Prunus Africana: Red Stinkwood

Prunus Africana
aka.: red stinkwood ( Eng. ); rooistinkhout (Afr.); Inyazangoma-elimnyama (Zulu); uMkakase (Xhosa); Pygeum, Iron Wood, (Red) Stinkwood, African Plum, African Prune, African Cherry, Bitter Almond. In other languages where it grows it is known as; in Amharic ‘tikur inchet’, in Chagga ‘Mkonde-konde’, in Kikuyu ‘Muiri’, in Luganda ‘Entasesa’or ‘Ngwabuzito’, in Xhosa ‘uMkakase’, in Zulu ‘Inyazangoma-elimnyama’ and in Afrikaans ‘Rooistinkhout’.
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Subfamily: Spiraeoideae
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus: Laurocerasus
Section: Laurocerasus
Species: Prunus africana

Regions: KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Zimbabwe, tropical Africa, and montane regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Islands of Madagascar, Sao Tome, Fernando Po and Grande Comore at about 900-3400 m. of altitude.

The name Prunus is derived from the Latin word which refers to the plum family, and the specific name africana refers to the species’ African origin. This tree appears medium to large in size as a handsome evergreen with a spreading crown of 10 to 25 m when mature as open-branched and pendulous in the forest, shorter with a round crown of 10-20 m. diameter in grasslands. It can become quite huge under frost-free conditions, but is usually medium-sized in gardens. Requires moist climate.

Moderately frost-tolerant. The main stem is straight, with dark brown bark, cracking in a characteristic oblong pattern. The leaves are smooth, shiny glabrous and dark green above/pale green below; prominent midribs, hallow serrated margins, red or pinkish petioles (2 cm), and a crushed fragrance of almonds; alternate, simple, long (8-20 cm), elliptic, bluntly or acutely pointed with a central vein depressed on top and prominent on bottom. Flowers are androgynous often white and very scented, born singly or in sprays up to 70 mm long in the axils of the leaves (October through May) with 10-20 stamens, insect-pollinated, 3-8 cm, greenish white or buff. Fruits are 7-10 mm diameter spherical, wider than long, two-lobed with a seed in each lobe, dull purplish brown or red in branched bunches and is biter in taste (From September through November). Bark is black to brown, corrugated or fissured and scaly in a characteristic rectangular pattern. P>Cultivation:

Plant at the National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.


Cultural: This tree is protected in KwaZulu-Natal because of its bark which is very popular in the medicinal trade. The species has been over-exploited and is becoming rare in most areas. The Durban Municipality and the KZN Nature Conservation Services are engaged in teaching traditional doctors how to propagate and care for most of the plants that are used medicinally in South Africa. The species is used as an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens and for avenues. The timber is a hardwood employed in the manufacture of axe and hoe handles, utensils, wagons, floors and furniture. The wood is tough, heavy, straight-grained and pink, with a pungent bitter-almond smell when first cut, turning mahogony and odorless later.[5]

Folklore/Magical Uses: The fissured stem of this tree is popular for its medicinal properties as is the bark. The bark is exploited in Africa on a large scale for its medicinal value. In South Africa the bark is used to treat chest pains. The bark extracts have become popular in Europe for the treatment of benign prostate hypertrophy (Van Wyk et al. 1997). It is also reputed to be very poisonous and to have magical properties. The close-grained, reddish brown wood is occasionally used for furniture, although it does not season well and splits and twists, so its use is limited.

Medicinal: An extract Pygeum, an herbal remedy prepared from the bark of Prunus africana, is used to treat a benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).[9]

Bibliography / More information:

  • U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Prunus africana (Hook. f.) Kalkman” (html). Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) Taxonomy for Plants.
  • U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Pygeum africanum Hook. f.” (html). Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) Taxonomy for Plants.
  • Dharani, Najma (2002). Field Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs of East Africa. New Holland. pp. page 150. Previewable Google Books.
  • a b Cunningham, A.B.; Mbenkum, F.T. (May 1993). “Sustainability of harvesting Prunus africana bark in Cameroon: A medicinal plant in international trade” (pdf). People and Plants working papers. Division of Ecological Sciences, UNESCO.
  • a b World Health Organization, Inc. NetLibrary (2002). WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants: Volume 2. Geneva: World Health Organization. pp. page 246. ISBN 9241545372. Previewable Google Books.
  • Nonjinge, Siyabulela (October 2006). “Prunus africana (Hook. f.) Kalkman” (html). South African National Biodiversity Institute.
  • Fossey, Dian (2000). Gorillas in the Mist. Houghton Mifflin Books. pp. page 146. ISBN 061808360X.
  • Kingdon, Jonathan (1984). East African Mammals: an Atlas of Evolution in Africa: Volume IIB. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. page 389. ISBN 0226437183.
  • Medicinal plants on verge of extinction – environment – 10 January 2009 – New Scientist
  • The British names did not survive the transfer of Cameroon to Germany in 1884 and now are nearly unknown.
  • Hooker, Sir W.J. (1864). “Letter from Mr. G. Mann, Government Botanist, describing his Expedition to the Cameroon Mountains”. Journal of the # Proceedings of the Linnean Society: Botany VII: pages 1–13.
  • Hooker, J.D. (1864). “On the Plants of the Temperate Regions of the Cameroons Mountains and Islands in the Bight of Benin; collected by Mr. Gustav Mann, Government Botanist”. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society: Botany VII: pages 191–192. The article occupies pages 171-240. The botanical abbreviation for this publication is J. Proc. Linn. Soc., Bot.
  • Hooker, J.D. (1863), “Enumeration of the Mountain Flowering Plants and Ferns Collected by M. Gustav Mann, Government Botanist, during his various ascents of the Cameroons Mountains, of Clarence Peak, Fernando Po, and of the Peak of San thomé”, Abeokuta and the Camaroons Mountains: An Exploration: Appendix III, London: Tonsley Brothers, pp. 270-277
  • Page 47, first note.
  • U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Pygeum Gaertn.” (html). Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) Taxonomy for Plants.
  • See under De Fructibus et Seminibus Plantarum. The edition is the 1788.
  • Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms: Volume III M-Q. CRC Press. ISBN 0849326737. Previewable Google Books.
  • Kalkman, Cornelis. “The Old World Species of Prunus subg. Laurocerasus including those formerly referred to as Pygeum”. Blumea 13: 1–115. The specification is Blumea 13:33.
  • Bortiri, Esteban; Oh, Sang-Hun; Gao, Fang-You; Potter, Dan (2002). “The Phylogenetic Utility Of Nucleotide Sequences Of SORBITOL 6-PHOSPHATE DEHYDROGENASE In Prunus (Rosaceae)”. American Journal of Botany 89 (11): 1697–1708. doi:10.3732/ajb.89.10.1697.
  • Marchant, Robert; Taylor, David (1997). “Late Pleistocene and Holocene History at Mubwindi Swamp, Southwest Uganda”. Quaternary Research 47: 316–328. doi:10.1006/qres.1997.1887.
  • Wikipedia: Prunus Africana
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2 Responses to Prunus Africana: Red Stinkwood

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