Commiphora africana

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Fruit and leaves
© Bart Wursten

Local names:
Afrikaans (harige kanniedood), Amharic (anqa), Arabic (angka,gafal), English (poison-grub commiphora,African myrrh,corkwood), French (myrrhe africaine), Somali (dabba'un'un,hammes-sagara), Swahili (mponda,mkororo,mbambara,mturituri,mtwitwi), Tigrigna (an

Commiphora africana is a small tree, sometimes reaching 10 m but usually not more than 5 m high. It can be recognized unmistakably from a distance by its outline--a spherical top and a short trunk with low branches. Crown is rounded, with the branches ascending and then curving downwards. Many of the branchlets end in spines. The bark is grey-green, sometimes shiny, peeling in membranous scales; slash red, pleasantly scented, exuding a clear gum. Has a creeping root system that spreads several metres around the tree. 

Leaves trifoliate, leaflets cuneate at the base and with irregular and bluntly toothed margins, waxy grey-green above with a sparse covering of hairs, lighter in colour and more densely hairy below, up to 4 x 2.5 cm, the middle leaflet larger than laterals.

Flowers in axillary clusters of 4-10; petals 4, red, not fused, but forming a tube about 6 mm long.

Fruits reddish, 6-8 mm across but sometimes larger, almost stalkless, made up of a tough outer layer, which splits when ripe to reveal a hard, furrowed stone embedded in a red, resinous flesh. 

The generic name ‘Commiphora’ is based on the Greek words ‘kommi’ (gum) and ‘phero’ (to bear). The specific name simply means African.


A widespread species, although its range and ecology is somewhat obscured by taxonomic confusion. It is common in Acacia-Commiphora bushland and is normally found in dry savannahs and in the Sahel.

Native range
Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Seed storage behaviour appears to be orthodox. Seeds should be stored dry.

A widespread species, although its range and ecology is somewhat obscured by taxonomic confusion. It is common in Acacia-Commiphora bushland and is normally found in dry savannahs and in the Sahel.

Easy to propagate with cuttings.

  Roots of young plants are juicy with a mildly sweet taste and can be chewed. The gum is also eaten; the bark is brewed to make a red tea.

The leaves are browsed by livestock, especially camels and goats, at the end of the dry season when the tree comes into leaf. C. africana is of outstanding importance for many nomadic herdsmen in the northern parts of the Sahel.

Timber:  Wood is used for house building, headrests, stools, milk containers and wooden spoons. Stems are utilized as toothbrushes.

Medicine:  Fruits are chewed or pounded and used against toothache and diseases of the gum. 

Gum or resin:  Gum extracted from the stem is used in making arrows.

C. africana is particularly suitable for planting for live fences and hedges.