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Diospyros crassiflora - Hiern

Common Name Benin Ebony
Family Ebenaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards The sawdust may cause allergic contact dermatitis in wood workers[ 299 ].
Habitats Usually found as isolated trees in lowland semi-deciduous and evergreen rain forest at elevations up to 1,000 metres, but usually avoiding the most humid forest types[ 299 ].
Range Western tropical Africa - Nigeria to the Central Africa Republic, south to Gabon and DR Congo.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Diospyros crassiflora Benin Ebony


International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Diospyros crassiflora Benin Ebony
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Summary

Other common names include Gabon ebony, African ebony, and West African ebony. Diospyros crassiflora or Benin ebony is endemic to western Africa. It is slow-glowing, reaching about 25m in height with a cylindrical trunk that can be 120 cm in diameter and branchless for up to 15 m. It produces very hard, very dark, and durable heartwood which is highly demanded in the export market. It is used to make sculptures, pool cues, door knobs, musical instruments, carvings, etc. Bark decoction is used in the treatment of ovarian problems. It can also be used against yaws and sores.


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Diospyros crassiflora is an evergreen Tree growing to 15 m (49ft) by 12 m (39ft) at a slow rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10. The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map

Synonyms

Diospyros ampullacea G?rke Diospyros evila Pierre ex A.Chev. Diospyros incarnata G?rke ex De Wild.

Habitats

Edible Uses

None known

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.


A decoction of the bark is taken in draught and by enema for treating ovarian troubles[ 332 ]. The powdered bark is used, combined with the red heart-wood of Pterocarpus soyauxii, to treat yaws[ 332 ]. It is also applied to sores, perhaps in similar context[ 299 , 332 ]. Leaf-sap is instilled into the eyes for purulent ophthalmia[ 299 , 332 ]. Examination of the roots on Nigerian material has shown a strong presence of alkaloids[ 332 ].

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Other Uses

Other Uses: The heartwood is black, very hard, but appears only in older trees over a certain girth; it is clearly demarcated from the 5 - 12cm wide band of creamy to reddish yellow sapwood that produces bands of black. In Cameroon, where the tree attains a larger stature (25 metres high by 3 - 3.5 m in girth), the heartwood is said to be 95cm girth[ 332 ]. The texture is fine; the grain straight or slightly interlocked. The wood is heavy, hard; very durable, being resistant to fungi, dry wood borers and termites. It seasons slowly, with a high risk of checking or distortion; once dry it is poorly stable in service. The wood is difficult to saw and work, with serious dulling effect on saws and cutting edges - stellite tipped and tungsten carbide tools are recommended; the surfaces take an excellent polish, but picking up of interlocked or curly grain may occur in planing and a reduced cutting angle is recommended; it has a tendency to split upon nailing, and pre-boring is advised; it has good slicing properties, but powerful machines are needed; the gluing properties are satisfactory. The heartwood is valued for black-wood cabinetry, furniture manufacture and high-class carpentry. It is also used for heavy flooring, interior trim, ship building, vehicle bodies, musical instruments (especially the black keys of pianos, but also guitar fingerboards), precision equipment, turnery, carvings, knife-handles and brush backs[ 299 , 332 , 848 ]. The sapwood, and sometimes also the heartwood, is used for poles, posts, vehicle bodies, agricultural implements, toys, novelties, sporting goods, combs, ladders, boxes, crates, crossbows, veneer and plywood[ 299 ]. The wood of young trees is flexible and is used locally to make crossbows[ 332 ]. The wood is used for fuel[ 299 ].

Special Uses

Cultivation details

A slow-growing species[ 299 ]. The mean diameter growth was 4.5mm per year for trees with a mean height of 14.5 metres and a mean age of 50 years. However, two trees measured over a period of 10 years in central Gabon had an average annual growth rate of only 1mm in diameter[ 299 ]. In a 50-years-old plantation in Cameroon, dominant trees were on average 24 metres tall and 22cm in bole diameter, whereas the standing volume was estimated at 320 cubic metres/ha[ 299 ]. In Benin the Ejagham recognise four sorts of tree:- Nyareti is a 'female' tree yielding top quality ebony. Num nyareti is the 'male' of this with second grade ebony. Nyareh is 'female' with poor ebony but providing excellent fuel. Num nyareh is its 'male' yielding neither good ebony nor good fuel[ 332 ]. Not all Diospyros species produce ebony, but in some a blackening appears on immersion in water for shorter or longer duration according to the species. The water also blackens. Such immersed timber loses its blackening on re-exposure to air and drying. The true blackening of ebony is the result of necrosis in very small spots[ 332 ]. A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required[ 299 ]. Bloom color: White/Near White.

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Propagation

Seed - it has a very short viability and so should be sown as soon as possible[ 325 ]. The flesh should be removed since this contains germination inhibitors[ 325 ]. Sow the seed in a shady position in a nursery seedbed. The sowing media for ebony uses soil and fine sand at the ratio 3:1. The seed is planted horizontally or vertically with the radicle end down, with a sowing depth of 1 - 1.5x the thickness of seed. Distance between the seeds is 3 - 5cm. Seeds are very sensitive to desiccation during germination and early growth, so must be regularly watered at this time[ 325 ]. Normally the seed will germinate after one week. In one trial, fresh seed, sown one day after collection, showed 85% germination rate within 17 - 65 days[ 325 ]. As a rule fresh seeds have a high percentage of fertility. The seedlings develop long taproots at an early stage, often before any appreciable elongation of the shoot takes place. The growth of the seedling is decidedly slow [ 652 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Gabon ebony, African ebony, West African ebony, Benin ebony

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Cameroon; Central African Republic; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Gabon; Nigeria

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Endangered A1d

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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