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Guibourtia ehie (black hyedua)

A tall forest tree from west Central Africa, black hyedua is valued for its timber, which is used in general carpentry in Ghana as a substitute for rosewood (Dalbergia spp.)
Detail of a herbarium specimen of Guibourtia ehie

Detail of a herbarium specimen of Guibourtia ehie collected by A. Chevalier from the Ivory Coast in 1909.

Species information

Scientific name: 

Guibourtia ehie (A.Chev.) J.Léonard

Common name: 

black hyedua, ovangkol (English), amazoué (French), bubinga, hyedua-nini, amazakoné (Ghana)

Conservation status: 

Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Various forest types, from closed rainforest to drier semi-deciduous forest.

Key Uses: 

Necklaces (made from copal, the fossil resin produced by the tree, see Uses, below), lighting (copal is flammable), timber.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Rosanae
Order: 
Fabales
Family: 
Leguminosae/Fabaceae - Caesalpinioideae
Genus: Guibourtia

About this species

Black hyedua is a West African timber tree, common in its natural habitat where it generally grows in small stands in a variety of forest types, from closed rainforest to drier semi-deciduous forest. The papery pods contain a single seed and are dispersed intact, mainly by wind. The thin pod walls soon rot away on the ground leaving the seed free to germinate.

Synonym: 

Copaifera ehie

Genus: 
Guibourtia

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Guibourtia ehie grows in African lowland forest. It occurs in the upper Guinea forest block, in Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Ghana, is absent from the more arid and unforested Dahomey interval and then reappears in the lower Guinea forest block in Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Herbarium specimen of Guibourtia ehie
Herbarium specimen of Guibourtia ehie collected by A. Chevalier from the Ivory Coast in 1909.

Description

Overview: Guibourtia ehie is a forest tree up to 45 m high with a trunk up to 1 m in diameter.

Leaves: The leaves are composed of two asymmetrical leaflets, each shaped like a half-moon. The outer side of each leaflet is at least three times as broad as the inner side, ending in a long, curved tip.

Flowers: The white flowers are scented and arranged along short axes, which in turn are combined with other flowering ‘spikes’ to form a branched flowering structure, which measures up to 25 cm long.

Fruits: The fruits (pods) are flat and papery, and their surfaces are covered with a network of fine veins. Each fruit contains a single seed.

Some species of Guibourtia have resin in the leaves that appears as translucent yellow dots when the leaves are held to the light and/or seeds that bear an aril (a soft, fleshy and often colourful layer covering part or all of the external seed surface), but G. ehie has neither gland dots nor arils.

Study of the genus by Kew botanist

The leguminous genus Guibourtia is currently considered to comprise 14 species. Thirteen occur in tropical Africa, but G. hymenaeifolia is found only in the Neotropics. A group of organisms that are found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are said to have an amphi-Atlantic distribution. This distribution pattern is relatively unusual in legume tree genera and there has been some doubt as to whether the Neotropical and African Guibourtia species belong together.

To explore this and other questions, Guibourtia is currently the subject of an MSc study by Kew botanist Frances Crawford (supervised by Reading University). Frances is using morphological and genetic (DNA) data to investigate the genus. Preliminary results indicate that the neotropical species is a true Guibourtia that arrived in the Neotropics from Africa by long distance dispersal.

Threats and conservation

Black hyedua is widespread in West Africa and several populations are known to occur within protected areas but its exploitation for timber could result in population decline. Based only on geographical range data from herbarium specimens, Guibourtia ehie is considered to be of Least Concern according to IUCN red list criteria (IUCN 2001).

However, it was previously assessed as Vulnerable (as a result of an assessment arising from an African regional workshop in 1996), and further research and fieldwork are required to verify its true conservation status.

Conservation assessments carried out by Kew

Guibortia ehie is being monitored as part of the 'Sampled Red List Index Project', which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.

Uses

Leaves of Guibourtia ehie
Leaves of Guibourtia ehie (Photo: William Hawthorne)

Guibourtia ehie is mainly used for timber production, which is a popular substitute for rosewood (Dalbergia species). It is used for fine furniture and cabinetwork, turnery, decorative veneers and flooring.

The bark exudes a gum if cut, but fresh gum is not produced in commercial quantities. However, ‘fossil’ resin (copal) is collected from the ground in parts of West Africa and made into sweet-smelling necklaces by local traders. In Nigeria, this resin is burnt for lighting.

This species at Kew

Pressed and dried specimens of Guibourtia ehie are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world by appointment. The details, including an image (pictured above), of one of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

Specimens of the wood and bark of black hyedua are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, available to researchers by appointment.

References and credits

Burkill, H.M. (1995). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa: Vol. 3 Families J – L: 129. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Contu, S. (2010). Guibourtia ehie. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

Lewis, G., Schrire, B., Mackinder, B. & Lock, J.M. (eds) (2005). Legumes of the World. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kew Science Editors: Barbara Mackinder and Frances Crawford
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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