Bombax rhodognaphalon

Family: Bombaceae

Bombax rhodognaphalon, known in Swahili as msufi and msufi pori ('pori' means bush), 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, the tree is sometimes called 'wild kapok'; this is because it resembles the common, introduced ornamental: Ceiba pentandra (kapok).

The Tree

B. rhodognaphalon is a very distinctive tree. It is in the same family as the baobabs and has a similar single, stout trunk and sparse branches. Specimens grow up to 35 metres tall, with branches often starting at approximately 20 metres. The bark is green-grey and photosynthesises when young before turning grey, but remaining smooth even when old.

The tree flowers before the start of the rains. The large white flowers have narrow petals and a tube of fused, pollen-producing stamen. These are followed by distinctive woody capsules that split open along their length to disperse the seeds, each of which is surrounded by a fluffy brown ball of fibres. The seeds float for many metres, aiding seed dispersal. The hand-like (digitate) leaves form an umbrella-shaped canopy above other trees, and emerge after the flowers.

Ecology & Distribution

B. rhodognaphalon is found in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. It exists mostly in tall miombo woodland and coastal forest. 

Timber

A typical B. rhodognaphalon tree provides about 6 cubic metres of timber. The heartwood varies in colour from pale reddish or yellowish brown to light brown with a purple tint, sometimes with darker markings (gum veins). The wood is only moderately coarse with low density meaning that it is easy to work with hand and machine tools.

Physical & Woodworking Properties
Density (kg/m3)Low (450-580)MachiningEasy
Hardness (kgf)Low (203)PlaningEasy
DurabilityLowScrewingEasy
GrainStraightResponse to hand toolsVery good
TextureMedium-coarseResistance to impregnationVery high
Movement in serviceSmallResistance to insectsPoor

Uses

Timber

The timber of B. rhodognaphalon has low density and rather coarse grain, meaning that the species is unsuitable for making high-quality products. It is used locally in Tanzania for roofing, doors, panelling, and to make cheap plywood for packing cases; the tree bole is used to make traditional dugout canoes. The timber is also suitable for making low-grade furniture, boxes and crates, hardboard, and matches.

Other uses

B. rhodognaphalon is suitable for pulping and charcoal making. Floss from the fruit has been used for stuffing cushions and mattresses, and the bark yields fibre for rope making. Various parts of the tree are valued for their medicinal properties.