is also recorded in Angola but from Cabinda only.


In Ghana, and probably elsewhere in West Africa, the young branches of Helictonema velutinum are used as a binding material. In Sierra Leone the leaves are processed by drying, pounding and boiling and are applied as a poultice to the temples to cure headache. The medicinal use of the seeds to cure headaches reported for Senegal is probably incorrect as the species does not occur there.


A tall liana up to 30 m tall; main stem over 10 cm in diameter, swollen at nodes; bark coarsely scaly, longitudinally grooved, greyish yellow; young branches densely stellate-hairy, reddish-brown. Leaves opposite, simple; stipules small; petiole hairy, 6–12 mm long; blade (oblong-)elliptical, 5–15 cm long, subcordate to rounded at base, shortly acuminate, margin entire, sparsely hairy above, soft-hairy below, discolorous, with 4–8 pairs of secondary veins. Inflorescence a large, axillary panicle consisting of paired cymes, usually reddish soft-hairy; peduncle of cymes 2–10 cm long, with up to 6 branches. Flowers bisexual, yellowish or white, 12–15 mm in diameter; pedicel 4–10 mm long; sepals c. 4 mm × 2.5 mm, recurved, fawn-coloured, soft-hairy on both sides; petals 5, free, ovate, 5–7 mm × 4 mm, conspicuously fimbriate; disk 20–30-lobed, 5–7 mm in diameter, dark green, with androgynophore; stamens 3, filaments widened at base and bent outward; ovary short-hairy, 3-celled, style punctiform. Fruit consisting of 3 cylindrical mericarps 7 cm × 3 cm, dry, dehiscent, with short brown hairs. Seeds densely short-hairy, with an ovate or oblong, glabrous wing with 2 marginal veins. Seedling with hypogeal germination.

In West Africa Helictonema velutinum flowers in July–November. Helictonema velutinum is the only species in the genus Helictonema.


Helictonema velutinum occurs in thickets, forest margins, gallery forest and rainforest from sea-level up to 1100 m altitude.

Genetic resources

As Helictonema velutinum does not appear to be heavily exploited and is widely distributed there is probably no danger of genetic erosion.


Helictonema velutinum will remain a species of local interest only, for the binding material it supplies and for its medicinal use.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
  • Hallé, N., 1962. Monographie des Hippocratéacées d'Afrique occidentale. Mémoires de l' Institut Francais d'Afrique Noire 64: 1–245.
  • Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.

Other references

  • Hawthorne, W. & Jongkind, C., 2006. Woody plants of western African forests: a guide to the forest trees, shrubs and lianes from Senegal to Ghana. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 1023 pp.
  • Keay, R.W.J. & Blakelock, R.A., 1958. Celastraceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 623–634.
  • Lebrun, J.P. & Stork, A.L., 2010. Tropical flowering plants; ecology and distribution. Volume 5: Buxaceae-Simaroubaceae. Editions des Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la ville de Genève, Switzerland. 415 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Robson, N.K.B., Hallé, N., Mathew, B. & Blakelock, R., 1994. Celastraceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 78 pp.
  • Simmons, M.P. & Hedin, J.P., 1999. Relationships and morphological character change among genera of Celastraceae sensu lato (including Hippocrateaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 86(3): 723–757.


  • C.H. Bosch, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Bosch, C.H., 2011. Helictonema velutinum (Afzel.) Pierre ex N.Hallé. [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. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 7 March 2020.