Millettia barteri (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

General importance Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage Africa Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.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
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Timber Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
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Millettia barteri (Benth.) Dunn

Protologue: Journ. Bot. 49: 221 (1911).
Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 20


  • Lonchocarpus barteri Benth. (1860).

Origin and geographic distribution

Millettia barteri is distributed in tropical and subtropical Africa; it has been reported from Senegal eastwards to Sudan and southwards to Angola.


The main stems are very strong and used as cables for boats and hauling timber logs. In Ghana and DR Congo the stems are used for binding in house construction. Very strong fibres are extracted from the bark and are used to make animal traps. Stem fibre is sold for use as a sponge for scrubbing. The stem yields potable water when cut.

Ground twigs are macerated and subsequently drunk as a purgative. Powdered bark is taken as a snuff for headache and sinusitis in Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria. Leaf sap is used topically for the treatment of inflammation of the ear, toothache, and filariasis in the eyes. To mature abscesses a dressing of pulped leaves is applied. Leaf pulp is rubbed on the skin in case of pulmonary complaints, bronchitis and stiffness. A root decoction is drunk to cure cardiac troubles. The pounded stem or twigs, finely cut stem, macerated bark and leaves are used as a fish poison.


The seeds of Millettia barteri contain homoarginine and γ-hydroxyhomoarginine.


Large liana over 30 m long, rarely a shrub or small tree; stem longitudinally ridged, up to 10 cm in diameter; bark thick, surface rough, furrowed with small and inconspicuous lenticels, purplish, glabrous; young twigs finely hairy. Leaves alternate, imparipinnately compound with 2–7 pairs of leaflets; stipules early caducous; petiole up to 12 cm long, rachis up to 13 cm long, yellow; stipels absent; petiolules 6 mm long; leaflets opposite, elliptical or elliptical-oblong, up to 15 cm × 8 cm, abruptly and obtusely acuminate at apex, sparsely hairy below. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary, slender panicle 15–60 cm long, with or without branches up to 16 cm long. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous, scented; pedicel up to 2 mm long; calyx campanulate, 3–4 mm long, truncated; corolla pale pinkish to red, turning violet when ageing, standard orbicular, soft-hairy on the outside, 12–15 mm in diameter, wings and keel 8–10 mm long; stamens 10, 9 fused, 1 free; ovary superior, hairy, style slender, curved, hairy at base. Fruit a linear, flat pod 7 cm × 2 cm, with thickened margin, brown-hairy, indehiscent, 1–3-seeded. Seeds ovoid, flattened, 15–18 mm × 20–22 mm, smooth, dark brown.

Millettia comprises about 150 species, most of them (about 90) in mainland Africa, 8 endemic to Madagascar, and about 50 in tropical Asia. It is in need of revision and should be split into several genera on the basis of molecular evidence.

The stems of Millettia comosa (Micheli) Hauman (synonym: Millettia gagnepainiana Dunn), a liana occurring in Gabon, Congo and western DR Congo, are used for tying in Gabon. A decoction of the twigs is gargled in case of toothache. In DR Congo the stems of both Millettia macroura Harms and Millettia theuszii (Büttn.) De Wild. are used for construction and for tying and both are important as bee forage.


Millettia barteri is restricted to river banks, swamp forest and temporarily flooded forest.

Genetic resources

Since Millettia barteri is widespread and not heavily exploited there is no reason to assume the species will be threatened in the near future. Research is needed on the medicinal aspects to be able to assess its value in this respect.


Locally Millettia barteri will continue to be used as one of the strongest lianas available.

Major references

  • Banzouzi, J.T., Prost, A., Rajemiarimiraho, M. & Ongoka, P., 2008. Traditional uses of the African Millettia species (Fabaceae). International Journal of Botany 4(4): 406–420.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
  • de la Estrella, M., Cabezas, F.J., Aedo, C. & Velayos, M., 2010. The Papilionoideae (Leguminosae) of Equatorial Guinea (Annobón, Bioko and Río Muni). Folia Geobotanica 45(1): 1–57.
  • 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.
  • Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 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.
  • Chevalier, A., 1937. Plantes ichthyotoxiques des colonies franfaises contenant du roténone ou presumées en contenir. Revue de Botanique Appliquée et d’Agriculture Tropicale 17: 565–585.
  • Ewango, C.E.N., 2010. The liana assemblage of a Congolian rainforest: diversity, structure and dynamics. PhD Thesis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands. 161 pp.
  • Hepper, F.N., 1958. Papilionaceae. 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. 505–587.
  • Latham, P., 2005. Some honeybee plants of Bas-Congo Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. DFID, United Kingdom. 167 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Noumi, E., 2004. Animal and plant poisons and their antidotes in Eseka and Mbalmayo regions, Centre Province, Cameroon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 93: 231–241.
  • Raponda-Walker, A., 1951. Une nouvelle légumineuse du Gabon servant à narcotiser le poisson. Revue Internationale de Botanique Appliquée & d’Agriculture Tropicale 16: 327. Revue Internationale de Botanique Appliquée & d’Agriculture Tropicale 16: 327.
  • Southon, I.W., Bisby, F.A., Buckingham, J. & Harborne, J.B., 1994. Phytochemical dictionary of the Leguminosae. Volume 1: Plants and their constituents. Chapman and Hall, London, United Kingdom. 1051 pp.
  • Van der Veen, L.J. & Bodinga bwa Bodinga, S., undated. Une société traditionnelle noire africaine et ses plantes utiles : les Éviya du Gabon. Dénomination, catégorisation et utilisation des plantes. [Internet] Editions Raponda-Walker, Libreville, Gabon. 140 pp. fulltext/Van%20der%20Veen/ Van%20der%20Veen_%C3%A0%20para%C3%AEtre_a.pdf. May 2009.


  • N. Nyunaï, Institut de Recherches Médicales et d’Etudes des Plantes Médicinales, B.P. 3805, Yaoundé, Cameroon

Correct citation of this article

Nyunaï, N., 2011. Millettia barteri (Benth.) Dunn. [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 7 December 2020.