Brachystegia spiciformis

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Local names:
Bemba (muputu,kampela), English (zebrawood,bean-pod tree), Lozi (mutuya,muputi), Lunda (mupuchi), Ndebele (igonda,igonde), Nyanja (mputi), Shona (msasa,musasa), Swahili (mrihi,mriti,mtundu,myombo), Tongan (musewe), Trade name (msasa)

Brachystegia spiciformis is a tree 8-25 m (max. 28) high with a flat crown. Bark is dark brown or pale grey and smooth when young, later becoming rough, dark grey, deeply fissured vertically, horizontally cracked, slowly flaking in thick, irregular scales. Branches are heavy, thrusting upwards and outwards, often twisting and curving, giving the tree beautiful shape and balance. Gum is deep red.

Leaves are pendulous, dark green, oblong-elliptic, 2.5-8 x 1-4.5 cm, shiny above, smooth or slightly hairy below, common, hairy midrib with a swelling at the base; apex tapering, finally rounded, notched and tipped with a fine hairlike bristle; base markedly asymmetric, narrowed or round; margin entire; each leaf bearing 2-7 but usually 4 pairs of opposite or nearly opposite leaflets, the terminal pair being the largest (2.5-9 cm long) and the bottom the smallest; petiolules very short, petiole up to 2.5 cm long, very finely hairy. Stipule threadlike, falling very early.

Flowers are small, greenish, produced in short, dense, thickset terminal spikes, 3-6 cm long, sweetly scented, simple or with 1 or 2 branches; with white filaments and red anthers.

Pods are usually hidden in the foliage, thinly woody, flat, green, yellow, red-brown to yellowish-green, turning grey or brown and smooth when mature, up to 16 cm long, base narrow, broadening towards the apex, tips strongly beaked splitting explosively to release the seeds. Seeds are round, flat and brown in colour.

The generic name is based in Greek words meaning short or flattened, and roof or cover, but the allusion is not clear. The specific name ‘spiciformis’ means ‘spikelike’ and refers to the shape of the inflorescence.

Ecology

B. spiciformis occurs in deciduous woodlands on ridges and escarpments. The trees associate with most woodland species and occupy gaps in coastal forests and thickets. They are dominant or codominant with Julbernardia globiflora in woodland, most frequent at medium to high altitudes. In Kenya, the species occurs naturally in Kwale and Kilifi Districts on sandy soils 20-40 km inland and south of the Tana River. This is the most widespread species of Brachystegia in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and is dominant and ecologically important over large areas of its range, occurring in open, deciduous woodland. Trees are susceptible to frost.

Native range
Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Tree management

B. spiciformis trees are rather slow growing.

After collection, pods are dried in the sun until they split and release the seeds. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox. Viability can be maintained for several years in hermetic storage at 3 deg. C with 8-17% mc. On average, there are about 2 600 seeds/kg.

B. spiciformis occurs in deciduous woodlands on ridges and escarpments. The trees associate with most woodland species and occupy gaps in coastal forests and thickets. They are dominant or codominant with Julbernardia globiflora in woodland, most frequent at medium to high altitudes. In Kenya, the species occurs naturally in Kwale and Kilifi Districts on sandy soils 20-40 km inland and south of the Tana River. This is the most widespread species of Brachystegia in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and is dominant and ecologically important over large areas of its range, occurring in open, deciduous woodland. Trees are susceptible to frost.

To get good germination results, the seed coat should be nicked at the distal (cotyledon) end of the seed using a sharp tool like a scalpel, knife or a nail clipper. Under ideal conditions, seeds germinate within 21-30 days, with an expected germination rate of mature and healthy seed lots being about 80%. Seeds are best planted in situ, germinate readily but seedlings are difficult to transplant.

Leaves are browsed by livestock.

Apiculture:  Flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar, giving an excellent honey, which granulates very slowly.

Trees are a good source of firewood and charcoal.

Fibre:  The inner bark is employed to make rope for roof ties, sacks, cloth, corn bins, beehives, and for other purposes.

Timber:  The wood is reddish-brown, coarse, not durable, difficult to season, subject to termite attack, tends to twist, split and warp. Even when treated, it is a rather inferior general purpose timber. It can be used for furniture and railway sleepers.

Shade or shelter:  The flat crown provides fine shade.

Tannin or dyestuff:  The bark is astringent, containing 13% tannin, and an extract of this is used by Africans as a final dressing in tanning hides. It imparts a reddish colour to the finished product.

Medicine:  An infusion of the root provides treatment for dysentery and diarrhoea. A decoction is applied as an eyewash for conjunctivitis.

Ornamental:  The trees are famous for the attractive pink, wine red, copper and bronze colours of their spring foliage and are a suitable species for amenity areas.