Millettia thonningii

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Local names:
Hausa (turburku), Yoruba (ito)

Millettia thonningii is a deciduous tree that can attain a height of up to 20 m and a short bole of diameter up to 1 m with a dense crown. Bark smooth, grayish and thin, when slashed shows creamy yellow.

Leaves pinnate (simple-compound) with a slender, glabrous common stalk, 10-15 cm long and 3-4 pairs of opposite leaflets with terminal leaflet 6-10 cm long and 2.5-5.5 cm broad, elliptic or obovate, shortly acuminate with blunt tip or slightly notched, cuneate at base. The lower leaflets are progressively more rounded at the base, glabrous above, minutely hairy or glabrous beneath except for the characteristic brush of stiff white hairs at each side of the mid rib at the base with about 6 pairs of thin, up-curving lateral nerves running out very close to the margin. The lower leaflets are ovate or ovate-elliptic about 4-7 cm long and 2-4 cm wide.

Flowers are blue, mauve or purple, 1.5 cm long, becoming paler as they expand, arranged singly or in pairs along a glabrous central stalk, 12-22 cm long pendulous among newly forming leaves. The racemes sometimes are grouped in terminal panicles. Individual flowers have slender, slightly hairy stalk 6-12 mm long with a pair of very small but conspicuous linear bracteoles half way up.

Fruit is a dehiscent pod, 12-15 cm long and 18-25 mm broad, with more or less parallel margins or slightly broader towards the apex, sharply beaked, cuneate at the base, glabrous, smooth, flat and woody, usually containing 3-6 discoid black seeds about 10 mm across.

The generic name is after C. Millet, c.1830, an officer of the East Indian company.


This is a savanna and secondary forest species, often found on riverbanks. M. thonningii occurs as clumps or thickets on plains usually associated with termitaria belonging to the genus macrotermes.

Native range
Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox, long-term storage at IITA Genebank.

This is a savanna and secondary forest species, often found on riverbanks. M. thonningii occurs as clumps or thickets on plains usually associated with termitaria belonging to the genus macrotermes.

Production of shoot from the lateral roots facilitates vegetative propagation through root cuttings.

Poison:  Leaf juice is poisonous and is used to poison water snails.

Erosion control: Production of heavy litter by M. thonningii coupled with a network of lateral roots makes it good for soil conservation and erosion control especially on sloping ground.

Fodder: Both cattle and sheep consume leaves of M. thonningii.

Apiculture: Flowers provide nectar in the dry season for bees and this potential can be utilized for honey production.

The wood and the woody dry pods which drop after releasing the seeds are a source of fuelwood.

Timber: The sap wood is yellowish-white with a darker greenish brown heartwood, heavy and fine grained, very hard, flexible and polishes well. It is used to make handles for implements such as axes, knives, tools, and the flexible young branches are used in construction of huts yam stakes, fencing poles and making traps.

Shade or shelter: The tree produces leaves heavily, hence when in leaf provides shade on avenues.

Medicine: Root and bark decoctions are used for worms expulsion and as laxative, while the boiled pulverized roots and the bark are used for blood purification. Leaf extract is used for diarrhoea or dysentery and a decoction of the bark is purgative.

Nitrogen fixing:  The tree has nodulation and nitrogen fixing ability.

Ornamental:  Because of its flowers that appear in the dry season as well as the dark green foliage, it is often cultivated as an avenue tree or as a living fence.

Soil improver:  Leaves are shed in large quantity during the dry season and serve as mulch.