Afzelia quanzensis

Family: Fabaceae (Caesalpinoideae)

Afzelia quanzensis, locally known as mkongo (or mbambakofi and similar variations, such as mbambamgofi), is one of 10 hardwood timber species – including mpingo – that are responsibly managed and traded by the rural communities that we support in south-eastern Tanzania. In English, this handsome tree is known as a ‘spectacle case’ tree, on account of the shape of its fruit. Other names include pod mahogany, East African Afzelia, and Doussie.

The Tree

A. quanzensis can grow to well over 20 metres in height, although most trees are shorter than this. Many trees branch low down into 2 or 3 stems and mature specimens typically have a spreading canopy. Initially this species has smooth, almost pinkish, thin bark; older specimens have thicker tan bark that peels off in large pieces. The leaves are very glossy, almost evergreen, and are typically made up of 7 or 9 large leaflets.

At the start of the short rains in early November, as the tree comes into leaf, A. quanzensis produces green flowers with a reddish coloured upright flag petal and green outer ‘petals’ (sepals). The flowers are fragrant and add a spicy-sweet smell to the surrounding air. During the dry season the tree is easily identifiable by the large, very woody, black pods. These remain on the tree after splitting in two to reveal shiny black seeds which are nearly 3cm long. The seeds drop to the ground where their waxy orange cap (aril) is eaten by ants.

Ecology & Distribution

A. quanzensis is found throughout most of Kilwa District in Tanzania and is widespread in different habitats from Kenya to Angola. It prefers deep, well-drained, sandy soils, and is also found on termite mounds. Tall specimens grow in some patches of coastal forest and denser miombo woodland, although most trees are shorter and occur along seasonal stream courses. The species is susceptible to fire, which hampers its natural regeneration. 

Timber

The timber of A. quanzensis is a warm, pink-tinged orange colour which tends to a darkened red with exposure to air. Like other Afzelia species, the wood has good natural durability; treatment with preservatives is unnecessary, even in permanently humid conditions or in locations where wood-attacking insects are abundant. It sands to a smooth finish, stains well, and polishes nicely. 

Physical & Woodworking Properties
Density (kg/m3)High (817)Machining

Difficult

Hardness (kgf)High (916)Response to hand tools

Moderate

Bending strength (kg/cm2)High (1,001)Planing

Difficult

DurabilityVery highMovement in service

Very small

GrainStraight-interlockedResistance to impregnation

High

TextureMedium-coarseResistance to insects

Very high

Uses

Timber

Although too dense for many local uses, the timber of A. quanzensis is used to make furniture locally in Tanzania. It is valued for joinery and makes attractive doors, window frames and flooring. The wood is also good for producing decorative, carved pieces; it was used historically for making traditional Zanzibar-style doors.

Other uses

The seeds of A. quanzensis are used to make jewellery and as counters in board games (e.g. bao). The wood is also used as firewood and for charcoal production locally, while the bark can be used to make rope.