Kirkia acuminata (PROTA)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Prota logo orange.gif
Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

General importance Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage Africa Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage World Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Medicinal Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Timber Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Ornamental Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Forage / feed Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg

leafy branch

Kirkia acuminata Oliv.

Protologue: Fl. trop. Afr. 1: 311 (1868).
Family: Simaroubaceae (APG: Kirkiaceae)

Vernacular names

  • White syringa, white kirkia, bastard marula (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Kirkia acuminata is distributed in DR Congo and throughout southern Africa; possibly in Tanzania as well. It also occurs in South Africa.


The wood of Kirkia acuminata is used for poles and planks, household utensils (bowls, spoons), carts, musical instruments, tourist items, veneer and plywood. In South Africa the wood is made into furniture and floor blocks. The wood is also considered suitable for light construction, flooring, vehicle bodies, cabinet work, interior trim, agricultural implements, boxes and crates, core stock, matches, toys and novelties, turnery, hardboard and particle board, and as pulpwood. In Malawi the wood is made into charcoal.

Kirkia acuminata is often planted as a live fence. The bark fibre is made into cloth. The seeds and leaves are browsed by livestock. The swollen roots are used as a source of water in times of drought. In Zimbabwe an infusion of the bark is taken against vomiting and abdominal pain. An infusion of the root is taken to treat cough. The fruit sap is applied on wounds and as an antidote on snake bites. Pulverized roots are a remedy for toothache.


The heartwood is pale brown or green-brown, with an attractive dark brown veining; the sapwood is yellow-white or pale grey and up to 7.5 cm wide. The grain is usually straight, locally interlocked, the texture is fine.

The density of the wood is 580–720 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It is soft to moderately hard. Thin boards dry easily, but thick boards are difficult to season; splitting and surface checking may occur.

The wood saws easily, but rapidly blunts tools, due to the presence of silica crystals; frequent sharpening of cutting edges is necessary. The wood planes easily and turns fairly well. It polishes readily, glues satisfactorily and slices and peels well.

The durability of the heartwood is moderate, and the sapwood is susceptible to Lyctus borers. The heartwood is resistant to impregnation and the sapwood moderately resistant.

The seeds have an in-vitro dry matter digestibility of 39%. Per 100 g dry matter they contain: crude protein 11.0 g, neutral detergent fibre 61.0 g, acid detergent fibre 50.5 g, tannins 3.1 g, Ca 840 mg, Mg 430 mg and P 290 mg. Per 100 g dry matter the leaves contain: crude protein 8.1 g and neutral detergent fibre 11.8 g.


  • Semi-deciduous, monoecious medium-sized tree up to 20(–23) m tall; bole up to 90 cm in diameter; bark pale grey to grey, smooth, becoming fissured with age, with salmon-pink lenticels; crown large, rounded, spreading; branches marked with leaf scars.
  • Leaves arranged spirally, clustered at ends of branches, up to 45 cm long, imparipinnately compound with (3–) 6–12(–20) pairs of leaflets, viscid when young; stipules absent; petiole 3–10 cm long; petiolules up to 2 mm long; leaflets opposite, narrowly ovate to lanceolate, 2–9(–11) cm × 1–2.5(–3) cm, base slightly oblique, apex acuminate, margin finely notched, glabrous or hairy, pinnately veined.
  • Inflorescence an axillary thyrse up to 30 cm long, many-flowered; peduncle up to 20 cm long; bracts up to 2.5 cm long.
  • Flowers functionally unisexual, regular, 4-merous; pedicel up to 6 mm long, jointed near base, whitish hairy; sepals almost completely free, ovate, 1–2.5 mm × 1–2.5 mm, glabrous or pubescent; petals free, lanceolate, 3–6 mm × 1–1.5 mm, glabrous or pubescent outside, greenish white to cream; stamens free, alternate with petals, in female flowers reduced and sterile; ovary superior, 4-locular, reduced in male flowers.
  • Fruit oblong-ellipsoid, 4-sided, 8–25 mm × 5–11 mm, woody, pubescent to glabrous, separating into 1-seeded mericarps, each attached by a strip of tissue to top of central carpophore.
  • Seeds almost as large as mericarp, rounded at one end and pointed at the other, 3-angled.

Other botanical information

In southern Africa Kirkia acuminata forms new leaves in September–October, flowers in October–December and fruits from January onwards.

Kirkia comprises 5 species, distributed in tropical Africa from Ethiopia and Somalia to northern South Africa.


Kirkia acuminata is drought resistant and prefers hot and dry areas; it is susceptible to frost. It occurs up to 1600 m altitude in a range of habitats: bushland, woodland, savanna and rocky hillslopes. It prefers well-drained, basic soils, but may be found on various soil types, from alluvial flats and sandy or loamy soils near rivers to sandy and dry soils and rocky slopes.


Kirkia acuminata is easily propagated using seed or stem parts, and it is fast-growing.

Genetic resources

As Kirkia acuminata is widely distributed and occurs in a wide range of habitats, it is unlikely to be threatened by genetic erosion. It is, however, protected in South Africa.


The softness of the wood and the relatively wide sapwood restrict the usability of the wood of Kirkia acuminata, but the attractive figure of the wood makes it suitable for decorative purposes, e.g. for panelling and veneer. Kirkia acuminata has potential as an ornamental and shade tree.

Major references

  • 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.
  • Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
  • Immelman, K.L., 1986. Simaroubaceae. In: Leistner, O.A. (Editor). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 18, part 3. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agriculture and Water Supply, Pretoria, South Africa. pp. 1–3.
  • Scott, M.H., 1950. Notes on the more important African timbers imported into the Union with special reference to Portuguese East African species. Journal of the South African Forestry Association 19: 18–62.
  • Stannard, B.L., 1981. A revision of Kirkia (Simaroubaceae). Kew Bulletin 35: 829–839.

Other references

  • Aganga, A.A. & Mosase, K.W., 2001. Tannin content, nutritive value and dry matter digestibility of Lonchocarpus capassa, Zizyphus mucronata, Sclerocarya birrea, Kirkia acuminata and Rhus lancea seeds. Animal Feed Science and Technology 91(1/2): 107–113.
  • Braedt, O. & Standa-Gunda, W., 2000. Woodcraft markets in Zimbabwe. International Tree Crops Journal 10: 367–384.
  • 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.
  • Gilbert, G., 1958. Simaroubaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 7. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 119–131.
  • Grundy, I.M., Campbell, B.M., Balebereho, S., Cunliffe, R., Tafangenyasha, C., Fergusson, R. & Parry, D., 1993. Availability and use of trees in Mutanda Resettlement Area, Zimbabwe. Forest Ecology and Management 56(1–4): 243–266.
  • Msekandiana, G., 2001. The impact of charcoal production on the miombo woodlands of Mwanza District, southern Malawi. SABONET News 6(3): 180–182.
  • Pardy, A.A., 1952. Notes on indigenous trees and shrubs of southern Rhodesia. The Rhodesia Agricultural Journal 49(3–4): 171–175, 216–220.
  • Sibanda, H.M. & Ndlovu, L.R., 1992. The value of indigenous browseable tree species in livestock production in semi-arid communal grazing areas of Zimbabwe. In: Stares, J.E.C., Said, A.N. & Kategile, J.A. (Editors). The complementarity of feed resources for animal production in Africa. Proceedings of the joint feed resources networks workshop held in Gaborone, Botswana, 4–8 March 1991. African Feeds Research Network, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. pp. 55–61.
  • Stannard, B.L., 2000. Simaroubaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 15 pp.
  • Wild, H., Phipps, B. & Paiva, J., 1969. Simaroubaceae. In: Fernandes, A. (Editor). Flora de Moçambique. No 38. Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, Lisbon, Portugal. 7 pp.


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

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2007. Kirkia acuminata Oliv. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 8 July 2021.