An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Melia volkensii

Melia volkensii

The kamba (Melia volkensii Gürke, 1895) is an arboreal species belonging to the Meliaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta division,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Rosidae,
Sapindales Order,
Meliaceae family,
Genus Melia,
Species M. volkensii.

Etymology –
The term Melia comes from the Greek μελία melía ash tree, due to the similarity of the leaves to those of the ash tree.
The specific epithet volkensii was given in honor of the German botanist Georg Ludwig August Volkens (1855-1917) who between 1884 and 1885, on behalf of the Academy of Sciences, made an expedition to Egypt. Becoming Engler’s assistant at the Botanical Museum in Berlin, between 1892 and 1894, commissioned by the Academy of Sciences and the Colonial Office, he created a scientific station on Kilimanjaro. Full professor of botany, then curator of the Berlin botanical garden, between 1899 and 1900 he directed an expedition to the Marianas and Carolines, with a seven-month stay in Yap, then between 1901 and 1902 he collaborated with the garden Buitenzorg botanist. Returning to Berlin, he mainly dealt with the Botanical Museum.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Melia volkensii is a plant native to eastern tropical Africa and present in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania.
Its habitat is that of deciduous scrub, in association with Acacia-Commiphora vegetation, at altitudes ranging from 350 to 1,680 metres.

Description –
Melia volkensii is a deciduous plant, with an open crown and loose branching.
The trees reach a height varying between 6 and 20 m in height, with a trunk normally 25 cm in diameter.
The bark is gray, quite smooth, furrowed with age.
The leaves are light green, bright, bipinnate with opposite leaflets, 3-7 per pinna, up to 35 cm long, and when young they are densely hairy. The leaflets are oval to lanceolate in shape and taper towards the apex. The margins are entire or serrated, becoming almost glabrous when ripe and have dimensions in length ranging from 4 to 7.5 cm.
The flowers are small, white and fragrant, collected in loose bunches. It is an andromonoecious plant with all these flowers present on the same tree.
The flowers are collected in an inflorescence up to 12 cm long, axillary and on the oldest twigs. Petals are tetra to pentamerous, white, free which may curl back; the stamens are of the same number as the petals, sometimes double, and united in a tube.
The fruit is a drupe and oval, with a color ranging from green to light gray when ripe. They are usually 4 cm long with a very thick bone in the endocarp.

Cultivation –
Melia volkensii is a typical plant of drier tropical areas, where it is found at altitudes from 350 to 1,680 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are between 20-28°C, but can tolerate 16-32°C.
It prefers an average annual rainfall between 500 and 800 mm, but tolerates 300 – 1,000 mm.
It grows best in a sunny position and vegetates in most soils; including shallow sandy, loamy and stony soils, but preferably with good drainage.
It prefers a pH in the range of 6 – 7, tolerating 5.5 – 7.5 and the plants are very drought tolerant once established.
It is a fast growing tree, with a 10 – 15 year rotation. Trees have been reported to begin flowering as early as 2-3 years from seed.
This plant sheds its leaves twice a year, shedding new leaves towards the end of the dry season. Flowers and fruit are also produced twice a year, with fruit ripening at the end of the dry season when the leaves emerge.
The literature on pollination mechanisms of M. volkensii is scarce. Reports say the flowers are pollinated by bees or other insects.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the species may be self-pollinating.
Fruit development takes 12-13 months from the start of flowering. The stages of fruit development lack a seasonal pattern; it is not uncommon to have trees on the same site flowering and fruiting at different times of the year. Fruits at different stages of development can be found on the same branch, making it difficult to differentiate ripe from immature fruit, except by color.
Propagation is mostly by seed. There are conflicting reports as to whether the seed can be stored, so it’s probably more expedient to try and sow the seed as soon as it’s mature.
One of the factors limiting the use of this species is the dormancy of the seeds. The type of dormancy is not yet fully known but appears to be caused by the extremely hard endocarp and/or integument.
To obtain optimal germination the seeds must first be extracted using a knife to remove the endocarp. After extraction, the caruncle is removed and the seed coat is nicked or cut with a knife. Extracted seeds are very susceptible to fungal infections, so extraction should be done just before sowing.
The traditional method of pretreatment, using stones that have been eaten and expelled by animals, improves germination only slightly.
The extracted and scarified seeds normally germinate very quickly. Before sowing, it is recommended to soak the seeds in water for 18 hours.
The optimal temperature for germination is 25 – 37 °C; studies have shown that germinating seeds are damaged by temperatures higher or lower than this range. As a result, it is highly recommended to shade the seedlings and water only early in the morning and late in the evening when the soil temperature is low.
Agamic propagation via root cuttings is also possible, while the use of stem cuttings has had little success as engraftment is difficult.
Furthermore, the fleshy fruits are eaten by animals such as giraffe, kudu and goat, which are, in addition to humans, the main dispersal agents.
The tree, however, grows faster if propagated using root suckers. Young trees must be protected from goats and coppicing can also be done.

Customs and Traditions –
Melia volkensii is a plant that takes on various local names where it grows: Boran (Bamba); Digo (Kirumbuta); Kamba (Mukau); Kikuyu (Mukau); Samburu (Maramarui); Somalis (Bamba); Taita (Kirumbutu); Taveta (Mkowe); Tharaka (Mukau).
In some parts of Kenya, it is the most commonly planted tree on cultivated and logged land. Due to its drought tolerance and high timber value, this species is popular and has greater potential for farmers, especially in dry land areas.
Like the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), this species contains compounds (but not azadirachtin) that are toxic to insects.
This plant contains salannin which is an acetate ester, a member of the organic furans, and a methyl ester which is derived from tiglic acid.
Aqueous extracts of the fruit are traditionally used to control fleas and ticks.
Leaf preparations are used as flea and fly repellents.
The species is primarily planted for its timber, which is durable and comparable to camphor, and also resistant to termites. The lumber is used for construction and furniture and is one of the main species used to make log beehives because the wood is easy to work with and shapes well.
The wood is coarsely textured, durable and, as mentioned, extremely resistant to termites and decay; it works easily, it planes well. It is prized locally for making items such as door and window frames, shutters, beams, posts, and furniture. Because wood is so easy to work and shape, it is a major species used to make items such as beehives and acoustic drums.
The wood is used as fuel and when burned produces an unpleasant smoke and is said, however, that the tree produces poor quality charcoal.
Twigs, leaves and fruit are fodder for goats, cattle and sheep during the dry season.
Among the products and services that are obtained from this tree we mention:
– Forage; farmers believe that the leafy forage is of high quality for both cattle and goats. The tree is pruned for forage towards the end of the dry season when forage is extremely scarce. Goats eat the large fleshy drupes after they fall. The pulp of the fruit is said to contain almost 10% crude fat and over 12% crude protein; Ripe leaves are said to contain over 5% crude fat and 21% crude protein.
– Beekeeping; M. volkensii is one of the main species used to make log hives because the wood is easily worked and shaped and the flowers also provide excellent forage for bees.
– Poison; leaf preparations are used as a flea and fly repellent; they are said to be particularly effective on kids.
– Soil improver; some farmers have observed that heavy M. volkensii leaf drop during later stages of crop development can increase yields.
– intercropping; in Kenya M. volkensii is believed to be compatible with all cultivated crops.
As regards the ecological and agro-ecological aspects, this plant has been heavily exploited because it is highly appreciated as a timber tree. This trend has worsened over the past decade due to a shortage of alternative hardwood species. As a result, tree growers are now looking to grow this plant as a planting species. Propagation, however, has been a major bottleneck and has hindered large-scale planting of the species. As it is a high value dryland tree species, farmers lack sufficient information on appropriate silvicultural practices of M. volkensii for best tree crop production.

Method of Preparation –
Melia volkensii is a tree with great agroecological potential in the driest tropical areas of Africa.
Moreover, in the agroecological field, it can represent a useful plant to associate due to its ability to repel some insects, so much so that the aqueous extracts of the fruits are used for controlling fleas and ticks and the preparations of the leaves are used as repellents for fleas and flies.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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