An attractive ornamental, Mascarenhasia arborescens was an important source of natural rubber in Madagascar in the early 1900s.
About this species
Mascarenhasia arborescens has beautiful, delicate flowers with an exquisite scent. Its attractive habit and dark red petioles and midribs add to its horticultural merit. The generic name is taken from the French ‘Mascareignes’ referring to a group of islands in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar. The specific epithet arborescens refers to its tree-like habit. The genus Mascarenhasia contains eight species of shrubs and small trees, all of which can be found in Madagascar.
Geography & Distribution
Native to East Africa, Madagascar, the Comoros and the Seychelles.
A shrub or small tree commonly up to 15 m tall (rarely up to 35 m), with smooth brownish bark. The branchlets are rough and grey with lenticels (openings in the bark allowing gas exchange), and contain a milky latex. The leaves are simple (not divided into leaflets) and are held opposite each other on the stem. The leaves are glossy light green, leathery, 5-16.5 x 2-6 cm, and have a midrib which is indented above but prominent below.
The flowers are white with a yellow tube, and up to 10 mm in diameter. They are bisexual and are borne in small axillary or terminal clusters, termed cymes. The flowers have five calyx lobes with a ring of tiny scales at the base. The corolla tube is cylindrical and bears short hairs on the outside, at least above, and is densely hairy in the throat. The five petals are densely hairy, and overlapping. Five stamens are attached in the swollen upper portion of the tube, and just protrude from it. The fruit resembles a miniature propeller, has two opposing ovaries, and is 5-17.5 cm long with a rough grey surface. The fruits split to produce many seeds, each with a tuft of golden hairs.
Mascarenhasia arborescens was cultivated for the production of rubber in Madagascar in the early 1900s, when it was one of the country’s major sources of natural rubber. Interest in this species was revived briefly during World War II, as a source of rubber for the production of car tyres. It is not widely cultivated elsewhere.
The latex from M. arborescens is mixed with that of Chrysophyllum boivinianum to make a sticky trap to catch the Madagascar red fody (Foudia madagascariensis), a small bird which is a pest of maturing rice crops.
M. arborescens is used in traditional medicine in Madagascar to treat intestinal disorders, spasms and diarrhoea. A recent scientific study supports the antispasmodic and antioxidant efficacy of this species.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 4.66 g.
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Two.
Mascarenhasia arborescens can be propagated from seed or by taking cuttings, and can form an attractive shrub with some formative pruning. Research is currently being carried out at Kew into the best way of taking and growing-on cuttings.
Where to see this species at Kew
Dried and spirit-preserved specimens of M. arborescens are held in the behind-the-scenes Herbarium at Kew, where they are made available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details, including images, of some of these specimens can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue.
Specimens of the wood and roots of M. arborescens are held in the Economic Botany Collection, where they are made available to bona fide researchers by appointment.
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