Trema orientalis

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Related Links
The leaves of the pigeonwood tree are alternately arranged along drooping branches.
© Ellis RP.
The berries are small, round, fleshy and black when ripe.
© Ellis RP
A large specimen of the pigeonwood tree which has been spared during forest clearing.
© Ellis RP

© Manuel Bertomeu

Local names:
Bemba (mutumpu), Bengali (chikan,jibon,jiban,chickan), English (charcoal tree,pigeon wood,Indian nettle tree,Indian charcoal tree), Filipino (anabiong,anadgong,pitidan), Gujarati (gol), Hindi (gorklu,gol,chikan,kakammusti,phakdema,gio), Igbo (telemukwu),

Trema orientalis is an evergreen shrub or tree up to 18 m in height. A short basally swollen bole, heavy branching and rounded to spreading crown. The slender branchlets are covered with white velvety hairs. Bark grey or brown, smooth but marked with parallel longitudinal lines and corky spots; slash creamy-white to light yellow, fibrous, bright green immediately beneath the bark. It has an extensive root system that enables it to survive long periods of drought.

Leaves simple, alternate, stipulate, along drooping branches, to 14 cm long, papery, rough to the touch and dull above, short grey hairs below, the edge finely toothed all round, blade unequal sided.

Flowers small, green or greenish-white, unisexual, borne in a crowded inflorescence consisting mainly of male flowers with a few female ones at the top.

Fruit small, round and fleshy, glossy black when ripe, 4-6 mm, containing 1 dull black seed embedded in bright green flesh.

The name Trema is based on the Greek word for a hole and alludes to the pitted seeds. The specific name, ‘orientalis’ is Latin for eastern-'of the orient.'


T. orientalis is found in the lowland humid tropics. It is among the first trees to establish in clearings, on flood-damaged riverbanks, and also colonizes denuded poor soils. The species is intolerant of fire.

Native range
Angola, Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Tree management

T. orientalis is very fast growing, attaining a harvestable size for pulpwood in 3-4 years. It coppices well and its extensive root system enables it to withstand dry periods. The tree regenerates profusely through its numerous seeds and is a common colonizer of disturbed rainforest areas.

Germination rate is about 30%. Seed storage behaviour is uncertain; viability can be maintained for 6 months in hermetic storage at room temperature, after which viability reduces rapidly. There are up to 370 000 seeds/kg.

T. orientalis is found in the lowland humid tropics. It is among the first trees to establish in clearings, on flood-damaged riverbanks, and also colonizes denuded poor soils. The species is intolerant of fire.

Seedlings and cuttings are viable methods of propagation. To break dormancy, seed must be steeped in giberrellic acid (GA3) dissolved in agar at 500 ppm, or stored at 2 deg. C for 3-4 months. Seeds require a high light intensity for germination. Seedlings exhibit epigeal germination.

A common pioneer species, it is one of the first to become established on poor soils to reforest denuded or disturbed areas. Seeds germinate readily and growth is rapid so it is widely planted for soil reclamation.

Erosion control: T. orientalis rapidly grows on disturbed soil so helps in soil conservation.

 The leaves and fruit are reported to be eaten in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Fodder: The leaves, pods and seeds are used for fodder. Silage made from the foliage has a crude protein content 18.9 g/100 g dry matter, and in the Philippines is fed to cattle, buffaloes and goats. The high fibre content and toxins usually limit the use of leaf meal in feeds. However, these limitations can be overcome by extracting protein from the leaves.

Apiculture: T. orientalis makes good bee forage.

A fast-growing species which coppices well, it can provide plenty of firewood and excellent charcoal which is even suitable for making gunpowder and fireworks.

Fibre: An appropriate tropical hardwood for paper and pulp production. Paper made from T. orientalis has good tensile strength and folding endurance. The bark is made into ropes, which are also employed as waterproof fishing lines in Tanzania.

Timber: Wood is off-white or tinged with pink and fine grained but of low durability. Used in manufacturing panel products, poles and drumsticks.

Shade or shelter: Often planted as a shade tree in coffee and cocoa plantations and also in other crops in Asia and Africa.

Tannin or dyestuff: The bark yields a black dye and the leaves a coffee-coloured one. The bark and leaves contain a saponin and tannin.

Lipids: The seed contains a dark green fixed oil.

Medicine: Both bark and leaf decoctions are used as a gargle, inhalation, drink, lotion, bath or vapour bath for coughs, sore throat, asthma, bronchitis, gonorrhoea, yellow fever, toothache, as a vermifuge, and it is known to have anti plasmodium properties. The leaves are reported to be a general antidote to poisons and a bark infusion is drunk to control dysentery. A leaf decoction is used to deworm dogs.

Ornamental: It is often planted as a garden tree. Its fast growth makes it a popular choice for a new garden.

Soil improver: The mulch is used to improve the soil. The tree is common as a fallow species in shifting cultivation.