Julbernardia globiflora (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Julbernardia globiflora (Benth.) Troupin

Protologue: Bull. Jard. Bot. Etat 20: 314 (1950).
Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 24.


  • Brachystegia globiflora Benth. (1881),
  • Isoberlinia globiflora (Benth.) Hutch. ex Greenway (1928),
  • Pseudoberlinia globiflora (Benth.) P.A.Duvign. (1950).

Vernacular names

  • Mwongo, myombo (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Julbernardia globiflora is distributed from DR Congo, Burundi and Tanzania southward to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.


The inner bark is an important local source of string and rope used for tying, e.g. in construction. The bark is also used for making beehives, stitched canoes, bins and sacks. In Tanzania the bark is used to roll rings to carry baskets on the head. Larger pieces of bark are used in Tanzania for making containers, seats and doors. In Zimbabwe the bark fibre is used for making the warm and pliable ‘gudza’ cloth, which is made into garments and household items, such as storage bags and beer strainers. The bark was formerly made into bark cloth. In Burundi fibre from the root is made into fishing lines.

The wood is used for poles, tool handles, mortars, yokes, harnesses and canoes. It is also suitable for railway sleepers, mine props, construction, flooring, shipbuilding, vehicle bodies, furniture, sporting goods, interior trim and joinery. The wood is widely used as fuelwood and for making charcoal.

The bark yields a tannin used for dyeing. The tree provides fodder, and it is an important early-season browse plant in southern Zimbabwe. It is a bee forage, yielding honey of very high-quality, and an important food plant for edible caterpillars. The tree has ornamental value for its fragrant flowers and beautiful shape, and it provides shade. In Zimbabwe farmers gather Julbernardia globiflora leaf litter from adjacent woodlands to improve the soil fertility of their fields; it is sometimes moved to kraals and composted with manure before being applied to fields.

In African traditional medicine root decoctions are drunk for the treatment of depression and stomach problems. In Zimbabwe and Tanzania decoctions of the bark are dropped into the eye against conjunctivitis, and in Zimbabwe a bark infusion is used as a wash to contract the vaginal canal. Bark fibres are chewed in case of constipation, and tannin from the bark has been used as a laxative. Stem pieces are ground and smoked for the treatment of leprosy. In case of snakebite, the leaves of Julbernardia globiflora are rubbed into scarifications around the wound after the poison has been sucked out. Infusions of the bark or root have been drunk as ordeal poisons in Zambia, and also in Zimbabwe the tree is used for trial by ordeal. In veterinary medicine in Zimbabwe an infusion of the bark is instilled against diarrhoea in cattle.

Production and international trade

The fibre of Julbernardia globiflora is not traded internationally. In rural areas in tropical Africa small quantities are locally traded. Charcoal and wood from rural areas are traded to supply towns.


Quantitative information on the fibre properties is not available, but string or rope made from the bark fibre is recorded to be inferior to that from Brachystegia species.

The heartwood is brown and distinctly demarcated from the up to 15 cm wide, pink or pale yellowish brown sapwood. The grain is interlocked, texture moderately coarse to coarse and uneven. The wood is lustrous. The density of the wood is 820–960 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. The wood seasons slowly, with a strong tendency to distortion and moderate surface checking and end splitting. The rates of shrinkage from green to 12% moisture content are 2.9% radial and 3.6% tangential, from green to oven dry 4.8% radial and 6.0% tangential. Movement in service is medium. The wood is strong and hard. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 97–147 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 12,400–15,600 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 57–81 N/mm², shear 14–20 N/mm², cleavage 16–72 N/mm radial and 17–74 N/mm tangential, Janka side hardness 1100–7700 N, and Janka end hardness 9600 N. The wood is difficult to work with hand and machine tools, blunting these tools rapidly. Surfaces may tear during planing and moulding, and low speeds are recommended to improve results. The wood tends to split upon nailing, making pre-boring necessary, but it holds nails well. It is not well-suited for turning. The steam-bending properties are moderate. The heartwood is durable, but liable to attacks by pinhole borers, marine borers and termites. The sapwood is liable to powder-post beetle attack. The heartwood is impermeable to preservatives; the sapwood is variably resistant to impregnation, with the outer zone being most permeable. The wood yields paper pulp of poor quality.

Per 100 g dry weight the bark contains 24.8 g tannin, the sapwood 3.2 g and the heartwood 6.1 g. In Zimbabwe Julbernardia globiflora browse (leaves and thin twigs) contains per 100 g dry matter: crude protein 15.5 g, neutral detergent fibre 55.6 g, acid detergent fibre 53.8 g, acid detergent lignin 11.1 g. The fatty acid composition of the seed oil is approximately: palmitic acid 35.4%, linoleic acid 33.5%, oleic acid 19.8%, stearic acid 7.6%, arachidic acid 1.5%, behenic acid 1.0%, lignoceric acid 0.7%, linolenic acid 0.5% and myristic acid 0.1%.

The root, bark and leaf have been recorded to be toxic: drinking an infusion of the leaf causes vomiting and drinking an infusion of the root or bark may cause a person to lose speech, to foam at the mouth and to roll about as if in pain.

Adulterations and substitutes

Fibre and wood is also obtained from Brachystegia spiciformis Benth., which often grows together with Julbernardia globiflora. The bark of Brachystegia boehmii Taub. is also used for making ‘gudza’ cloth.


Deciduous, small to medium-sized tree up to 15(–20) m tall, sometimes shrubby; bole branchless for up to 6 m, up to 90 cm in diameter, often crooked; outer bark rough, grey; crown flattened or rounded, spreading; young branches pubescent, soon glabrescent. Leaves alternate, paripinnately compound with (2–)4–6(–8) pairs of opposite leaflets; stipules intrapetiolar, 3–5 mm long, connate at base, bicuspidate, caducous; petiole (1–)1.5–3(–4) cm long, hairy; rachis 4–17 cm long, hairy; petiolules twisted, 2–3 mm long; leaflets oblong-elliptical, oblong-lanceolate, ovate-oblong or obovate-oblong, (1–)2–8.5(–11.5) cm × (0.5–)1–3.5(–5.5) cm, base asymmetrically cuneate, apex obtuse to emarginate, margin entire, fringed with white hairs, venation prominent on both surfaces. Inflorescence a terminal panicle up to 30 cm × 30 cm, brown-hairy; bracts 2–10 mm long. Flowers bisexual, fragrant, 5-merous; pedicel 2–6 mm long; bracteoles 2, valvate, 7–10 mm × 6–9 mm, keeled on the back, persistent; sepals 5, oblong, 2.5–4.5 mm × c. 1.5 mm, non-contiguous; petals 5, pale yellow to white, 1 large and 4 small, the larger one ovate, 6.5–9 mm × 4–5 mm, shortly clawed, the others oblanceolate, narrowly obovate or linear, 3–8 mm × 0.5–3 mm; stamens 10, up to 13 mm long, 9 filaments shortly connate, 1 free; ovary superior, very shortly stipitate, style elongate, stigma capitate. Fruit an obovate-oblong or oblong pod 4–9 cm × 2–3.5 cm, flattened, brown-tomentose, 3–4-seeded, explosively dehiscent into 2 woody valves becoming spirally twisted. Seeds c. 1.5 cm × 1–1.5 cm, flattened, dark brown.

Other botanical information

Julbernardia comprises about 10 species, all in tropical Africa.


Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):

Growth rings: (1: growth ring boundaries distinct); (2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent). Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 23: shape of alternate pits polygonal; 25: intervessel pits small (4–7 μm); 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); 29: vestured pits; 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; 42: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 100–200 μm; 46: ≤ 5 vessels per square millimetre; 47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre. Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled; (70: fibres very thick-walled). Axial parenchyma: 79: axial parenchyma vasicentric; 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 81: axial parenchyma lozenge-aliform; 83: axial parenchyma confluent; (85: axial parenchyma bands more than three cells wide); 89: axial parenchyma in marginal or in seemingly marginal bands; 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand. Rays: 97: ray width 1–3 cells; 104: all ray cells procumbent; (106: body ray cells procumbent with one row of upright and/or square marginal cells); 115: 4–12 rays per mm. Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.

(D. Louppe, P. Détienne & E.A. Wheeler)

Growth and development

Natural regeneration from seed is rare, but trees resprout vigorously after cutting. In dry miombo woodland in Zimbabwe the mean stem height of regrowth at 1, 2, 3, 9 and 18 years after cutting was 67, 110, 141, 247 and 517 cm, respectively. Plants only 1.5 m tall can already produce seed, especially when of coppice origin. In southern Africa flowering is in (November–)February–May and fruiting in May–November, but trees often do not fruit yearly. The tree has an extensive root system, with a maximum recorded lateral distance of 27 m. Julbernardia globiflora does not form root nodules.


Julbernardia globiflora occurs at 250–2000 m altitude in deciduous woodland, usually with an average annual rainfall below 1000 mm, a dry season of 7–8 months, and subject to regular fires. It is widespread and abundant, and often dominant or co-dominant in dry miombo woodland, usually occurring with Brachystegia spiciformis and forming tsetse-fly habitats. In southern Africa it occurs especially in drier areas and on poor soils of plateaus and slopes.

Propagation and planting

Julbernardia globiflora can be propagated by seed or suckers. The 1000-seed weight is 260–670 g. Germination takes 5–25 days, and germination rates of 73% have been recorded under field and laboratory conditions. The germination of seeds stored for a year was only 35%. Under experimental field conditions in Zambia, the seedling mortality rate was about 60% during the first year.


Julbernardia globiflora is not planted, but wild trees are sometimes protected. It coppices well, but trees cut close to the ground (<5 cm) produce less coppice growth than plants cut at 1.3 m height. In Zimbabwe lopping of branches is carried out in the late dry season to make browse accessible to livestock.

Diseases and pests

The scale insect Aspidoproctus glaber has caused extensive die back and even tree death of Julbernardia globiflora and Brachystegia spp. in Zimbabwe.


In Tanzania the large pieces of bark used for containers or used as doors are traditionally harvested by men. They select old trees with straight boles and few branches and use long knives to cut the shape of the demanded piece and tear it off slowly from the stem. Smaller pieces of bark and strings are harvested traditionally by women and children. They often do not use tools or use small knives to tear off long bark strips. Sometimes they use long knives to cut off larger pieces of bark to be used as seats, lids for pots and other household items. Poles are obtained by pruning the tree.

Handling after harvest

In southern Africa large sections of bark cut from mature trees were normally buried in the ground to loosen the corky outer layer, which was subsequently gradually loosened with special tools, so that only a sheet of fibres remained. This sheet could be stretched and softened to be used as a blanket. More commonly, the inner bark was woven or knotted to make ‘gudza’ cloth and ‘nhova’ bags.

Genetic resources

Julbernardia globiflora is widespread and abundant, but harvesting for timber and fuelwood is often done in an unsustainable way. Harvesting of thin strips and small pieces of bark can be done without severe damage to the tree.


Julbernardia globiflora is a useful local source of fibre, fuel, timber and other products. Small quantities of the fibre are locally traded, but the potential in larger markets is limited because of the availability of cheaper, synthetic substitutes in towns. Natural stands are often exploited unsustainably, but Julbernardia globiflora resprouts vigorously after cutting, and natural stands could be exploited using coppice rotations as a silvicultural system. Various plant parts are used in traditional African medicine, mainly externally. As the root, bark and leaf are sometimes said to be toxic, internal use seems not advisable.

Major references

  • Brummitt, R.K., Chikuni, A.C., Lock, J.M. & Polhill, R.M., 2007. Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Timberlake, J.R., Pope, G.V., Polhill, R.M. & Martins, E.S. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 3, part 2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 218 pp.
  • Campbell, B., 1996. The miombo in transition: woodlands and welfare in Africa. Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia. 266 pp.
  • Chileshe, C & Kitalyi, A., 2002. Management of rangelands: use of natural grazing resources in Southern Province, Zambia. Technical Handbook No 28. Regional Land Management Unit (RELMA), Nairobi, Kenya. 64 pp.
  • Chilufya, H. & Tengnäs, B., 1996. Agroforestry extension manual for northern Zambia. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 120 + 124 pp.
  • Gelfand, M., Mavi, S., Drummond, R.B. & Ndemera, B., 1985. The traditional medical practitioner in Zimbabwe: his principles of practice and pharmacopoeia. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe. 411 pp.
  • Luoga, E.J., Witkowski, E.T.F. & Balkwill, K., 2004. Regeneration by coppicing (resprouting) of miombo (African savanna) trees in relation to land use. Forest Ecology and Management 189: 23–35.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • USDA Forest Service, undated. Wood technical fact sheet Julbernardia globiflora. [Internet] USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, United States. http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/ documnts/TechSheets/Chudnoff/African/htmlDocs_africa/ Julbernardiaglobiflora.htm. March 2010.
  • van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
  • Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.

Other references

  • Allen, O.N. & Allen, E.K., 1981. The Leguminosae: a source book of characteristics, uses and nodulation. MacMillan, London, United Kingdom. 812 pp.
  • Bolza, E. & Keating, W.G., 1972. African timbers: the properties, uses and characteristics of 700 species. Division of Building Research, CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia. 710 pp.
  • Bryce, J.M., 1967. The commercial timbers of Tanzania. Tanzania Forest Division, Utilisation Section, Moshi, Tanzania. 139 pp.
  • Chidumayo, E.N., 1991. Seedling development of the miombo woodland tree Julbernardia globiflora. Journal of Vegetation Science 2: 21–26.
  • Chidumayo, E.N., 1997. Fruit production and seed predation in two miombo woodland trees in Zambia. Biotropica 29(4): 452–458.
  • Drummond, R.B., 1981. Common trees of the central watershed woodlands of Zimbabwe. Department of Natural Resources, Causeway, Zimbabwe. 256 pp.
  • Greenway, P.J., 1950. Vegetable fibres and flosses in East Africa. The East African Agricultural Journal 15(3): 146–153.
  • Heine, B. & Legère, K., 1995. Swahili plants: an ethnobotanical survey. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, Köln, Germany. 376 pp.
  • Karmann, M., 2003. Miombo utilization by small scale farmers in Handeni/Tanzania: bark harvesting as an example for ethnic and gender oriented work. In: FAO/ECE/ILO Commitee on Forest Technology, Management and Training. Harvesting of non-wood forest products. Proceedings of the Seminar on Harvesting of Non-wood Forest Products, 2–8 October 2000, International Agro-Hydrology Research and Training Center, Menemen-Izmir (Turkey). FAO, Rome, Italy.
  • Luoga, E.J., Witkowski, E.T.F. & Balkwill, K., 2000. Differential utilization and ethnobotany of trees in Kitulanghalo forest reserve and surrounding communal lands, eastern Tanzania. Economic Botany 54(3): 328–343.
  • Mndolwa, M.A., Lulandala, L.L.L. & Elifuraha, E., 2008. Evaluation of tree species enumerated in Kitulangalo Mitmiombo plots by uses and benefits. Working Papers of the Finnish Forest Research Institute 98: 5–9.
  • Ndlovu, L.R. & Nherera, F.V., 1997. Chemical composition and relationship to in vitro gas production of Zimbabwean browseable indigenous tree species. Animal Feed Science and Technology 69: 121–129.
  • Nyoka, B.I., 2003. State of forest genetic resources in Dry Zone Southern Africa Development Community countries. Forest Genetic Resources Working Paper No 41. FAO, Rome, Italy. 30 pp.
  • Pelter, A., Amenechi, P.I., Warren, R. & Harper, S.H., 1969. The structures of two proanthocyanidins from Julbernardia globiflora. Journal of the Chemical Society, Section C, Organic chemistry 1969(19): 2572–2579.
  • Reekmans, M., 1981. Les forêts à Julbernardia globiflora de l’est du Burundi. Bulletin de la Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique 114(1): 49–60.
  • Stamp, J., 1998. Indigenous agroforestry and sustainable development in Mutoko communal district, Zimbabwe. PhD thesis, Department of Geography, University of Toronto, Canada. 330 pp.
  • Stefanesco, E. & Bintoni-Juliassi, O., 1982. 101 wild fodder and food plants of Angonia province of Tete Mozambique. Field Document No 39. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Maputo, Mozambique. 208 pp.
  • Storrs, A.E.G., 1995. Know your trees: Some common trees found in Zambia. Regional Conservation Unit, Ndola, Zambia. 380 pp.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.
  • Wehmeyer, A.S., 1986. Edible wild plants of southern Africa. Data on the nutrient contents of over 300 species. Scientia, Pretoria, South Africa. 52 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Brenan, J.P.M., 1967. Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 230 pp.


  • L. Jimu, Forestry Unit, Department of Environmental Science, Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE), P.B. 1020, Bindura, Zimbabwe

Correct citation of this article

Jimu, L., 2010. Julbernardia globiflora (Benth.) Troupin. [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 4 March 2020.