Markhamia lutea (PROTA)

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Markhamia lutea (Benth.) K.Schum.

Protologue: Engl. & Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. IV, 3b: 242 (1895).
Family: Bignoniaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 40


Markhamia hildebrandtii (Baker) Sprague (1905), Markhamia platycalyx (Baker) Sprague (1905).

Vernacular names

Markhamia, siala (En). Mgambo, mtalawanda (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Markhamia lutea occurs from Côte d’Ivoire east to Kenya and south to DR Congo and Tanzania. It is commonly planted in some regions within its distribution area, particularly in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and sometimes elsewhere, e.g. in Ethiopia and in the southern parts of the United States.


The wood is used for light construction, often as round-wood, joinery, furniture, cabinet work, posts, poles, implements, walking sticks, beehives, paddles, tool handles and props for crops. It is suitable for light flooring, interior trim, ship building, vehicle bodies, sporting goods, toys, novelties, boxes, crates, matches, turnery, veneer, plywood and pulpwood. It is resistant to diluted acids and can be used for fermentation tanks, tubs and barrels. It is also used as firewood and for charcoal production. The wood is considered excellent for tobacco curing because of its odourless smoke.

Markhamia lutea is an important agroforestry tree. It is used as shade tree in crops such as banana, beans and maize, and as a wind break. It is useful for erosion control and soil conservation, and provides good mulch. It is planted as an ornamental tree in gardens and parks because of its showy flowers, but also in hedges and live fences, and as a boundary marker. The flowers are a source of nectar for honey bees.

Roots, bark and leaves are used in traditional medicine. Leaves and bark are used to treat toothache, stomach-ache and headache. Roots are administered to children to treat convulsions, and root and bark decoctions are taken against asthma, cough and gonorrhoea. Root decoctions are applied to treat earache and bark decoctions as aphrodisiac. Ground leaves and bark are applied externally to treat skin complaints and wounds. Leaves are used for the treatment of snakebites and young shoots to treat throat complaints, lumbago and diarrhoea. Leaf extracts are taken to treat cough and malaria. In Uganda the roots are a constituent of a complex herbal preparation used in the alleviation of AIDS symptoms. Markhamia lutea can be used for control of the parasitic weed Striga in cereals by inducing germination in the absence of a host.

Production and international trade

The wood is used locally and not traded on the international timber market.


The heartwood is straw-coloured to pale brown, slightly darkening upon exposure, and indistinctly demarcated from the sapwood. The grain is straight, texture medium and even.

The wood is medium-weight, with a density of 560–575 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, and moderately hard. It air dries rapidly, but has a tendency to warp and check. The shrinkage rates are rather high. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 90–104 N/mm² and compression parallel to grain 51–54 N/mm².

The wood is easy to saw and work with both hand and machine tools. It planes and finishes to a smooth surface, although some picking up of grain may occur; the use of a filler is recommended. The wood is liable to splitting upon nailing and screwing, and pre-boring is recommended. It paints and varnishes well when a filler is used. It peels and slices well, producing good-quality veneer. The wood is moderately durable, being moderately resistant to termites, but liable to Lyctus, pinhole borer and marine borer attacks. Wood dust may cause irritation to mucous membranes.

A petroleum-ether extract of the roots showed antibacterial activity. The roots contain alkaloids and saponins. In screening tests, root and leaf extracts of Markhamia lutea showed pronounced antiviral activity against herpes and coxsackie viruses. The phenylpropanoid glycosides verbascoside, isoverbascoside and luteosides A–C have been isolated from the roots. All these compounds showed potent in-vitro activity against respiratory syncytial virus. Crude ethyl acetate leaf extracts exhibited in-vitro antiparasitic activity against Plasmodium falciparum, Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania donovani. The cycloartane triterpenoids musambins A–C and their glycoside derivatives musambiosides A–C are considered the active compounds. Musambin B with its potent antitrypanosomal activity is most promising for drug development.


Evergreen small to medium-sized tree up to 25(–30) m tall; bole often short but sometimes branchless for up to 20 m, up to 70 cm in diameter, older trees often fluted at base; bark surface finely cracked, pale brown to reddish brown or dark grey, inner bark fibrous, yellowish; crown usually narrow, irregular; branches with numerous lenticels, twigs slightly hairy. Leaves opposite, imparipinnately compound, up to 35 cm long, with (2–)3–6 pairs of leaflets; stipules absent, but pseudostipules present, rounded, 2–3 cm in diameter; petiole 6–12 cm long; petiolules up to 0.5(–1) cm long; leaflets opposite, elliptical to obovate, 4.5–21 cm × 4–9 cm, cuneate to rounded at base, acuminate at apex, papery, covered with small scales, pinnately veined with up to 15 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a terminal panicle up to 20 cm long and wide. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, large and showy, scented; pedicel c. 0.5 cm long; calyx spathe-shaped, 2–2.5(–3) cm long, covered with small scales; corolla golden yellow, with brownish purple or red veins or spots at the throat, with tube (2–)3–4.5 cm long and 2-lipped and 5-lobed limb, lobes (1–)1.5–2.5 cm long and wide, glandular; stamens 4, 2–3 cm long, 2 longer and 2 shorter, inserted on the corolla tube, included; disk 5-lobed; ovary superior, oblong, 0.5–1 cm long, 2-celled, style 2–2.5 cm long. Fruit a linear, curved capsule 35–80 cm × 1–2 cm, flattened, covered with small scales, dehiscing with 2 valves, many-seeded. Seeds irregularly rectangular, with 2 lateral wings, 0.5–1 cm × 2.5–3.5 cm including wings, yellow-white. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Markhamia comprises 6 species, 4 of which occur in Africa and 2 in tropical Asia.

Markhamia obtusifolia

Markhamia obtusifolia (Baker) Sprague is a shrub or small tree up to 15 m tall, occurring from DR Congo and Tanzania south to Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. The pale-coloured wood, which is said to be quite durable, is used for poles, rafters, furniture, utensils and tool handles, and as firewood. The bark is used to make ropes and the leaves serve as fodder for livestock. Markhamia obtusifolia is sometimes planted as ornamental tree. The roots and leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat cough, convulsions, lymphadenitis, hookworm, snakebites, tachycardia, jaundice, conjunctivitis and syphilis, and as nerve stimulant.

Markhamia tomentosa

Markhamia tomentosa (Benth.) K.Schum. ex Engl. is a shrub or small tree up to 15 m tall with bole branchless for up to 9 m and up to 30 cm in diameter, occurring in savanna and dry to semi-deciduous forest from Senegal east to DR Congo and south to northern Angola. Its pale yellowish brown to pale pinkish brown wood, with a density of about 580 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, is quite similar to that of Markhamia lutea and used for similar purposes. It is also used as firewood. Markhamia tomentosa is sometimes planted as ornamental tree. The bark and leaves are used in traditional medicine, particularly to treat externally skin complaints, sores and rheumatism, but decoctions are also taken to treat fever, pain and respiratory complaints. The bark has been used in tanning.

Markhamia zanzibarica

Markhamia zanzibarica (Bojer ex DC.) K.Schum. ex Engl. (synonym: Markhamia acuminata (Klotzsch) K.Schum.) is a shrub or small tree up to 10 m tall, occurring in woodland, forest edges and thickets from Somalia to Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and northern South Africa. The yellowish wood is used in house building for the construction of walls and roofs, and for implement handles, bows and arrows. Infusions and decoctions of roots and bark are taken to treat cough, diarrhoea and pain, and as anthelmintic.


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; (19: reticulate, foraminate, and/or other types of multiple perforation plates); 22: intervessel pits alternate; (23: shape of alternate pits polygonal); 24: intervessel pits minute ( 4 μm); 25: intervessel pits small (4–7 μm); 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; 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.
  • Axial parenchyma: 79: axial parenchyma vasicentric; 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 82: axial parenchyma winged-aliform; 83: axial parenchyma confluent; 85: axial parenchyma bands more than three cells wide; 91: two cells per parenchyma strand; 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand.
  • Rays: 97: ray width 1–3 cells; 98: larger rays commonly 4- to 10-seriate; 104: all ray cells procumbent; 115: 4–12 rays per mm.

(E. Ebanyenle, P.E. Gasson & E.A. Wheeler)

Growth and development

Planted trees grow fast, up to 2 m per year. In an experiment in Burundi, the wood volume 3.5 years after planting 5-months-old seedlings of Markhamia lutea at a spacing of 4 m × 8 m was 0.8 m³/ha. In a 26-years-old plantation in DR Congo, planted at a spacing of 2 m × 2 m, the mean height of trees was 25 m with boles up to 16 m long and up to 33 cm in diameter. Trees reached 30 m tall after 60 years. Markhamia lutea develops a very large root system. Under favourable conditions, young trees may start flowering when only 3 m tall. In western Kenya trees flower in August–September, in eastern Kenya in December–January. Fruits ripen about 6 months after flowering. The winged seeds are dispersed by wind. Colobus monkeys and chimpanzees commonly feed on the leaves.


Markhamia lutea occurs naturally in evergreen forest, riverine forest, forest edges and wooded savanna, at 600–2400 m altitude. The mean annual rainfall in the area of distribution is 700–2000 mm, with 3–5 dry months. Trees are quite drought resistant, and do not tolerate waterlogging. Markhamia lutea prefers deep, well-drained red loamy soils, but also grows on gravelly loams, sandy soils and acidic clay soils as long as these are well drained.

Propagation and planting

Markhamia lutea often colonizes gaps in the forest, forest edges and formerly cultivated land. Seedlings can be found in full sun or light shade, but do not tolerate long dry periods.

Ripe fruits, which are greyish, are collected from the tree before they open. They are dried to collect the seeds. There are about 75,000 seeds per kg. Seeds are usually sown when they are fresh. Fresh seed has a germination rate of 30–60% in 3–4 weeks. For storage, the seeds should be dried in the sun to a moisture content of 5–10% and then threshed gently to remove the wings, followed by winnowing. Properly dried seeds can be stored in airtight containers or sacks at 3°C for several years without much loss in viability. Seeds can be sown directly into the field or in a seed bed. Pre-treatment is not necessary. The seeds should be broadcasted thinly and evenly (with a spacing of about 1.5 cm, corresponding to about 60 g of seed per m²) on a well-prepared seed bed and covered with a thin layer of sand and light mulch to keep the seed bed moist. Watering should be done in the morning and evening. The mulch is removed when germination starts. Seedlings are transplanted in pots containing soil mixed with NPK fertilizer at a rate of 30–40 g per 20 l of soil. They develop a taproot that may be over 1 m long when the stem is only 50 cm. Regular pruning of the root system is necessary, or seedlings should be planted in a deep hole. Seedlings are planted into the field when about 30 cm tall, after 4–6 months.

Propagation by cuttings is sometimes practised, using either small cuttings, or long ones 1–1.5 m long and 3–6 cm in diameter cut from coppice shoots. Wildlings are also collected for planting. Planting experiments in Ethiopia showed 98% survival of Markhamia lutea 4 years after planting.


Weeding is necessary for some time after planting. The application of manure increases growth rates in infertile soils.

In DR Congo more than 100 saplings and trees have been counted per ha. A survey in western Kenya at the end of the 1980s showed that Markhamia lutea was the second most frequently planted agroforestry species. Locally it has been found on 40% of the farms at an average density of 15 trees per farm. The most popular management method is by coppicing. Although Markhamia lutea is locally much used as auxiliary plant, it competes with crops with its large fibrous roots and the rather dense shade caused by its crown. Tests showed that it affected negatively growth of banana, beans and maize, but had no effect on coffee. The shade can be reduced by pruning, and it is recommended to plant trees far apart. When planted in hedges, spacing should be 80–150 cm and plants can be pruned for the first time after 2 years. Trees are pruned to obtain a regular bole for timber. They coppice well, producing vigorous shoots which can reach 7 cm in diameter after 2–3 years on good soils, and poles of 10–12 cm in diameter some years later.

Diseases and pests

Seeds are commonly attacked by seed-boring beetles and rodents. Young trees are commonly attacked by shoot borers, which may result in crooked boles. Silvicultural measures such as overhead shading of saplings, mixed planting and removal of lateral shoots can reduce damage by shoot borers.


Trees can be harvested for timber when 15–20 years old. Boles are often fluted, resulting in low recovery rates. Coppice shoots can be harvested as poles 1.5–4 years after coppicing. Fruits should be collected from the trees when they turn from pale yellow to greyish, before they open and release the seeds. They are usually collected by climbing the trees and cutting off the fruits with a sharp hook. Plant parts used for medicinal purposes are harvested throughout the year when the need arises. They are used immediately or dried and stored for later use.


Logs often have a small diameter and are commonly poorly shaped. This makes sawing difficult with low yield and sawmills generating much waste. In natural forest in DR Congo, large trees produced up to 5 m³ of logs, but the mean volume harvested per tree was only 1.5 m³, of which only 70% produced good timber.

Handling after harvest

After collection from the trees, fruits are sun dried in order to open to release the seeds.

Genetic resources

Markhamia lutea is widely distributed in a variety of habitats and is additionally commonly planted. This makes that it is not in danger of genetic erosion, as seems to be the case for the other African Markhamia spp.


Provenance and progeny trials showed high genetic variation for tree height and bole diameter, but not for wood density and strength. This may offer opportunities for selection of trees with long and straight boles for increased timber production.


Markhamia lutea is a well-known multipurpose tree for use in agroforestry systems. More research is needed to increase its timber production by selection of superior trees and by the establishment of appropriate silvicultural systems and propagation methods. Although Markhamia lutea is already an important auxiliary plant in parts of East Africa, investigations on best ways to plant it to avoid competition with crops are recommended. The antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic activities of various plant parts may offer good opportunities for drug development, but much more pharmacological research is still needed. Additionally, Markhamia lutea deserves more attention as an ornamental tree. The other Markhamia species have similar prospects for increased use, although they seem to be less interesting as timber tree because of their usually smaller sizes.

Major references

  • Bidgood, S., Verdcourt, B. & Vollesen, K., 2006. Bignoniaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. & Ghazanfar, S.A. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 1–47.
  • 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.
  • Kernan, M.R., Amarquaye, A., Chen, J.L., Chan, J., Sesin, D.F., Parkinson, N., Ye, Z., Barrett, M., Bales, C., Stoddart, C.A., Sloan, B., Blanc, P., Limbach, C., Mrisho, S. & Rozhon, E.J., 1998. Antiviral phenylpropanoid glycosides from the medicinal plant Markhamia lutea. Journal of Natural Products 61(5): 564–570.
  • Maundu, P. & Tengnäs, B. (Editors), 2005. Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre - East and Central Africa Regional Programme (ICRAF-ECA), Technical Handbook 35, Nairobi, Kenya. 484 pp.
  • Michelson, A., 1959. Markhamia lutea K.Schum. Etudes forestières, nouvelle série no 9. Comité National du Kivu, Bruxelles, Belgique. 89 pp.
  • Orwa, C., Mutua, A., Kindt, R., Jamnadass, R. & Simons, A., 2009. Agroforestree database: a tree reference and selection guide. Version 4.0. [Internet] World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya. resources/databases/ agroforestree. July 2011.
  • Otieno, H.J.O., 1992. Markhamia lutea: fitting the management to the tree. Agroforestry Today 1992, 4: 2, 9.
  • Pawlick, T., 1989. Markhamia: a very practical ornamental. Agroforestry Today 1989, 1: 3, 10–11.
  • Sesaazi, C.D., 1998. Phytochemical study of Markhamia lutea and Securidaca longipedunculata: components of formula H. M.Sc. Thesis, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. 79 pp.

Other references

  • Albrecht, J. (Editor), 1993. Tree seed handbook of Kenya. GTZ Forestry Seed Centre Muguga, Kenya. 264 pp.
  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Bekele-Tesemma, A., 2007. Useful trees and shrubs for Ethiopia: identification, propagation and management for 17 agroclimatic zones. Technical Manual No 6. RELMA in ICRAF Project, Nairobi, Kenya. 552 pp.
  • 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.
  • Chikamai, B.N., Githiomi, J.K., Gachathi, F.N. & Njenga, M.G., undated. Commercial timber resources of Kenya. Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Nairobi, Kenya. 164 pp.
  • Hamill, F.A., Apio, S., Mubiru, N.K., Mosango, M., Bukenya-Ziraba, R., Maganyi, O.W. & Soejarto, D.D., 2000. Traditional herbal drugs of southern Uganda, 1. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 70: 281–300.
  • 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.
  • International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), 1992. A selection of useful trees and shrubs for Kenya: notes on their identification, propagation and management for use by agricultural and pastoral communities. International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, Nairobi, Kenya. 225 pp.
  • Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.
  • Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1995. Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 10. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 710 pp.
  • Lacroix, D., Prado, S., Deville, A., Krief, S., Dumontet, V., Kasen, J., Mouray, E., Bories, C. & Bodo, B., 2009. Hydroperoxy-cycloartane triterpenoids from the leaves of Markhamia lutea, a plant ingested by wild chimpanzees. Phytochemistry 70(10): 1239–1245.
  • Liben, L., 1977. Bignoniaceae. In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 39 pp.
  • Mbuya, L.P., Msanga, H.P., Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1994. Useful trees and shrubs for Tanzania: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 6. Regional Soil Conservation Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 542 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Noad, T. & Birnie, A., 1989. Trees of Kenya. A fully illustrated field guide. Nairobi, Kenya. 281 pp.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N., 1972–1974. Trees of southern Africa, covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. 3 volumes. Balkema, Cape Town, South Africa. 2235 pp.
  • Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan. 248 pp.
  • Vivien, J. & Faure, J.J., 1985. Arbres des forêts denses d’Afrique Centrale. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 565 pp.
  • Vlietinck, A.J., van Hoof, L., Totté, J., Lasure, A., Vanden Berghe, D.A., Rwangabo, P.C. & Mvukiyumwami, J., 1995. Screening of hundred Rwandese medicinal plants for antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 46: 31–47.

Sources of illustration

  • Maundu, P. & Tengnäs, B. (Editors), 2005. Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre - East and Central Africa Regional Programme (ICRAF-ECA), Technical Handbook 35, Nairobi, Kenya. 484 pp.
  • Noad, T. & Birnie, A., 1989. Trees of Kenya. A fully illustrated field guide. Nairobi, Kenya. 281 pp.


  • A. Maroyi, Department of Biodiversity, School of Molecular and Life Sciences, University of Limpopo, Private Bag X 1106, Sovenga 0727, South Africa

Correct citation of this article

Maroyi, A., 2012. Markhamia lutea (Benth.) K.Schum. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Louppe, D. & Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 19 September 2021.