Indigenous African blackwood/ordeal tree
Scientific name: Erythrophleum africanum;
Dalbergia melanoxylon is a heavily branched tree, typically 4.5-7.5 m tall but occasionally reaching 15m. The bole is fluted with high narrow ribs separated by deep indentations. It grows under a wide range of conditions including semi-arid, sub-humid and tropical lowland areas. This species demands water and light and therefore is common near water and will not regenerate under heavy cover. The extent of exploitation appears to be unsustainable in many regions with high human population pressure within the distribution area of the species
The roots are used in traditional medicines to treat abdominal pain, diarrhoea and syphilis; the wood smoke is inhaled to treat headaches and bronchitis. Root and bark is used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea in combination with baobab or tamarind fruits. The smoke of burnt roots is inhaled for treatment of headache, bronchitis and colds. A root decoction is used to prevent miscarriage, as an anthelmintic and aphrodisiac, and to treat gonorrhoea, stomach-ache and abdominal pain. A bark decoction or bark powder is used to clean wounds and a leaf decoction to relieve pain in the joints. Leaf juice is taken to treat inflammations in mouth and throat. Bark decoctions and leaf juice are also ingredients of mixtures used to treat various ailments.
The heartwood is purplish black, sometimes darker towards the outside, with light streaks and not always uniform in colour. The timber is slightly oily, exceptionally hard and very heavy (1314 kg/cu. m), brittle and somewhat fissile. The heartwood is extremely durable and resistant to all forms of biological deterioration. Other products made from the timber include carvings, turnery and marquetry to produce sculptures, musical instruments, ornaments, inlays, chess pieces, walking sticks, bearings and many other products. The wood is also excellent for turning, and was formerly used for parquet flooring. Locally it is sometimes used for rafters and poles in construction, and for implements such as walking sticks, hammers, drumsticks, arrow tips, pestles, cups, plates and combs. The wood is also used for charcoal production and as firewood, although the flame is very hot and may damage cooking pots. The main industrial use, long supporting an export trade from East Africa and Mozambique, is the manufacture of musical instruments, especially woodwinds. With its high density and fine texture, Dalbergia melanoxylon wood produces a beautiful musical tone. It is stable, stands up to metalwork processes, and takes an excellent finish.
The foliage and fruits are browsed by livestock, but not by horses. The flowers are a good source of nectar for honey bees; the honey is dark amber-colored and strongly flavoured. The tree provides good mulch and may improve the soil by nitrogen fixation. It can be used to avoid soil erosion because of its extensive root system. It is also useful in windbreaks and live fences.