Brachylaena huillensis

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Related Links
carved likeness of Mutisya Munge, the founding father of the Kenyan woodcarving industry, which began in 1919 at Wamunyu, Machakos District.
© Walters M.
Illegally-logged Brachylaena huillensis timber confiscated at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest reserve.
© Walters M.
Malindi Woodcarving Co-operative is a society of more than 500 trained and highly skilled wood carvers.
© Walter M
Brachylaena huillensis leaves
© AFT team

Local names:
Afrikaans (laeveldvaalbos), English (silver oak,low veld silver oak,low veld brachyleana), Swahili (mvumo,muhuhu,muhugu,mkarambati,mkalambaki), Trade name (muhuhu,muhugu)

Brachylaena huillensis grows to 35 m tall with a dbh of 85 cm under favourable conditions; fluted and often curved bole, which makes it difficult to obtain large dimensions of timber; bark grey, smooth or rough with longitudinal cracks.

Leaves entire or dentate, oblanceolate, up to 13 cm long and to 2.5 cm wide, grey felty beneath; apex acute; base long cuneate; petiole 1.2 cm long.

Capitula small, white, cylindrical, up to 2.5 cm long, in axillary woolly panicles; male capitula shortly pedicellate, with about 12 flowers; female capitula subsessile, with about 5 flowers; pappus in 1 row of scrabid bristles; flower heads white, in small terminal panicles or racemes; flowers tubular or discoid.

Fruit a small, winged achene in a white capitulum.

On the flowers, the bracts surrounding the discs are shorter than the flowers and are the basis of the generic name, which is based on Greek words meaning ‘short’ and ‘cloak’. The specific name means ‘of Huilla’, a place in Angola.


In Kenya, B. huillensis is common in semi-deciduous tropical forests of the central highlands and the lowland dry coastal belts. It is also found in the northern forests of Tanzania.

Native range
Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda

Tree management

The trees are easy to raise in plantations. On average, growth increment is fast on good soils.

Seed storage behaviour is uncertain; viability is lost within 6 months in open storage at room temperature. There are 333 000-500 000 seeds/kg.

In Kenya, B. huillensis is common in semi-deciduous tropical forests of the central highlands and the lowland dry coastal belts. It is also found in the northern forests of Tanzania.

B. huillensis is normally propagated by seed. Seeds from fruits collected only 7 days after the maturation of the buds will germinate.

During the 1st 2 decades of the 19th century, B. huillensis was the main fuel for Kenya. It was also exported as short logs to India as an inferior substitute for sandalwood for use in cremations. It is suitable for charcoal because of its high density, and is exploited for this in Kenya.

Timber:  The wood is pale yellow to pale brown, with characteristic storeyed structure, scented somewhat like sandalwood, straight grained with conspicuous growth rings; texture is very fine, even, strong and stiff. But its failure in bending is sudden and complete. It is hard to work but does turn and work well with sharp tools. It takes a high polish but splits easily along the grain. It is used in flooring, furniture and joinery. In Kenya, it is a favourite wood for carving artefacts.

Ornamental:  B. huillensis is planted as an ornamental tree around dwellings in Kenya.

Due to its durability, B. huillensis is used as fence posts, for example in northern Tanzanian along the border with Kenya, where it is overexploited.

Essential oil:  Oil distilled from the wood has a pleasant, vetiver-like perfume.