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Camwood (Baphia nitida)

This small understorey tree, known as ìyèròsùn in Yoruba, occurs in most West African rainforests from Sierra Leone to Cameroon. It reaches about 9 m (30 ft) and produces small, fragrant pea flowers, white with yellow centres, from February to May. These are followed by pointed pods, 7cm (3 ins) long, which ripen in October and split open to release one or two dark brown, shiny seeds.

The dark red wood is extremely hard and heavy and is traditionally used to make drumsticks, mortars and pestles and the spokes of state umbrellas to keep sun and rain from dignitaries. It is also important throughout the region as a cosmetic dye to make hair dye and body paint, both for ritual use in ceremonies and for beautification. During colonial times it was exported from West Africa to textile mills in Europe where it was ground as a pigment for dyeing wool and preparing cotton and linen for indigo dyeing. The powdered heartwood is also use medicinally, mixed with shea butter from the savannah tree Vitellaria paradoxa to ease joint and muscle pain. In Yorubaland this ointment is also used by hunters setting off to collect honey from the forest as a protection against bee stings. Elsewhere in Nigeria, the Tiv people rub it inside a gourd as an attractant when they want to catch a swarm of bees to set up a beehive.

This useful tree is also ornamental, with slender, slightly weeping branches and small glossy leaves. It is often planted in villages for shade and as a handy source of raw materials. In some areas it is associated with superstitions; in southeast Nigeria the Ijo people carve fetish objects from it to protect an area from evil spirits. Being easy to propagate and fast growing, camwood can also be planted as a hedge as has been done by the IITA Forest Project opposite the research shade houses.

Baphia nitida seed

 
PLANT OF THE MONTH

African whitewood (Triplochiton scleroxylon)

The African whitewood (Triplochiton scleroxylon), known as arere in Yoruba and obeche in Bini, is a large fast-growing tree, reaching 65 m (213 ft), usually with a straight trunk and buttresses up to about 8 m (26 ft) high. It belongs to the family Sterculiaceae and is common in semi-deciduous rainforests from Sierra Leone to Gabon and Congo, including secondary forests where it may fill gaps as a pioneer species.

 
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