Sacoglottis gabonensis (PROTA)

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Sacoglottis gabonensis (Baill.) Urb.

Protologue: Mart., Fl. bras. 12(2): 449 (1877).
Family: Humiriaceae

Vernacular names

  • Bitterbark tree, cherry mahogony (En).
  • Bidou (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Sacoglottis gabonensis occurs from Senegal and Gambia east to the Central African Republic and south to Angola.


Infusions of the stem bark of Sacoglottis gabonensis are commonly taken to treat fever, diarrhoea, gonorrhoea and abdominal pain, and sometimes they are used to treat hypertension and diabetes. In coastal Cameroon the Kola pygmies and Mvae people use a decoction of the crushed bark mixed with leaves of Dioscorea minutiflora Engl. as a rectal enema to treat acute abdominal pain. In Congo a decoction of the stem bark is used to cure difficult cases of dermatitis. In Sierra Leone a bark decoction is used to treat stomach-ache and it also used as a spice in food to induce heat in nursing and pregnant mothers. In coastal Côte d’Ivoire the diluted stem sap is used in hipbaths to promote muscle tone in women after childbirth. In Gabon an extract of the stem bark is drunk as an emetic. In Senegal and Congo a stem bark decoction is mixed with other plants and added to bath water to treat ovarian troubles, vaginal infections and children with fever.

Stem bark is used as a palm wine additive, as it is claimed to prolong the shelf life of the wine, add potency, reduce foaming and impart a bitter taste. It is reported to have aphrodisiac properties. The bark is used as a fish poison.

The wood of Sacoglottis gabonensis is widely, though locally, used for house and bridge construction, flooring, interior trim, joinery, mine props, electricity poles, shipbuilding, vehicle bodies, furniture, cabinet work, railway sleepers, toys, novelties, turnery and pattern making. In Liberia and Nigeria, it is used to make canoes and in Gabon for the ribs of boats. The wood is a good firewood and produces a valuable charcoal.

The fruit is edible, sweet and tastes like banana bread. It is mainly eaten by children and can be used to make an alcoholic drink. In coastal Cameroon the seeds are grilled and eaten by pygmies. The sweetness of the resin stored in the cavities of the stone is much sought by bees.

Production and international trade

Stem bark is sold for medicinal purposes in local markets. Quantities traded are unknown. Timber of Sacoglottis gabonensis is known in the international trade as ‘ozouga’, but volumes traded are small.


Bergenin, an isocoumarin, was identified as the main active compound of the stem bark extract of Sacoglottis gabonensis. The stem bark extract is reported to have hepatoprotective properties. Both the extract and bergenin reduced the rate of formation of intermediates of the lipid peroxidation pathway (lipid hydroperoxide aldehydes, carbonyls) as well as complementing the primary anti-oxidant enzymes catalase and superoxide dismutase during 2,4-DNPH-induced membrane lipid peroxidation in rat liver and red blood cells. In vivo in rats, bergenin protects against 2,4-DNPH-induced hepatotoxicity and toxicity to red blood cells. However, in another experiment, a stem bark extract given orally to rats showed hepatotoxicity even at low doses. Bergenin also protects stored vegetable oils against peroxidative deterioration over a period of time. A stem bark extract added to drinking water of rats increased prothrombin and thrombin levels of blood plasma.

Further analyses of stem bark extract have shown tannins in appreciable amounts with a trace of saponins. They have also revealed the presence of 2 cis/trans isomers of lignans (calopiptine and galgravine) which may play a role in cancer prevention.

The alcohol content of palm wine from Raphia hookeri G.Mann & H.Wendl. with stem bark added became almost twice as high as that of untreated palm wine. It was found that the ethanol tolerance and osmotolerance of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae were enhanced by the bark extract, whereas flocculation and invertase activity were reduced.

The endocarp contains 54% oil of unknown composition.

The heartwood is brown to purplish red and rather indistinctly demarcated from the narrow sapwood. The grain is straight or wavy, texture fine and even.

The wood is heavy, with a density of 870–920 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It should be air dried slowly and with care to avoid serious checking and warping. The rates of shrinkage are high, from green to oven dry 5.8% radial and 10.0% tangential. Once dry, the wood is fairly stable in service.

At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 114–233 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 13,330–18,520 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 72–104 N/mm², shear 10–13 N/mm², cleavage 22–22.5 N/mm, Janka side hardness 9065–11,005 N and Janka end hardness 12,495 N.

Considering its high density and hardness, the wood is not difficult to saw and work. It is difficult to nail and screw, but the holding power is good. The finishing and gluing properties are satisfactory, but the wood is not suited for veneer and plywood production. It is durable, being resistant to fungal and insect attacks.

Adulterations and substitutes

Bergenin is commercially extracted from Ardisia and Bergenia spp. (Siberian tea and marlberry bush) and is used as a weight-loss product, e.g. in body building, and in Chinese medicine to increase body heat.


Large, evergreen tree up to 40 m tall; bole branchless for up to 20 m but often branching low, often crooked, knotty and deeply fluted, up to 180(–450) cm in diameter, with buttresses up to 2.5 m high; bark in young trees fairly smooth with horizontal lenticels, in old trees brown to dark brown, very scaly; crown very large, wide-spreading, heavily branched, rounded and fairly open. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules c. 1 mm long, early falling; petiole 6–10 mm long; blade ovate to elliptical or oblong, 6–15 cm × 2.5–6 cm, base cuneate, apex acuminate, margin crenate, pinnately veined with 6–12 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence a short axillary cyme up to 5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 0.5–1.5 mm long, jointed at base; sepals c. 1.5 mm long, hairy outside; petals free, linear, c. 7 mm long, hairy outside, white; stamens 10, fused at base, 5 longer stamens c. 5 mm long, 5 shorter ones c. 3.5 mm long; ovary superior, ovoid, 5-celled, glabrous, style grooved, c. 4 mm long. Fruit an ellipsoid to globose drupe 3–4 cm × 2.5–3.5 cm, smooth, green to yellow; stone with 10 grooves and many resinous cavities, 1–3-seeded. Seeds oblong, c. 15 mm × 3 mm. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 6–9 cm long, epicotyl c. 2 cm long; cotyledons leafy, ovate, c. 1.5 cm × 0.5 cm; first 2 leaves opposite.

Other botanical information

Sacoglottis comprises 9 species, which all occur in South America except Sacoglottis gabonensis, which is considered to be closely related to Sacoglottis amazonica Mart. from South America and the Caribbean. The fruits of Sacoglottis amazonica are eaten in Venezuela to cure diarrhoea. The timber is valued for heavy construction in Venezuela and Brazil.

Sacoglottis gabonensis may have evolved from seeds, which arrived on the West African coast from South America, being one of the most illustrative cases of dispersal by water from South America to Africa. The resin-filled chambers of the stone make it float in water and seeds remain viable for up to 4 years.


Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):

  • Growth rings: 2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent.
  • Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 9: vessels exclusively solitary (90% or more); 14: scalariform perforation plates; 16: scalariform perforation plates with 10–20 bars; 22: intervessel pits alternate; (23: shape of alternate pits polygonal); 25: intervessel pits small (4–7 μm); 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 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; 56: tyloses common.
  • Tracheids and fibres: (60: vascular/vasicentric tracheids present); 62: fibres with distinctly bordered pits; 63: fibre pits common in both radial and tangential walls; 66: non-septate fibres present; 70: fibres very thick-walled. Axial parenchyma: 77: axial parenchyma diffuse-in-aggregates; 78: axial parenchyma scanty paratracheal; (84: axial parenchyma unilateral paratracheal); (92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand); 93: eight (5–8) cells per parenchyma strand; (94: over eight cells per parenchyma strand).
  • Rays: 97: ray width 1–3 cells; (100: rays with multiseriate portion(s) as wide as uniseriate portions); (107: body ray cells procumbent with mostly 2–4 rows of upright and/or square marginal cells); 108: body ray cells procumbent with over 4 rows of upright and/or square marginal cells; (109: rays with procumbent, square and upright cells mixed throughout the ray); 115: 4–12 rays per mm.
  • 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

In Liberia flowering of Sacoglottis gabonensis occurs from December–March. The fruits are a favourite food of elephants and mandrills, and are adapted for dispersal by elephants. The fruits develop slowly over the dry season, ripening in September–December in Liberia and remaining dull green. They fall to the ground when ripe and develop a strong yeasty smell. Like Lophira alata Banks ex P.Gaertn. and Aucoumea klaineana Pierre, Sacoglottis gabonensis is able to establish in the edges of moist savanna and it is common in younger forest types. It can dominate this habitat, since its branches form huge arches, suppressing vegetation under them, hence cooling annual savanna fires, which might otherwise scorch their trunk. Early colonizers have low, round canopies and branch low down, but later generations grow taller and branch higher to escape from the shadow. Young trees close to the savanna edge often have multiple trunks because they have coppiced after being broken by elephants which feed on their leaves and bark.


Sacoglottis gabonensis occurs in evergreen forest, on river banks, along lagoons, on forest and savanna edges and in secondary forest. It is one of the dominant trees in the coastal rainforests of West and Central Africa and is particularly abundant in Cameroon (associated with Lophira alata) and in Gabon (associated with Aucoumea klaineana). It is usually found in small pockets, but occasionally in quite large and almost pure stands.

Propagation and planting

Natural propagation of Sacoglottis gabonensis is only by seed. Natural regeneration is not very abundant as many seeds are damaged by insects. The weight of 100 stones is 560–1000 g. Seeds may take 4 months to germinate.


Sacoglottis gabonensis is less desirable for commercial forestry as the large crown suppresses regeneration of more valuable timber species. After cutting the tree, the stump coppices vigorously. Poisoning the tree is difficult because of the fluted and ingrown bark, which hinders the application of the toxic substance.


The stem bark and wood of Sacoglottis gabonensis is harvested from the wild.

Handling after harvest

The bark of Sacoglottis gabonensis is generally sold in markets in sheets or rolls for use as an additive to palm wine or as a medicine, less frequently as a powder for emetic use.

Genetic resources

Sacoglottis gabonensis is widespread and locally common, and therefore not threatened by genetic erosion.


The stem bark extracts of Sacoglottis gabonensis and its main isolated compound bergenin have interesting hepatoprotective and anti-oxidant properties, but more research is needed to evaluate its potential as a lead drug. Its use to increase alcohol content in palm wine deserves more research attention, as does information concerning health risks.

Sacoglottis gabonensis plays an important role in the succession in and regeneration of natural forests. As a widespread and often common species it is important in the local economy as a timber and for firewood and charcoal production. Because of the poor shape of the bole, commercial exploitation of the timber for international trade is limited. Selection for bole shape and research into proper management practices could lead to better shaped boles with higher commercial value in the timber trade.

Major references

  • Badré, F., 1972. Humiriaceae. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 14. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 47–50.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
  • Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.
  • Maduka, H.C.C., Okoye, Z.S.C. & Mahmood, M., 2004. Amino acids and anionic components of Sacoglottis gabonensis stem bark extract, a Nigerian alcoholic beverage additive. Journal of Biological Sciences 4(1): 55–61.
  • Siepel, A., Poorter, L. & Hawthorne, W.D., 2004. Ecological profiles of large timber species. In: Poorter, L., Bongers, F., Kouamé, F.N. & Hawthorne, W.D. (Editors). Biodiversity of West African forests. An ecological atlas of woody plant species. CABI Publishing, CAB International, Wallingford, United Kingdom. pp. 391–445.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.
  • Voorhoeve, A.G., 1965. Liberian high forest trees. A systematic botanical study of the 75 most important or frequent high forest trees, with reference to numerous related species. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. 416 pp.
  • White, L. & Abernethy, K., 1997. A guide to the vegetation of the Lopé Reserve, Gabon. 2nd edition. Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, United States. 224 pp.

Other references

  • Cuatrecasas, J., 1961. A taxonomic revision of the Humiriaceae. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium 35(2): 25–214.
  • Ekouya, A. & Itoua, B.G., 2005. Analyse chimique d’un extrait de Sacoglottis gabonensis (Baill.) Urban. Journal de la Société Ouest-Africaine de Chimie 19: 119–129.
  • Ezeronye, O.U., Elijah, A.I. & Ojimelukwe, P.C., 2005. Effect of Sacoglottis gabonensis and Alstonia boonei on the fermentation of fresh palm sap by Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Journal of Food Technology 3(4): 586–591.
  • Gassita, J.N., Nze Ekekang, L., De Vecchy, H., Louis, A.M., Koudogbo, B. & Ekomié, R. (Editors), 1982. Les plantes médicinales du Gabon. CENAREST, IPHAMETRA, mission ethnobotanique de l’ACCT au Gabon, 10–31 juillet 1982. 26 pp.
  • Hawthorne, W.D., 1995. Ecological profiles of Ghanaian forest trees. Tropical Forestry Papers 29. Oxford Forestry Institute, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. 345 pp.
  • Hoshino, J., 1985. Feeding ecology of mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) in Campo animal reserve, Cameroon. Primates 26(3): 248–273.
  • Liben, L., 1970. Humiriaceae. In: Flore du Congo, du Ruanda et du Burundi. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 4 pp.
  • Maduka, H.C.C., 2005. The theoretical mechanistic concept of Sacogolottis gabonensis, a Nigerian alcoholic beverage additive as an antioxidant protector against hepatotoxicity. [Internet] The Internet Journal of Gastroenterology 3(2). ostia/index.php?xmlFilePath=journals/ijge/vol3n2/ nigeria.xml. December 2007.
  • Maduka, H.C.C., Okoye, Z.S.C. & Eje, A., 2002. The influence of Sacoglottis gabonensis stem bark extract and its isolate bergenin, Nigerian alcoholic beverage additives, on the metabolic and haematological side effects of 2,4-dinitrophenyl hydrazine-induced tissue damage. Vascular Pharmacology 39(6): 317–324.
  • Maduka, H.C.C., Uhwache, H.M. & Okoye, Z.S.C., 2003. Comparative study of the antioxidant effect of Sacoglottis gabonensis stem bark extract, a Nigerian alcoholic beverage additive and vitamins C and E on the peroxidative deterioration of some common stored vegetable oils in Maiduguri. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 6(3): 202–207.
  • Madusolumuo, M. & Okoye, Z.S.C., 1993. Effect of Sacoglottis gabonensis stem bark extract on anticoagulant properties of acetylsalicylic acid and acetaminophen. Medical Science Research 21(19): 719–720.
  • Ojimelukwe, P.C., 2001. Effect of preservation with Saccoglottis gabonensis on the biochemistry and sensory attributes of fermenting palm wine. Journal of Food Biochemistry 25(5): 411–424.
  • Okoye, Z.S.C. & Ohaeri, O.C., 1995. Effect of combined or successive exposure to dietary aflatoxins and Sacoglottis gabonensis bark extract on blood coagulation in rats. Medical Science Research 23(4): 273–274.
  • Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
  • Renner, S., 2004. Plant dispersal across the tropical atlantic by wind and sea currents. International Journal of Plant Sciences 165(4 Suppl.): S23–S33.
  • Udosen, E.O. & Ojong, S., 1998. Hepatotoxic activity of Sacoglottis gabonensis in rats. Pharmaceutical Biology 36(5): 368–371.

Sources of illustration

  • Voorhoeve, A.G., 1965. Liberian high forest trees. A systematic botanical study of the 75 most important or frequent high forest trees, with reference to numerous related species. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. 416 pp.


  • E. Dounias, Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Center for Evolutionary and Functional Ecology (CEFE-CNRS), 1919, route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France

Correct citation of this article

Dounias, E., 2008. Sacoglottis gabonensis (Baill.) Urb. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 12 April 2019.