Common Name: English: African cherry , stinkwood, pygeum , African prune, red ivory, bitter almond.  Afrikaans: rooistinkhout. Amheric: tiker inchet. Kikuyu: mueri. Chagga: Mkonde-konde

Scientific Name: Prunus africana (Hook f.) Kalkman 

DESCRIPTION, DISTRIBUTION, AND HABITAT

Prunus africana, of the rosaceae family, is an evergreen hardwood tree with a large spreading crown which reaches up to 40m in height. The trunk can be up to a meter in diameter and the bark is dark-brown, resinous and fissured. The thick oval leaves are a deep glossy green on top  but dull underneath and smell like bitter almond when crushed. Creamy white flowers are borne in bunches, followed by black, glossy, globular fruits which resemble cherries (it is sometimes called African cherry). The distribution is wide and disjunct across Africa in habitats of montane forests, mostly in  east, central and south Africa and the Comoros and Madagascar. It's range is limited to an elevation of at least 900m with an optimal temperature range between 11-23°. Individuals can live for a hundred years or more.

Fascinating Facts

P.africana is traditionally harvested for timber, firewood, and medicine. The bark and leaves have a long history of traditional use for "men's problems", although it is also used to treat infertility and menstrual problems in women. Other purported benefits include aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties, and effective treatment of fevers and gastrointestinal disorders. P.africana  is commercially exploited for its bark, especially in Cameroon and Madagascar. The bark is used to treat benign enlargement of the prostate, and is commonly marketed under the names 'pygeum' and 'tadenan©' by herbal remedy and pharmaceutical industries respectively. Unfortunately,  P.africana  is often harvested unsustainably from forests, particularly in Madagascar where most bark is harvested illegally, and regulations for sustainable harvesting are considered inadequate anyway. People often have to travel long distances to harvest bark, which they sell to a middleman for as little as US$0.16 per kg. In Kenya successful plantations have been established, while in Cameroon there are more stringent regulations, and some community forest management schemes guarantee fair wages to harvesters. However, in 1999 the value of harvested bark contributed US$700 000 to Cameroon's economy but it's value to the pharmaceutical industry was US$200 million, and annual over-the-counter trade in 'pygeum' herbal remedies is estimated at US$220 million. Currently P.africana is listed in CITES Appendix 2, meaning that import and export of wild and cultivated material requires permits, however given difficulties in enforcing measures to protect the species there is a push from conservationists to move it to CITES Appendix 1 which would ban all commercial trade. 


JENNIE HARVEY, MSC

Jennie studied for a Master’s degree in Ethnobotany at the University of Kent in the UK, and is currently working toward her PhD. She works in northern Tanzania studying the social history of forest gardens on Mt Kilimanjaro.

 

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