Schotia brachypetala (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Cereal / pulse|
|Carbohydrate / starch|
|Dye / tannin|
|Forage / feed|
Schotia brachypetala Sond.
- Protologue: Linnaea 23: 39 (1850).
- Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
- Chromosome number: 2n = 24
Weeping schotia, weeping boerbean, fuchsia tree, African walnut (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Schotia brachypetala occurs in eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, eastern South Africa and Swaziland.
The wood is used for furniture, flooring, wagon beams and carving. Roasted seeds are eaten. The flowers, which produce abundantly nectar, are sometimes chewed. Preparations of the bark, and sometimes of roots and leaves, are used in traditional medicine. Bark decoctions and infusions are taken as emetic, and to treat heartburn, hangovers, nervous conditions, mental health problems and fontanel depression in babies, and are applied to swellings. The bark and roots are used to treat diarrhoea, and bark is applied in mixtures as a tonic. Pulverized leaves are used as a dressing to treat ulcers, and the smoke of burnt leaves is inhaled against nose bleeding. The bark has been used for tanning and dyeing reddish brown. Schotia brachypetala is planted as ornamental tree in gardens and parks because of its glossy foliage and bright red flowers.
The heartwood is dark brown to nearly blackish, often with a greenish tinge, and is distinctly demarcated from the pinkish sapwood, which changes to yellowish brown upon exposure. The texture is fine. The wood is heavy and hard. It is only moderately durable, but quite resistant to termites. It has been reported that wood dust may cause allergic reactions to the eyes.
The medicinal activity of the bark may be due to the presence of tannins. Fatty acids with antibacterial activity against Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus, and to a lesser extent against Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, have been isolated from the leaves. Bark extracts exhibited pronounced monoamine oxidase-B inhibition activity, supporting the use in traditional medicine to treat mental health problems. Polyhydroxystilbenes have been isolated from the heartwood; the major compound is 3,3’,4,5,5’-pentahydroxystilbene.
Evergreen or briefly deciduous, small tree up to 15 m tall; bole up to 60 cm in diameter; bark surface smooth with hoop marks and reddish brown in young trees, becoming rough and greyish brown to reddish brown in older trees; crown rounded, with spreading branches; twigs short-hairy when young. Leaves alternate, paripinnately compound with (3–)4–6(–7) pairs of leaflets; stipules narrowly triangular, c. 5 mm long, caducous; petiole 1–2 cm long, rachis 3.5–17.5 cm long, grooved; leaflets opposite, elliptical to rhombic-ovate, 2–6.5 cm × 1–3 cm, cuneate to rounded and often asymmetrical at base, rounded to slightly notched at apex, margin entire to slightly wavy, sparsely hairy or glabrous, pinnately veined. Inflorescence a congested panicle up to 13 cm long, usually on older branches. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, deep red; pedicel 3–5 mm long, expanding into the 3–5 mm long hypantium; calyx lobes 4, broadly ovate, c. 1 cm long, unequal, gland-dotted; petals often strap-shaped and up to 3 mm long or absent, but sometimes 1–4 narrowly obovate petals up to 2 cm long present; stamens 10, fused at base, up to 2 cm long; ovary superior, narrowly elliptical, flattened, c. 1 cm long, with stipe c. 3 mm long fused to the hypantium, style c. 1 cm long. Fruit an oblong, flattened pod 6–17 cm × 3.5–5 cm, thickened along upper suture, glabrous, tardily dehiscent, several-seeded. Seeds broadly elliptical to rhombic, flattened, 1.5–2 cm × 1–1.5 cm, smooth, pale brown, with cup-shaped, yellow aril at base.
Other botanical information
Schotia brachypetala usually grows slowly, but when planted on deep sandy soils it may grow quite rapidly; a planted tree reached 12 m tall 17 years after being planted as a cutting. The tree is usually evergreen, but in colder areas of South Africa it is deciduous for a short period. Young foliage is pink to red, turning gradually to coppery and light green, and is often accompanied by the deep red flowers. Trees usually flower in September–October. Nectar is often so abundant that it drips from the flowers, which are visited by sunbirds, but also by insects such as bees, and by monkeys. Fruits ripen about 6 months after flowering. The seeds are probably mainly dispersed by birds attracted by the yellow arils.
Schotia comprises about 4 species and is confined to southern Africa. Its affinity is still uncertain.
Schotia afra (L.) Thunb. is a shrub or small tree up to 7 m tall found in southern Namibia and South Africa. The reddish brown wood is used for yokes and felloes, and as firewood; it is hard and durable. Roasted seeds are eaten. The foliage is eaten by livestock. Schotia afra is an attractive ornamental. The bark has been used for tanning.
Schotia capitata Bolle is a shrub or small tree up to 7 m tall found in Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, eastern South Africa and Swaziland. The wood is sometimes used for furniture. Schotia capitata is occasionally planted as ornamental.
Schotia latifolia Jacq. is a small tree up to 10(–15) m tall endemic to South Africa, but recently it has also been recorded from southern Mozambique. The tough, whitish wood is used for fence posts. Roasted seeds are eaten. Bark decoctions are taken to treat stomach-ache. The bark of Schotia latifolia is commonly used in South Africa to treat tick-borne diseases of livestock. The bark has been used as a dye producing a greenish colour, and for tanning. Schotia latifolia is occasionally planted as an ornamental.
Schotia brachypetala occurs in woodland and thickets up to 1350 m altitude. It is often found on termite mounds and on river banks. The tree is drought resistant and slightly frost tolerant.
Propagation can be done by using seeds or truncheon cuttings. Young trees perform best when they have been planted in deep sandy soils with plenty of well-decomposed compost added.
There are no indications that Schotia brachypetala is in risk of genetic erosion. However, the bark is locally popular and much collected, and this may have serious impact on local populations of the species.
The boles of Schotia brachypetala and other Schotia spp. are usually too small and too poorly shaped to be of commercial interest for timber. However, Schotia spp. are valued as multi-purpose trees, especially as ornamental and for medicinal purposes. Some of the known pharmacological activities deserve more research attention, e.g. the monoamine oxidase-B inhibition activity, which could be of interest for the development of new medicines against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Schotia trees are also important as a source of food for wildlife.
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- Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
- Stafford, G.I., Pedersen, P.D., Jäger, A.K. & van Staden, J., 2007. Monoamine oxidase inhibition by southern African traditional medicinal plants. South African Journal of Botany 73(3): 384–390.
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- R.H.M.J. Lemmens, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2010. Schotia brachypetala Sond. 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 8 July 2021.
- See the Prota4U database.