Nuxia floribunda (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

Nuxia floribunda Benth.

Protologue: Hook., Comp. Bot. Mag. 2: 59 (1836).
Family: Loganiaceae (APG: Stilbaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 38


Lachnopylis floribunda (Benth.) C.A.Sm. (1930).

Vernacular names

Forest elder, forest nuxia, wild elder (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Nuxia floribunda occurs from eastern DR Congo eastward to Kenya and southward to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.


The wood of Nuxia floribunda is used for fence posts, carpentry, furniture and turnery, and formerly in the construction of wagons. It is suitable for construction, flooring, joinery, interior trim, vehicle bodies, ladders, musical instruments, toys, novelties, precision tools, vats, handles, carvings, pattern making, veneer and plywood. It is also used as firewood.

Powdered leaves and twig bark are applied to skin diseases, and powdered leaves in water are taken against diarrhoea. A maceration of leafy twigs is administered against insanity. In Kenya root extracts are prescribed against influenza. In Uganda a decoction of the bark together with Spilanthes flowers is drunk against impotence. Leafy shoots are placed under the bed as mosquito repellent. The flowers produce nectar in abundance and are much visited by honey bees. Nuxia floribunda is becoming an increasingly popular garden tree, notable for its conspicuous flowers and shapely crown.

Production and international trade

The wood of Nuxia floribunda is not traded on the international market, and its local importance seems also limited.


The heartwood of Nuxia floribunda ranges from whitish to yellowish or reddish and has an attractive streaky figure; it is not clearly demarcated from the sapwood. The grain is straight or shallowly interlocked, texture fine and even. The wood is medium-weight, with a density of about 735 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, and fairly hard and tough. It air dries slowly, but usually without serious defects. The rates of shrinkage are moderate, from green to oven dry about 3.0% radial and 6.5% tangential. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 105 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 14,200 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 59 N/mm², shear 16 N/mm², Janka side hardness 7515 N and Janka end hardness 8975 N.

The wood saws and works fairly easily with both hand and machine tools. It can be planed to a smooth surface, and polishes very well. It has good nailing and screwing properties, but pre-boring is needed. The wood glues and turns well. It is fairly durable, being rather resistant to fungal and insect attacks.

A dichloromethane/methanol extract of the leaves had a strong repellent effect on malaria mosquitos in a test with rabbits. The iridoid glycoside unedoside and its derivatives nuxioside and a cinnamoyl-nuxioside have been isolated from the extract.


Shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 20(–25) m tall; bole often somewhat contorted, up to 60(–90) cm in diameter; bark surface fissured, flaking, grey to greyish brown; twigs angular, purplish, becoming paler with age, glabrous or finely hairy, with prominent leaf scars. Leaves in whorls of 3 or opposite, simple; stipules absent; petiole slender, (0.5–)1.5–4.5(–5.5) cm long; blade elliptical to narrowly elliptical or oblong-elliptical, 4–16 cm × 1–7 cm, base cuneate, apex acuminate, sometimes acute, margins entire to slightly toothed or wavy, papery to leathery, usually glabrous, pinnately veined with up to 13 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary, often umbel-like panicle up to 32 cm × 25 cm, heavily branched, nearly glabrous. Flowers bisexual, nearly regular, 4-merous, fragrant, nearly sessile; calyx tubular, 2–3.5 mm long, with short lobes; corolla whitish, tube slightly shorter than calyx, lobes c. 2 mm long, hairy in the throat of the tube; stamens inserted at apex of corolla tube, alternating with lobes, up to 4 mm long; ovary superior, nearly globose, c. 1 mm in diameter, glabrous, 2-celled, style slender, up to 4.5 mm long. Fruit an obovoid capsule up to 5 mm long, distinctly longer than the persistent calyx, glabrous, dehiscing with 2–4 valves, many-seeded. Seeds spindle-shaped, c. 1 mm long, brown.

Other botanical information

Nuxia comprises about 15 species occurring in southern Arabia and throughout tropical Africa, including Comoros, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands. The wood of some Nuxia spp. is used for similar purposes as that of Nuxia floribunda.

Nuxia oppositifolia

Nuxia oppositifolia (Hochst.) Benth., called ‘river nuxia’, ‘bush nuxia’ or ‘water elder’, is an evergreen shrub or small tree up to 15(–20) m tall, occurring from Eritrea and Ethiopia southward to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, and also in Madagascar and southern Arabia. Its reddish yellow and nicely marked wood is rarely sound and little used in southern Africa, but in Madagascar it is used for carpentry and utensils. In traditional medicine in southern Africa, the smoke of burning leaves is inhaled against headache. In Madagascar leaf decoctions are given to children to treat malaria, enlarged spleen and coughs. Leaf decoctions are also taken as stomachic and astringent.

Nuxia verticillata

Nuxia verticillata Lam., called ‘bois maigre’ or ‘bois de bombarde’, is a small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall with fluted bole up to 80 cm in diameter, endemic to the Mascarene Islands; it is rare in Reunion and fairly common but vulnerable in Mauritius. Its wood has been used for similar purposes as the wood of other Nuxia spp., e.g. for construction and carpentry. A decoction of young leaves is drunk against irregular menstruation. An infusion or decoction of the leaves is taken to treat various urinary problems.

Growth and development

In southern Africa Nuxia floribunda flowers mostly between May and September. Usually full flowering occurs every second year, after which very large numbers of fruits develop. The flowers are self-pollinated or by bees, but numerous other insects visit the flowers as well as birds. The tiny seeds are dispersed by wind as well as on the bodies of birds, but many are still underdeveloped at this stage and fail to germinate.


Nuxia floribunda occurs in forest, often on riverbanks, in forest margins, savanna or heath vegetation, at 800–2400 m altitude but in subtropical southern Africa at 0–1000 m. Trees need ample water and are frost tender.

Propagation and planting

Nuxia floribunda can be grown from seed or cuttings. For propagation by cuttings, up to 10 cm long pieces of semi-hardwood or hardwood are used. They are placed in well-drained river sand or a mixture of river sand and compost. The latter medium is also suitable for sowing seed. The very small seeds are scattered evenly on the surface and very lightly covered with fine sand, placed in a warm, light place and kept moist. Germination generally takes 6–12 weeks; the germination rate may be very low.


As a garden tree, Nuxia floribunda is best planted in a moist, sunny to partly shaded locality, but it is not suited to frost-prone areas. Its root system is not aggressive or invasive, allowing for planting in close proximity to roads, buildings and pavement. It thrives when planted in deep soil with plenty of compost. Under such favourable conditions it is a medium to fast grower.

Diseases and pests

Diseases known to attack Nuxia floribunda include Fusarium spp., which are often fatal to seedlings, and leaf moulds such as Meliola spp., which attack and kill older seedlings.

Genetic resources

Nuxia floribunda is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.


Nuxia floribunda is likely to remain a source of poles for construction. Wider applicability of its wood deserves further study, but the often small size and poor shape of the bole is a drawback. The medicinal uses of Nuxia floribunda warrant further investigation of its pharmacological properties. It can be recommended as a garden ornamental.

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.
  • Bruce, E.A. & Lewis, J., 1960. Loganiaceae. In: Hubbard, C.E. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 47 pp.
  • Coates Palgrave, K., 2002. Trees of southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 1212 pp.
  • Hutchings, A., Haxton Scott, A., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A., 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. 450 pp.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M., 1975. The Loganiaceae of Africa. 14. A revision of Nuxia. Mededelingen Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen 75–8. Wageningen, the Netherlands. 80 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 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. December 2011.
  • 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.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan. 248 pp.
  • van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P., 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 536 pp.

Other references

  • Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
  • Gasson, P., Jarvis, P. & Page, W., 1998. Wood anatomy of twelve species with potential for reintroduction on Round Island, Mauritius. IAWA Journal 19: 393–413.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A. & Brendler, T., 2004. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mascarenes. Medpharm, Stuttgart, Germany. 568 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1996. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 2. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 532 pp.
  • Jensen, S.R., Ravnkilde, L. & Schripsema, J., 1998. Unedoside derivatives in Nuxia and their biosynthesis. Phytochemistry 47(6): 1007–1011.
  • Jonville, M.C., Kodja, H., Strasberg, D., Pichette, A., Ollivier, E., Frederich, M., Angenot, L. & Legault, J., 2011. Antiplasmodial, anti-inflammatory and cytotoxic activities of various plant extracts from the Mascarene Archipelago. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136(3): 525–531.
  • Lavergne, R. & Véra, R., 1989. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques à la Réunion. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 236 pp.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M., 1983. Loganiaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 7, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 327–374.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. & Bamps, P., 1979. Loganiaceae. In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 149 pp.
  • Lovett, J.C., Ruffo, C.K., Gereau, R.E. & Taplin, J.R.D., 2007. Nuxia floribunda. Field guide to the moist forest trees of Tanzania. [Internet] Centre for Ecology Law and Policy, Environment Department, University of York, York, United Kingdom. webpages/projects/ecology/tree%20guide/pages/LOGANIACEAE/ Nuxia%20floribunda.htm. December 2011.
  • Maharaj, R., Maharaj, V., Crouch, N.R., Bhagwandin, N., Folb, P.I., Pillay, P. & Gayaram, R., 2010. Evaluation of selected South African ethnomedicinal plants as mosquito repellents against the Anopheles arabiensis mosquito in a rodent model. Malaria Journal 9(1): art. no. 301.
  • Mothogoane, M.S., 2011. Nuxia congesta. [Internet] South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. plantnop/ nuxiacongesta.htm. December 2011
  • Oxelman, B., Backlund, M. & Bremer, B., 1999. Relationships of the Buddlejaceae s.l. investigated using parsimony jackknife and branch support analysis of chloroplast ndhF and rbcL sequence data. Systematic Botany 24(2): 164–182.
  • van Vuuren, N.J.J., Banks, C.H. & Stohr, H.P., 1978. Shrinkage and density of timbers used in the Republic of South Africa. Bulletin No 57. South African Forestry Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 55 pp.
  • Venter, F. & Venter, J.-A., 1996. Making the most of indigenous trees. Briza publications, Capetown, South Africa. 304 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M., 1975. The Loganiaceae of Africa. 14. A revision of Nuxia. Mededelingen Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen 75–8. Wageningen, the Netherlands. 80 pp.


  • A. Asamoah, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana
  • C. Antwi-Bosiako, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana
  • K. Frimpong-Mensah, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana
  • A. Atta-Boateng, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

Correct citation of this article

Asamoah, A., Antwi-Bosiako, C., Frimpong-Mensah, K. & Atta-Boateng, A., 2012. Nuxia floribunda Benth. 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 20 July 2021.