Sparrmannia ricinocarpa (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Sparrmannia ricinocarpa (Eckl. & Zeyh.) Kuntze

Protologue: Revis. gen. pl. 3(2): 26 (1898).
Family: Tiliaceae (APG: Malvaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 16


  • Sparrmannia subpalmata Baker (1883),
  • Sparrmannia macrocarpa Ullbr. (1914).

Origin and geographic distribution

Sparrmannia ricinocarpa is distributed from eastern Cameroon eastward to Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia and southward to South Africa. It also occurs in Madagascar and Réunion.


The bark yields a good fibre that is locally used for making rope and textiles. The pollen and nectar are collected by bees.


Small shrub, herb or scrambler up to 3 m tall, much-branched; stems slender, with spreading simple hairs and shorter stellate hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules linear-lanceolate, up to 1.5 cm long; petiole 1–8(–9) mm long, hairy; blade ovate in outline, deeply 3–7-lobed, 2–19 cm × 1–18 cm, base cordate, cordate-sagittate or truncate, apex acuminate to cuspidate, margin wavy and toothed, often with secondary lobing, 5–7-veined from the base, with stellate or simple hairs or both, lobes triangular to ovate, the central one longest and acuminate. Inflorescence composed of extra-axillary or leaf-opposed umbelliform cymes, 3–25-flowered; peduncle 1–10 cm long, hairy; bracts subulate to lanceolate, up to 1.5 cm long, hairy. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4-merous; pedicel 1–2.5 cm long, articulate in upper half, more densely hairy above articulation than below; sepals free, linear-oblong, 8–15 mm × 2–5 mm, green outside, white or purple inside, hairy, deciduous; petals oblanceolate to oblanceolate-oblong, 8–16(–19) mm × 3.5–9(–10) mm, white, pink or purple, glabrous; androgynophore absent; stamens c. 50, 5–8 mm long, filaments yellow, anthers yellow or purple; ovary superior, 2.5 mm long, style 3–8 mm long. Fruit an ellipsoid capsule 8–25(–30) mm × 8–20 mm, 4–5-locular, loculicidally dehiscent from apex, brown, sparsely to densely stellate-hairy, with rigid purplish bristles up to 1(–3) cm long ending in a sharp straight point, many-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid-biconic, 2.5 mm × 1.5 mm, dark brown.

In Kenya Sparrmannia ricinocarpa flowers more or less throughout the year.

Sparrmannia is a taxonomically difficult genus with an uncertain number of species, but with at least 2 species in mainland Africa and 2 in Madagascar. In the present treatment Sparrmannia macrocarpa and Sparrmannia subpalmata are considered synonyms of Sparrmannia ricinocarpa, but some authors consider them distinct species. The bark fibre of Sparrmannia discolor Baker, a shrub up to 3 m tall and endemic to Madagascar, is used for cordage.


Sparrmannia ricinocarpa occurs at 700–3350(–3500) m altitude in grassland, woodland, riverine forest, forest edges and clearings and secondary forest. It is also present in wasteland and along roads, and persists in hedges and Eucalyptus plantations.


Sparrmannia ricinocarpa can be propagated using seed or cuttings. Cuttings should be taken from the previous season’s growth. In Madagascar the bark of Sparrmannia ricinocarpa and many Dombeya and Grewia species was formerly beaten on a mallet to obtain bark-cloth. As technology evolved, fibres were extracted by crushing the bark, after which they were combed or scutched, making them suitable for spinning and weaving.

Genetic resources

In view of its wide distribution, Sparrmannia ricinocarpa seems not threatened by genetic erosion.


Sparrmannia ricinocarpa yields a fibre, which is locally used for rope and textiles. The fibre is recorded to be of good quality, but detailed and quantitative information on the fibre properties is lacking. Research in this area may be warranted.

Major references

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Vollesen, K. & Demissew Sebsebe, 1995. Tiliaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 2. Canellaceae to Euphorbiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 145–164.
  • Whitehouse, C., Cheek, M., Andrews, S. & Verdcourt, B., 2001. Tiliaceae & Muntingiaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 120 pp.
  • Wilczek, R., 1963. Tiliaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 10. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 1–91.

Other references

  • Bosser, J., 1987. Tiliacées. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Familles 51–62. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Office de la Recherche Scientifique Outre-Mer, Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 14 pp.
  • Capuron, R., 1963. Révision des Tiliacées de Madagascar et des Comores (première partie). Adansonia, séries 2, 3: 91–127.
  • Latham, P., 2007. Plants visited by bees and other useful plants of Umalila, southern Tanzania. Third edition. P.Latham, DFID, United Kingdom. 216 pp.
  • Nichols, G., 2005. Growing rare plants: a practical handbook on propagating the threatened plants of southern Africa. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No 36. SABONET, Pretoria, South Africa. 175 pp.
  • Vololomboahangy, T.E.S., 2004. Attractions culturelles. In: Proposition d’un plan d’aménagement pour le développement de l’écotourisme dans les deux communes rurales d’Ambohimitombo et d’Antoetra dans la sous préfecture d’Ambositra Province autonome de Fianarantsoa. Mémoire de fin d’étude pour l’obtention du diplôme de maîtrise spécialisée en GRENE, Université de Toamasina, Madagascar. pp. 16–22.
  • Wild, H., 1963. Tiliaceae. In: Exell, A.W., Fernandes, A. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 2, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 33–91.
  • Wild, H., 1984. Tiliaceae. In: Leistner, O.A. (Editor). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 21, part 1. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agriculture, Pretoria, South Africa. 44 pp.


  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2009. Sparrmannia ricinocarpa (Eckl. & Zeyh.) Kuntze. [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 8 March 2020.