Brachystegia spiciformis

Family: Fabaceae (Caesalpinoideae)

Brachystegia spiciformis is one of 10 hardwood timber species – including Mpingo – that are managed and traded by the rural communities that MCDI support in south-eastern Tanzania. The local name for this tree is myombo (sometimes also spelled miombo or mjombo), which also means 'woodland' in Swahili.

The Tree

Brachystegia spiciformis is a handsome large tree with a dark green rounded canopy and rough bark, but it does not have any unique characteristics. The leaves have 2-5 pairs of quite large, glossy leaflets; they are rust coloured when they first emerge and can be confused with Afzelia quanzensis or Julbernardia globiflora. However, the terminal leaflet is the largest in B. spiciformis, so the leaves flutter in the breeze. The tree bears small fragrant greenish-white flowers.

Ecology & Distribution

Brachystegia spiciformis is one of the most common components of miombo woodland, and often dominates tall miombo woodland. Its distribution extends from southern and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and south-eastern Kenya, through Tanzania to Angola and southward to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and northernmost South Africa. The tree is widespread in Tanzania and abundant in all woodland areas of Tanga, the eastern and southern highlands, and near the lakes in the west. It pefers open areas with sandy soil, but nonetheless is found on a variety of soil types.

Timber

The heartwood of Brachystegia spiciformis is variable in colour, from pale brown to reddish brown. It darkens on exposure and is sometimes striped in appearance. Because of its hardness and interlocked grain, the wood is difficult to saw and work with both hand and machine tools, with a moderate to severe blunting effect on saw teeth and cutting edges. The interlocked grain makes it liable to tear on planing. Drilling is easy, but breaking may occur at unsupported ends. The wood sands to a good finish and polishes well. It has a strong tendency to split on nailing, making pre-boring necessary.

Physical & Woodworking Properties
Density (kg/m3)Moderate-high (680-915)MachiningDifficult
Hardness (Kgf)Moderate (675-830)Response to hand toolsDifficult
DurabilityLowMovement in serviceModerate
GrainInterlockedPlaningDifficult
TextureCoarse

Resistance to impregnation

High
ScrewingEasyResistance to insectsLow

Uses

Timber

In areas where other timber is scarce this tree is used to make cheap furniture, although the timber is not very durable. The wood of Brachystegia spiciformis is also used for construction, door frames, canoes, railway sleepers (if treated), utensils and beehives. It is suitable for flooring, joinery, interior trim, mine props, vehicle bodies, boxes, crates, food containers, veneer, plywood and pulp for paper.

Other uses

Brachystegia spiciformis is used for charcoal and medicine. The inner bark from young trees is often used as rope. The leaves are also used as fodder.