Pterocarpus angolensis (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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distribution in Africa (wild)
1, tree habit; 2, part of flowering twig; 3, fruiting twig. Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin
tree habit (EcoPort
tree with fruits (
bark (EcoPort)
leafy branch
flowering branch (
fruits (EcoPort)
fruit (
wood (
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section
transverse surface of wood

Pterocarpus angolensis DC.

Protologue: Prodr. 2: 419 (1825).
Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)


  • Pterocarpus bussei Harms (1902).

Vernacular names

  • African bloodwood, mukwa, kiaat, muninga (En).
  • Ambila, umbila, njila sonde (Po).
  • Mninga, mdamudamu, mtumbati (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Pterocarpus angolensis is widespread in southern tropical Africa, from Angola, DR Congo and Tanzania south to north-eastern South Africa and Swaziland. It has been planted on a small scale in Kenya.


In southern Africa Pterocarpus angolensis is one of the most generally used and most valuable timber trees. The wood is used for construction, carpentry, furniture manufacture (tables, chairs, benches), parquet flooring and veneer, and in South Africa and Namibia particularly for wood carving (bowls, spoons and walking sticks). Due to its flexibility, resistance and light weight it is also useful for boats, doors and windows. It is occasionally used for firewood.

The heartwood of the roots, pounded to powder, yields a fast brownish red dye which is used in the cottage industry in Namibia and Zimbabwe, mainly to dye palm-leaf fibres for basket weaving. The powder is also mixed with oil or fat to make a cosmetic pomade, which had great cultural importance and still has to a lesser extent in Namibia (Ovambo people), Zambia (Ndembu people) and Angola. It is traditionally applied to all exposed portions of the body, including hair, face, breasts, arms and legs. It is also used to dye leather clothing (skirts or aprons of cowhide or tanned cow stomach), which is the traditional form of clothing for men and women alike and it still has cosmetic, medicinal and symbolic importance. The inner bark and heartwood of the trunk and branches are also said to be used by some people to obtain dye.

The inner bark is fibrous and is used in basketry. In traditional medicine the bark with its blood-red, gummy, resinous exudate (‘false dragon’s blood’ or ‘kino’) is used as a powerful astringent, e.g. to treat diarrhoea, heavy menstruation, nose bleeding, headache, stomach-ache, schistosomiasis, sores and skin problems. The root is believed to cure malaria, blackwater fever and gonorrhoea. The seed ash is applied as a dressing on wounds and psoriasis in South Africa. Leafy twigs are used as fodder and flowering trees are an important source of honey. Pterocarpus angolensis is nitrogen fixing and planted for soil conservation, dune fixation, live fencing and as an ornamental casting a light shade and with attractive fruits. The bark has been used as fish poison.

Production and international trade

In southern Africa Pterocarpus angolensis is the most widely used timber tree. Production and demand are huge although statistics are hardly available. In 1996 about 5500 m³ was exported from Cabo Delgado Province in Mozambique, and the annual export from Zambia is at least 5000 m³. Most of the timber is exported to China and Thailand. The export price of superior quality sawn Pterocarpus angolensis wood from Zambia is US$ 575/m³. At the beginning of the 1990s, the annual export of timber from South Africa was estimated at US$ 650,000; at present it may fetch prices of over US$ 700/m³. The price of one kg of wood used for carving in South Africa is US$ 1, but after carving it averages US$ 7.

Bark, chips and sawdust for dye production are available in considerable amounts as by-products of the timber. In rural areas many families largely depend on the income generated from the small-scale woodcraft, furniture and basketry industries, which thus support the poorest sectors of communities. In some regions, e.g. north-eastern South Africa, tableware and utensils made of Pterocarpus angolensis wood are common items in tourist markets and shops.


The heartwood is pale to dark brown or reddish brown, often with streaks, and distinctly demarcated from the pale grey or pale yellow sapwood. In Tanzania it was estimated that the percentage of heartwood is about 70% for a bole of 30 cm in diameter and about 80% for one of 50 cm in diameter. The grain is straight to interlocked, texture medium to coarse.

Pterocarpus angolensis wood is relatively light, the density is 400–700 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. The shrinkage rates of the wood are low: from green to 12% moisture content 1.0% radial and 1.5–1.6% tangential, and from green to oven dry 1.7% radial and 2.5% tangential. The wood dries well but slowly, without warping and with little or no tendency to check or split. It takes 50–90 days to air dry 25 mm thick boards from 70% to 12% moisture content, and 15–20 days by kiln drying. Once dry, it is very stable.

At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 82–94 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 8200–9200 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 50–57 N/mm², shear 9–16 N/mm², Janka side hardness 4450–6580 N and Janka end hardness 5380–7420 N.

The wood works well with hand and machine tools, only moderately blunting cutters; straight-grained material planes and finishes well. The bending properties are moderate. The wood is easy to peel and slice, and has good gluing and excellent turning and carving properties. The dry sawdust may cause irritation to nose and bronchia. The heartwood is moderately durable; it is moderately resistant to termites and marine borers. The sapwood is liable to powder-post beetle attack. The heartwood is resistant to preservative treatment, the sapwood moderately resistant. A defect reported frequently is a mottling of the timber with irregular white spots up to 5 mm in width, caused by an organic component which accumulates locally. The spots penetrate deeply into the wood and are obvious especially in veneers.

Recent analyses of samples of Pterocarpus angolensis heartwood have failed to detect any of the red biflavonoids such as santalins and santarubins, which are characteristic of commercial ‘insoluble redwoods’ from other Pterocarpus species. However, isoflavonoids are present, including prunetin, muningin, tectorigenin 7-methylether, pseudobaptigenin and angolensin, accounting for the brownish colour of the dye, but elucidation of the exact dye composition needs further research. The dried exudate collected from the bark contains about 75% tannin, mainly composed of kinotannic acid.

Root extracts are lethal to adult schistosomes causing bilharzia and are comparable to praziquantel, an efficacious antischistosomal drug.

Adulterations and substitutes

The wood of Pterocarpus angolensis, which is popular because of its streaked appearance and superior carving properties, is replaced in regions where it has become scarce by that of other indigenous species and occasionally of planted exotic species. However, there are a few alternatives, e.g. Afzelia quanzensis Welw. and Brachylaena huillensis O.Hoffm., which are commonly used for carving in Zimbabwe and Kenya, respectively, and the planted Azadirachta indica A.Juss.


  • Deciduous medium-sized tree up to 25(–35) m tall; bole straight, up to 50(–100) cm in diameter; bark c. 1.5 cm thick, rough and cracked into more or less rectangular blocks when old, grey to brown, exuding a red resinous sap on slashing; crown open, spreading, flat; twigs thinly to densely brown or silver-grey hairy, gradually becoming glabrous.
  • Leaves alternate, imparipinnately compound with (9–)11–25 leaflets, drooping; stipules lanceolate to elliptical, up to 2 cm long, falling off early; petiole 2–8 cm long, rachis 11–35 cm long, densely hairy; leaflets alternate to nearly opposite, broadly lanceolate to elliptical-oblong or elliptical-obovate, 3.5–10 cm × 2.5–5.5 cm, base rounded to slightly cordate, apex acuminate, hairy on both sides when young, with 10–14 pairs of fine lateral veins.
  • Inflorescence an axillary raceme 6–12 cm long, often developing before the new leaves, densely hairy; bracts elliptical-oblong, up to 9 mm long, caducous.
  • Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous, fragrant; pedicel 5–20 mm long, densely hairy; calyx campanulate, c. 1 cm long, shortly 5-lobed with 2 upper lobes connate; corolla up to 2 cm long, golden-yellow to orange, standard almost circular with crimped margin and claw, wings broad, nearly as long as the standard, clawed, keel smaller, clawed; stamens 10, connate but sometimes 1 stamen partly or completely free; ovary superior, 1-celled, stalked, hairy, style slightly curved, stigma terminal, small.
  • Fruit an almost circular indehiscent pod (6–)9–12(–16) cm in diameter, c. 2.5 cm thick, on a stalk up to 2.5 cm long and with an up to 3 cm broad undulate almost circular wing, pubescent and with a mass of plumose bristles up to 13 mm long over the central thickened part, green at first, yellow-brown when mature, 1(–2)-seeded.
  • Seed asymmetrical, 10–20 mm × 7–8 mm × 4–5 mm, smooth, red-brown, hard.
  • Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Pterocarpus is a pantropical genus belonging to the tribe Dalbergieae, comprising 21 species of which 12 occur in Africa, 6 in America and 5 in Asia. Several Asiatic and African species were important commercial sources of red dyes, but most species are now much more valuable for timber.


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; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 23: shape of alternate pits polygonal; 24: intervessel pits minute ( 4 μm); 25: intervessel pits small (4–7 μm); 29: vestured pits; 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; 46: 5 vessels per square millimetre; 58: gums and other deposits in heartwood vessels.
  • Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled.
  • Axial parenchyma: 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 82: axial parenchyma winged-aliform; 83: axial parenchyma confluent; (89: axial parenchyma in marginal or in seemingly marginal bands); 90: fusiform parenchyma cells; 91: two cells per parenchyma strand; 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand.
  • Rays: 96: rays exclusively uniseriate; (97: ray width 1–3 cells); 104: all ray cells procumbent; 116: 12 rays per mm.
  • Storied structure: 118: all rays storied; 120: axial parenchyma and/or vessel elements storied.
  • Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.
(L.N. Banak, H. Beeckman & P.E. Gasson)

Growth and development

Although Pterocarpus angolensis can produce ample seed (up to 10,000 fruits/ha are recorded), germination is poor. Under natural conditions only 2% of the seed germinates and half of the seedlings produced die in the first year. After germination the seedling rapidly develops several shoots and a strong taproot, which may reach to a depth of 1 m in the first year. The shoots reach about 15 cm length in the first year and often die back in the dry season. The plants enter a suffrutex stage, in which the root expands in size and lateral roots develop in the top 50 cm of the soil, while shoots usually die back to below ground level in the dry season. New shoots develop in the rainy season. This stage may last for 10 years (sometimes up to 25 years) until the root has sufficiently developed to allow the above-ground part of the sapling to survive the dry season. Many seedlings do not survive the suffrutex stage because of drought, burning, nutrient deficiencies (particularly boron) and damage by browsing animals. Initial shoot growth of saplings forms a zigzag pattern because of the yearly dieback of the top 10 cm. After the suffrutex stage, the growth is fast, up to over 2 m in one year, and the tree rapidly reaches a height where it cannot be reached by most browsing animals. Compared to other trees the saplings with a thick corky bark are extremely fire resistant, sometimes surviving temperatures of up to 450°C, and fires contribute to pruning side branches and multiple stems. During the first decade following the suffrutex stage, height rather than diameter increases, while in the 2nd decade the diameter increases more rapidly. Trees start flowering when they have a permanent stem of 15–20 years old, but full development of fruits usually only starts when trees are about 35 years old. The ripe fruit weighs 5–10 g, but because of the large wing wind transport is possible, usually up to 30 m from the mother tree. The spiny centre of the fruit also favours dispersal by animals. The phenology is tightly synchronized with the seasonality of the rainfall and flowering starts at the beginning of the rainy season. In general flowering and leaf flush occur from (August–) September to November (–December), fruits ripen from January to April and may remain on the tree until far into the next flowering season, leaves are shed in May–June. Flowering is short, usually only 2–3 weeks, and pollination is by insects (e.g. honey bees). Fruit development takes about 4–5 months. Trees growing on good sites in full light live for up to 100 years, by which age they are about 20 m tall, with a crown diameter of 10–12 m and a bole diameter of 50–60 cm; bark thickness is 1.5–2 cm and sapwood 5 cm thick. Bole length will depend largely on the life history of the tree, but is favoured if the stand has been burned since the tree was about 5 years old and if pruning is carried out. The annual diameter increment of the bole was estimated 5.5–8.5 mm in Tanzania. In Mozambique it was estimated that a tree of 50 cm in bole diameter has a mean timber volume of 1.9 m³ and 5.3 m³ for 80 cm diameter.


Pterocarpus angolensis is typically found in so-called miombo woodland with Brachystegia and other deciduous trees, in wooded grassland and savanna, from sea-level up to 1650(–1800) m altitude. It requires well-drained, medium to light soils of low to moderate fertility and pH 5.5–7. In Tanzania it occurs preferentially in moister localities in wooded grassland of the coastal plains. It prefers a climate with well-defined wet and dry seasons, with an average annual rainfall of 500–1500 mm and average temperatures of 15–32°C. It is not resistant to frost, although older trees survive very light frosts. It is a pioneer species in disturbed and open sites, requiring full sun. Rainfall is more important than a permanent subterranean water supply and under conditions of exceptional competition for ephemeral water resources the tree does not survive.

Propagation and planting

Pterocarpus angolensis can be propagated by seed and by cuttings. A tree produces on average annually 100–400 fruits and there are 3400–4000(–5000) seeds per kg. At moisture contents of 4–6% seeds can be stored cold for at least 3 years. Collection of seed for the purpose of raising plants in a nursery is difficult because it is difficult to open the pods without damaging the seed and because many pods are empty (about 50% of young seed aborts). Pods can be opened manually with secateurs, which is however time consuming. Damaged seed usually fails to germinate, but mycorrhizal associations also influence germination. Yearly dieback, a long suffrutex stage and damage to the root system when transplanting are other nursery problems that are difficult to solve. Therefore, it is easier to start Pterocarpus angolensis plantations at natural sites where plants in the suffrutex stage are already present and fill in gaps by planting suffrutex plants collected from nearby vegetation. These should be taken with as large a taproot as is possible while lateral roots can be lightly trimmed. Light is very important for good growth, so planting distance of trees should at least be 5 m × 5 m, but ultimately the number of trees will be 25–100/ha, largely depending on crown and root competition. Cuttings (e.g. 2 m long and at least 2 cm in diameter) can be planted at the beginning of the rainy season but success rates vary from 0–30%. Planting of truncheons 10 cm in diameter into 1 m deep plant holes with some coarse river sand at the bottom has also been recommended.


Once trees are established not much care is needed. Management can be restricted to taking care that each individual tree gets enough light. Protection against damage by wild animals and bush fires can enhance growth, although Pterocarpus angolensis is one of the most fire-resistant trees of miombo woodland. In western Tanzania recruitment of new trees in selectively logged areas was found to be poor. The density of Pterocarpus angolensis was higher near the main road than at some distance, which may be explained by reduced damage by wild grazers and lighter bush fires in the more open vegetation near the road. After felling most trees do not resprout from the stump because they have a poor coppicing ability. In practice rotation periods vary from 40–75 years.

Diseases and pests

Periodically, Pterocarpus angolensis tree populations suffer from ‘mukwa’ dieback, a badly understood tree-killing fungal disease which blocks up the xylem. In Zambia, for example, an outbreak of the disease killed 40% of the trees. Fire damage can result in fungal (e.g. Armillaria mellea) and borer attack of the heartwood. A large number of wild animals can cause damage to Pterocarpus angolensis by browsing, bark stripping, stem breaking by rubbing or uprooting. Elephants particularly are destructive, and wild pigs are fond of suffrutex roots. Seeds are often attacked by bruchid beetles.


In South Africa trees should have a minimum diameter of 27 cm to be considered harvestable as timber. Growing time to reach this diameter differs per region; in South Africa it takes on average about 80 years, in Zambia and Tanzania possibly 40–75 years. The minimum cutting diameter in Tanzania and Zimbabwe is 25 cm.

The kino resin from the bark can be harvested by making incisions in the bark and collecting the exuding sap. Roots are dug up to extract the dye. For extracting the dye from the heartwood adult trees should be felled, but this is normally only done for use as timber.


Timber yield data are not available and vary largely from site to site. In Namibia for certain areas annual allowable cut was estimated at 600 m³ per 100 km². In the miombo woodland of Tanzania, the sustained annual yield of commercial timber of Pterocarpus angolensis was estimated at 0.33 m³ per km². On average, recovery from roundwood to sawn wood is about 40%.

Handling after harvest

Usually trees are hand cut, the logs rolled to saw pits and sawn into boards, which are brought by trucks to train depots. For preparing the dye and cosmetic pomade, the heartwood of roots is ground to a powder or paste or chipped very finely. To make the cosmetic, it is mixed with butter or vegetable oil from pounded seeds (e.g. of Schinziophyton rautanenii (Schinz) Radcl.-Sm., Ricinus communis L., Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) Hochst., Ximenia caffra Sond.) and it is often perfumed by adding dried and ground Ocimum leaves.

In Zimbabwe strips of palm leaves are boiled for about 12 hours in a dye bath containing hot water and Pterocarpus angolensis bark. After drying, the resulting red-brown fibres are used to obtain coloured designs in basketry weaving. The dye obtained by extracting finely chopped roots or wood in alcohol can be used to dye wool and cotton various shades of brown to bright red.

Genetic resources

Although Pterocarpus angolensis is widespread in many parts of southern Africa, overexploitation endangers many populations. It is classified by IUCN in the category ‘lower risk’, but is close to qualifying for vulnerable. In South Africa the tree has been protected since 1967 and a special permit is needed for cutting. In Tanzania little infraspecific variability has been discovered in Pterocarpus angolensis.


Pterocarpus angolensis is a very useful multipurpose tree in southern Africa, producing multipurpose timber, dye, forage and medicine. Overexploitation endangers natural populations in all countries and the current harvest for timber is unsustainable, raising serious concerns about the long-term viability of this important hardwood species. Research for large-scale cultivation is needed, especially to improve the germination rate of seed, shorten the suffrutex stage of plants and accelerate growth of young trees. Sustainable management systems should be developed for miombo woodland in which Pterocarpus angolensis has an important share. The dye composition of the heartwood of this species needs further research. More research is also needed to determine whether more profit can be made from the chips, sawdust and bark as by-products of timber exploitation, e.g. for the production of dye and medicinal products.

Major references

  • Boaler, S.B., 1966. The ecology of Pterocarpus angolensis DC. in Tanzania. Overseas Research Publication 12. Ministry of Ocerseas Development, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, United Kingdom. 128 pp.
  • Cardon, D., 2003. Le monde des teintures naturelles. Belin, Paris, France. 586 pp.
  • Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
  • Gillett, J.B., Polhill, R.M., Verdcourt, B., Schubert, B.G., Milne-Redhead, E., & Brummitt, R.K., 1971. Leguminosae (Parts 3–4), subfamily Papilionoideae (1–2). In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 1108 pp.
  • Gomes e Sousa, A. de F., 1951. Dendrology of Mozambique 1. Some commercial timbers. Translation of ‘Dendrologia de Moçambique’. Mozambique 64: 1–248.
  • Graz, F.P., 2004. Description and ecology of Pterocarpus angolensis in Namibia. Dinteria 29: 27–39.
  • Rojo, J.P., 1972. Pterocarpus (Leguminosae-Papilionaceae) revised for the world. Phanerogamarum Monographiae. Volume 5. J. Cramer, Lehre, Germany. 119 pp.
  • Schwartz, M.W., Caro, T.M. & Banda-Sakala, T., 2002. Assessing the sustainability of harvest of Pterocarpus angolensis in Rukwa Region, Tanzania. Forest Ecology and Management 170: 259–269.
  • Surowiec, I., Nowik, W. & Trajanowicz, M., 2004. Identification of ‘insoluble’ red dyewoods by high performance liquid chromatography – photodiode array detection (HPLC-PDA) fingerprinting. Journal of Separation Science 27: 209–216.
  • World Agroforestry Centre, undated. Agroforestree Database. [Internet] World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya. Sites/TreeDBS/ aft.asp. April 2005.

Other references

  • Bryant, C.L., 1968. A study of the percentage of heartwood in Pterocarpus angolensis DC. trees of various ages. Tanzania Silviculture Research Note No 6. 3 pp.
  • Chakabva, C.P. & Mushove, P.T., 1993. How possible is the production of cottage industry paints from tree species indigenous to Zimbabwe? In: Piearce, G.D. & Gumbo, D.J. (Editors). The ecology and management of indigenous forests in Southern Africa. Proceedings of an international symposium, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 27–29 July 1992. Forestry Commission, Harare, Zimbabwe. pp. 336–337.
  • Chudnoff, M., 1980. Tropical timbers of the world. USDA Forest Service, Agricultural Handbook No 607, Washington D.C., United States. 826 pp.
  • Jøker, D., Msanga, H.P. & Schmidt, L., 2000. Pterocarpus angolensis. [Internet] Seed Leaflet No 36. Danida Forest Seed Centre, Humleback, Denmark. 2 pp. April 2005.
  • 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.
  • Richter, H.G. & Dallwitz, M.J., 2000. Commercial timbers: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. [Internet]. Version 18th October 2002. March 2005.
  • Rodin, R.J., 1985. The ethnobotany of the Kwanyama Ovambos. Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 9: 1–163.
  • Rojo, J.P. & Alonzo, D.S., 1993. Pterocarpus Jacq. In: Soerianegara, I. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(1). Timber trees: Major commercial timbers. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 374–379.
  • Schwartz, M.W. & Caro, T.M., 2003. Effect of selective logging on tree and understory regeneration in miombo woodland in western Tanzania. African Journal of Ecology 41(1): 75–82.
  • Swart, W.J. & Vermeulen, W.J., 1984. Pterocarpus angolensis: a bibliography. Department of Environment Affairs, Forestry Branch, South Africa. 18 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, P., 1972–1974. Trees of the Kruger National Park. 2 volumes. Purnell, Cape Town, South Africa. 597 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Coates Palgrave, O.H., 1957. Trees of Central Africa. National Publications Trust, Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. 466 pp.
  • Gillett, J.B., Polhill, R.M., Verdcourt, B., Schubert, B.G., Milne-Redhead, E., & Brummitt, R.K., 1971. Leguminosae (Parts 3–4), subfamily Papilionoideae (1–2). In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 1108 pp.


  • R. Takawira-Nyenya, National Herbarium and Botanical Garden, P.O. Box A 889, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe

Correct citation of this article

Takawira-Nyenya, R., 2005. Pterocarpus angolensis DC. 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.