Baikiaea insignis

Family : Leguminosae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


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Baikiaea insignis is native to tropical Africa where may be 30 m tall © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaïre where it lives in the pluvial forests from the sea level up to about 1800 m of altitude.

The genus is honoured to the Scottish physician, naturalist and explorer William Balfour Baikie (1825-1864); the specific name is the Latin adjective “insignis, e” = eminent, extraordinary.

Common names: nkoba, nkobakoba (Uganda).

The Baikiaea insignis Benth. (1866) is an evergreen tree, 5-30 m tall and of 0,2-1 m of diameter, with smooth or slightly vertically fissured bark of brown grey colour.

The leaves, spirally arranged on a short petiole, are imparipinnate, up to about 30 cm long, with 1-4 pairs of pinnules, usually alternate, oblong-elliptic to ovate-lanceolate, 5-20 cm long and 3-12 cm broad, with usually pointed apex and entire margin, coriaceous, of dark green colour; the young leaves are of a pinkish colour.

The inflorescences, on a 2-2,5 cm long peduncle, are terminal or subterminal racemes covered by thick brown tomentum, 8-10 cm long, bearing few hermaphroditic flowers that gradually open.

Calyx with an about 2 cm long tube and 4 oblong-linear lobes, 5-10 cm long, corolla with 5 obovate petals with slightly ruffled margins, 6-15 cm long and 4-8 cm broad, 4 of which are white or cream white and one, slightly less broad, lemon yellow, 10 stamina, of which one free and the others merged at the base, 6-18 cm long, superior ovary and 5-10 cm long style; the flowers, perfumed and rather flabby, open in the evening and wither the afternoon of the following day.

The fruit is a woody legume, flat, covered by brown tomentum, 15-50 cm long and 2-9 cm broad, opening in an explosive way, containing numerous ellipsoid flat seeds, 3-4 cm long and 1,5-3 cm broad, of dark red colour.

It reproduces by seed, previously kept in water for one day, in organic draining loam maintained constantly humid at the temperature of 26-28 °C.

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Gaudy red flowers? Not at all, tender new leaves that growing coriaceous become of a nice glossy dark green © Giuseppe Mazza

Tree diffused in nature, but relatively little cultivated, occasionally utiized in parks and gardens of the tropical and humid subtropical zones, as shade tree or for ornamental purpose due to its luxuriant foliage and the flowers, standing among the largest ones, if not the largest, within the family.

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Here the contrast with the old leaves is at most. The flowers at right, cream white, are perfumed but flabby and last less than one day © Giuseppe Mazza

It requires full sun or slight shade and draining soils maintained constantly humid. The wood, fairly hard, heavy, easy to work at the machine, but little resistant to the xylophagous insects, is locally employed, previous impregnating treatment, in the civil and naval constructions, for furniture, tools, handicrafts, and in the fabrication of plywood, is also used as firewood and to produce charcoal.

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Diffused in the wild but relatively little cultivated, creates vast shade zones, splendid green domes for freshening in the vast tropical gardens © Giuseppe Mazza

Sinonimi: Baikiaea minor Oliv. (1871); Baikiaea eminii Taub. (1894); Baikiaea zenkeri Harms (1915); Baikiaea fragrantissima Baker f. (1928); Baikiaea suzannae Ghesq. (1933).


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