Terminalia brownii

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Terminalia brownii
© Patrick Maundu
Amenity use: T. brownii planted in a school compound in Bondo (Kenya), 10 years old and 12 m high. Note the poor shallow soil and profuse seeding.
© E. Chagala
Leaves and fruits: T. brownii foliage, flowers and fruits from individual growing in Bondo, Kenya. Note the whitish-cream flowers (spikes up to 12 cm) and purplish fruits (up to 5 cm).
© E. Chagala

Local names:
Amharic (abalo), Arabic (subaraya,subakh,subagh,darot), Somali (hareri biiris,hareri,harere biins,harar,biress,biiris), Swahili (mwalambe,mbarao), Tigrigna (weiba)

Terminalia brownii is a leafy deciduous tree with an attractive somewhat layered appearance, usually 4-15(25) m high with a rounded, flat topped, spreading crown, and a straight bole; branches reaching close to the ground. Slash dull red-brown, bark of branchlets grey fibrous. Young bark smooth, whitish, old bark grey, longitudinally fissured, young shoots densely hairy.

Leaves spirally arranged, crowded at the ends of branches, underside with white hairs, turning bright red before falling. Broadly elliptic to obovate, wider towards the apex, 6-16 x 2.5-8 cm, glarbrous on the underside, lateral veins prominent, about 7 pairs arising from the mid-rib; apex pointed, sometimes notched; margin wavy; petiole 1.5-4 cm long, acuminate, with white hairs.

Flowers long, white to cream, 0.5 mm wide, glabrous, calyx lobes acuminate, unpleasantly scented, in axillary spikes 9.5-12 cm in length (inflorescence), peduncle 1.5-2 cm long, tomentose. Each inflorescence contains bisexual and male flowers, the male ones towards the apex, the bisexual ones towards the base.

Fruit winged, smooth, greenish when young, purplish-red to brown when mature, broadly elliptic to ovate, apex obtuse to rounded, emarginate, base acute to obtuse, 3.5 x 4.2(5) x 2.5 sometimes up to 7.5 cm long; pedicel 0.5-0.7 cm long; endocarp woody, containing long and delicate seeds. Seeds 2-winged, 3 cm long, 2 cm wide, red to purple in colour.

The generic name comes from the Latin ‘terminalis’ (ending), and refers to the habit of the leaves being crowded at the ends of the shoots.


The drought resistant species occurs in the high rainfall woodlands, bushlands, and wooded savannah of the arid and semi-arid regions but can also be found in the sub-humid areas. It is often found near rivers in very dry areas.

Native range
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda

Tree management

A major drawback of T. brownii is its slow growth, but this can be increased by irrigation. Trees should be coppiced and need be given support when young.

Care should be taken to inspect all seeds of insect damage. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox with seeds tolerating desiccation to 10% mc. Viability can be maintained for at least 1 year in hermetic storage at 3 deg. C with 10-12% mc. On average, there are about 3 000 seeds/kg.

The drought resistant species occurs in the high rainfall woodlands, bushlands, and wooded savannah of the arid and semi-arid regions but can also be found in the sub-humid areas. It is often found near rivers in very dry areas.

It is not necessary to extract seeds form fruit before planting; the hard woody part of the endocarp can be nipped twice forming a ‘v’, so that the tip of the radicle end of the seed is just visible. The procedure should be done carefully to avoid an incision into the seed itself, which would kill it. Germination is difficult, but can be improved by pre-treatment; wings are removed and seeds are then burnt. Under ideal conditions, treated seeds germinate within 60-90 days, with an expected germination rate of 30%. Regeneration by wildings and coppice is also possible.

Leaves are browsed by livestock.

T. brownii is a good source of timber and charcoal.

Timber:  The strong, durable and termite resistant wood is used for construction, beams and rafters, poles and posts, tool handles and mortars and pestles.

Shade or shelter:  Trees are planted in Nairobi, Kenya as shade trees, and act as windbreaks.

Tannin or dyestuff:  Bark and fruits contain 19% tannin and warrant further investigation for both local and commercial exploitation. A yellow dye comes from its roots.

Medicine:  The phloem fibres are chewed and the solution swallowed in the treatment of yellow fever, particularly in children. An extract from the leaves is used to treat pink-eye in livestock and a medicine from the bark is used in the local treatment of hepatitis.

Ornamental:  T. brownii is suitable for planting in amenity areas.

Soil improver:  Leaf fall is heavy, making excellent mulch.

Intercropping:  The tree is widely recommended for agroforestry; despite its rather dense shade, crops do well under its canopy.