Peddiea africana (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Peddiea africana Harv.

Protologue: Journ. Bot. (Hooker) 2: 266 (1840).
Family: Thymelaeaceae


  • Peddiea fischeri Engl. (1892).

Vernacular names

  • Cord tree, poison olive, green flower tree, fibre-bark tree (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Peddiea africana is distributed in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo and from Nigeria eastward to Kenya and southward to Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It also occurs in eastern South Africa and in Swaziland.


The fibrous bark of Peddiea africana is widely used for tying. Extracted fibres are used for making ropes and cords throughout its area of distribution. In Tanzania the wood is used for making spear-shafts and it is appreciated as firewood and for charcoal making. In Guinea the fruit is eaten. In Cameroon it is planted to demarcate land, as a live fence, and the wood is used for timber and as firewood. The roots are poisonous and have been used in homicide. In Uganda a necklace made of the bark is supposed to be a cure for heartburn. Peddiea africana is planted as an ornamental.


Like several other species in the genus, Peddiea africana contains compounds that irritate the skin, and contact with the skin can lead to severe allergic reactions. The toxicity of the roots is probably caused by a diterpenoid ester of the daphnane type that is known for its anticancer effects. A quinone (2,6-dimethoxybenzoquinone) and two coumarins (daphnoretin and umbelliferone) have been isolated from the root. The quinone is known to have antimicrobial properties and has shown anticancer effects.


Densely branched shrub up to 4 m tall or small tree up to 6(–10) m tall; outer bark smooth, brownish, inner bark pale pink to red; branches glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 2–6 mm long; blade elliptical, lanceolate to oblanceolate, 5–16.5 cm × 2–5 cm, tapering or obtuse at the base, obtuse to acute at the apex, membranous to leathery, glabrous. Inflorescence terminal, umbellate, (3–)5–22-flowered; peduncle up to 5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, yellowish green; pedicel 3–8 mm long; calyx tube cylindrical, 6–15 mm long, glabrous, lobes ovate, up to 4 mm × 2 mm, glabrous or sometimes with a few hairs at the apex; petals absent; stamens 10, in 2 whorls of unequal length, inserted in the throat of the calyx tube, almost sessile; ovary superior, shortly stalked, 2-locular, style filiform, up to 4 mm long, disk cup-shaped. Fruit an ovoid drupe up to 15 mm × 10 mm, reddish to black, glabrous or densely hairy at the top, 1(–2)-seeded.

In southern Africa Peddiea africana flowers from September to February and mature fruits are present from February to October.

Peddiea comprises 9 species, distributed in tropical Africa, with 1 of these species endemic to Madagascar. Until recently, Peddiea africana and Peddiea fischeri Engl. were thought to be 2 distinct species. The former was supposed to be restricted to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. The 2 were distinguished by glabrous ovary/fruit and disk versus hairs on top of ovary/fruit and disk and minute differences in the calyx tube. However, in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where both are indigenous, intermediates occur and there is no basis to keep distinguishing 2 separate species. Peddiea rapaneoides Gilg. ex Engl. (synonym: Peddiea orophila A.Robyns) is distributed in eastern DR Congo and neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi and occurs in forests at 1600–3000 m altitude. Fibres from its bark are used for making rope.


Peddiea africana occurs at 750–2400 m altitude in forest understorey, forest margins, riverine bushland and thickets. In West Africa it is considered a species of montane forest.


Peddiea africana produces fruits abundantly, and these can be harvested easily. Seeds can be stored in a cool place in sealed containers. Seed treatment before sowing is not necessary. Propagation can be done with seed, wildlings or cuttings. Trees can be coppiced or pollarded.

Pole cuttings are planted to make living fences in western Cameroon. The function of the living fences determines the length of the cuttings planted and their spacing, the structure of the fence, and its latticing with raffia. Pollarding the trees in the fence every 3–4 years supplies the family with their wood requirements, including cuttings for repairing the fence.

Genetic resources

As Peddiea africana is very widespread and common, it is not threatened with genetic erosion.


In Uganda it is considered feasible to grow Peddiea africana as a plantation crop for fibre production. However, as quantitative information on the fibre properties is lacking, it seems useful to investigate these first. The plant contains compounds with anti-cancer and toxic properties, and more research on its phytochemistry seems useful as well.

Major references

  • Breteler, F.J., 1994. Novitates gabonenses (15): the genus Peddiea (Thymelaeaceae) present in Gabon. Bulletin du Jardin Botanique National de Belgique 63(3-4): 205–207.
  • Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
  • Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
  • Peterson, B., 2006. Thymelaeaceae. In: Pope, G.V., Polhill, R.M. & Martins, E.S. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 3. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 85–117.
  • Temu, R.-A.P.C., 1990. Taxonomy and biogeography of woody plants in the Eastern Arc Mts, Tanzania: case studies in Zenkerella, Scorodophloeus and Peddiea. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis 286. Upsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. 68 pp.

Other references

  • Gautier, D., 1995. The pole-cutting practice in the Bamileke country (western Cameroon). Agroforestry Systems 31: 21–37.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Handa, S.S., Kinghorn, A.D., Cordell, G.A. & Farnsworth, N.R., 1983. Plant anticancer agents XXVI: Constituents of Peddiea fischeri. Journal of Natural Products 46(2): 248–250.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Robyns, A., 1975. Thymelaeaceae. In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 68 pp.
  • Staner, P., 1935. Les Thyméléacées de la flore du Congo. Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de l'Etat (Bruxelles) 13: 321–371.
  • Tahara, S. & Ingham, J.L., 2000. Simple flavones possessing complex biological activity. Studies in Natural Products Chemistry 22(3): 457–505.
  • van Wyk, B.E., van Heerden, F. & van Oudtshoorn, B., 2002. Poisonous plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 288 pp.


  • C.H. Bosch, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Bosch, C.H., 2011. Peddiea africana Harv. [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 March 2020.