1. Family: Fabaceae Lindl.
    1. Genus: Pterocarpus Jacq.
      1. Pterocarpus lucens Lepr. ex Guill. & Perr.

        The generic name Pterocarpus comes from the Greek for ‘winged fruit’ and refers to the shape of the circular, winged, single-seeded fruits which are characteristic of most Pterocarpus species. The specific epithet lucens comes from the Latin for ‘shining light’, and it probably refers to the bright yellow appearance of these trees when seen from a distance in the flowering season.


    Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

    Deciduous tree up to 7.5–18 m. tall, generally with a straight trunk and spreading crown; bark usually rough, grey-brown; slash yellowish, exuding red gum.
    Branchlets appressed pubescent, soon glabrescent.
    Leaves (6.5–)10–28 cm. long, compound or rarely (and not in East Africa) some or all 1-foliolate; stipules linear, 2–3 mm. long, early caducous; lateral leaflets (0–)1–5 on either side, mostly subopposite, broadly lanceolate to ovate or elliptic, up to 4–10 cm. long, 2.4–4.8 cm. wide, narrowed or acuminate to the bluntly pointed or emarginate tip, broadly cuneate or rounded at base, bright green above, chartaceous, glabrous or rapidly glabrescent above, appressed puberulous beneath; primary lateral nerves curved-ascending, ± 12–18 on either side, looped near margin; venation laxly reticulate, prominent on both surfaces.
    Racemes in axils of current and fallen leaves, 6–20(–30) cm. long, rather few- to many-flowered; bracts small, fugaceous; bracteoles at top of the slender 10–18 mm. long pedicel, very small, fugaceous.
    Calyx shortly lobed, 4–6 mm. long, with hairs at mouth of the tube inside, otherwise glabrous, often coloured with reddish gum-exudate.
    Corolla 10–14 mm. long, yellow, fragrant; standard broadly obovate; wings broadly expanded, enveloping keel and nearly as long as the standard.
    Fruit ± semi-orbicular, with a relatively narrow coriaceous wing produced slightly to the subterminal style-base and partially decurrent on to the (0.5–)1–2 cm. long stipe, 4.5–6.5 cm. long, 2–3 cm. wide, glabrous, laxly venose.
    Fig. 16/1, 2, p. 83.

    Papilionaceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:2. 1958

    A small tree, 20–30 ft. high
    Light yellow flowers
    In savannah forest

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Small-leaved bloodwood is an African shrub or tree with many uses, and is considered threatened in northern Burkina Faso.

    The generic name Pterocarpus comes from the Greek for ‘winged fruit’ and refers to the shape of the circular, winged, single-seeded fruits which are characteristic of most Pterocarpus species. The specific epithet lucens comes from the Latin for ‘shining light’, and it probably refers to the bright yellow appearance of these trees when seen from a distance in the flowering season.

    Small-leaved bloodwood belongs to the pea and bean family (Leguminosae) and is found extensively throughout the semi-arid regions of tropical Africa. It provides a beautiful yellow, sweetly-scented display when flowering in the dry season, just before leaf-set or whilst bearing young leaves. Flowering often lasts only a few days and typically occurs in November and December. The fruits normally develop between January and May. The wind-dispersed, winged fruits remain on the tree for a long time after maturity.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Widely distributed in dry, tropical Africa from the Sahel (Senegal and Mali, to Nigeria and Cameroon) in the west to Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda in eastern Africa, and, after a gap, again in southern Angola, Namibia and Mozambique. 

    It is found growing from 550–1,520 m above sea level. It sometimes forms thickets and can form pure stands of tall trees in lowland sites on well-drained, deep, sandy soils. At higher elevations, or on stony, rocky or lateritic soils, it grows as a low, branching shrub.


    Overview:  Pterocarpus lucens varies from being a low-branching, deciduous shrub, to a full tree up to 18 m tall, with a trunk diameter up to 80 cm. The bark is dark grey-brown and fissured or flaky, and exudes a red, sticky resin when cut. 

    Leaves:  The leaves are compound, 10–28 cm long, with up to 11 (usually five or seven) leaflets. The leaflets are orbicular, elliptic or ovate, 3–8 cm long and 1.5–5 cm wide. The leaflets are fresh grassy green, glossy above, but much paler (and with a covering of fine hairs) below. The stipules (appendages at the base of leaf stalks) are linear, 2–3 mm long and fall off early. The spindly, hairless petiole (leaf stalk) is 10–20 cm long.

    Flowers:  The inflorescences are produced on leafy branches and are composed of light yellow, sweetly-scented flowers on long stalks (8–15 mm). The flowers are the shape of pea-flowers, with a five-toothed calyx (4–8 mm long) and a corolla (10–15 mm long) with five crinkly petals.

    Fruits:  The ovate, flattened fruits are pale creamy-brown with a wing surrounding the seed chamber, which holds one, rarely two seeds. The fruits are 4.5–6.5 cm long and 2–3 cm wide, including the wing. The central, seed-bearing portion has a hard, thick wall that protects the seeds from desiccation. The fruits remain attached to the tree for a long time.

    Pterocarpus lucens is, like all other Pterocarpus species, pollinated by bees, which are attracted by the yellow display of sweetly-scented flowers. The flattened, winged, one-seeded fruits are an adaptation to wind dispersal in the rainy season.

    Subspecies of Pterocarpus lucens

    Two subspecies of Pterocarpus lucens were recognised by J.P. Rojo in his monograph of Pterocarpus in 1972: P. lucens subsp. lucens is distributed from west to east across dry tropical Africa, while P. lucens subsp. antunesii is restricted to southern Africa: southern Angola, Namibia and Mozambique.

    A recent Kew study by Saslis-Lagoudakis and collaborators, examined the relationship between the two subspecies and confirmed classification.

    Molecular studies at Kew

    Pterocarpus lucens was recently included in a molecular study of the evolutionary relationships between all known Pterocarpus species. The research, by Saslis-Lagoudakis and collaborators, showed P. lucens to be most closely related to P. brenanii and P. rotundifolius , which are both southern African species.

    Threats and conservation

    Pterocarpus lucens was recently assessed as of Least Concern (LC) on a global basis, according to IUCN Red List criteria. Yet, it is considered by some to be seriously threatened locally, for example in northern Burkina Faso. Small-leaved bloodwood is widely used for timber, and parts are also removed for medicinal and edible purposes. It is not thought to regenerate well.

    Locally, there is high pressure on populations of P. lucens because of the popularity of its wood for house construction, increasing demand for fuelwood and frequent harvesting of the leaves for fodder. Prolonged dry seasons can lead to trees dying as they have a relatively poorly-developed root system that is often damaged by termites, and also because they are often weakened by regular harvesting of leaves for fodder.

    Some conservation measures are in place. Small-leaved bloodwood is known to occur within the protected areas network, and seeds have been collected by the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership as a method of ex-situ conservation. It has been recommended that a monitoring program is put into place to ensure that Pterocarpus lucens does not suffer a population decline due to over-exploitation.

    Conservation assessments carried out by Kew

    Pterocarpus lucens 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.


    The whitish timber of small-leaved bloodwood is medium-hard and easy to work. It is used locally for joinery, flooring, furniture, shipbuilding, vehicle bodies and railway sleepers, for example. It is also used as firewood as it gives a hot flame and produces little smoke.

    The resinous bark is used for tanning leather, and also medicinally in the treatment of dysentery and as a powerful astringent. The roots, leaves and bark are also variously used to treat headaches, diarrhoea and tapeworms, and the leaves are used to heal wounds.

    The leaves and fruits are harvested and sold as animal fodder, and cooked young leaves are eaten as a vegetable, serving as an appetiser.

    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 = 168.55 g

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Five

    Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive drying without significant reduction in their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)

    Germination testing: 100% germination was achieved with a pre-sowing treatment (seed scarified = chipped with scalpel), on a 1% agar medium, at a temperature of 26°C, and a cycle of 12 hours daylight/12 hours darkness.

    This species at Kew

    Pressed and dried specimens of Pterocarpus lucens are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details, including images, of some of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

    Specimens of bark and gum from P. lucens are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection.

    Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mali
    Wooded grassland, savanna, low altitude woodland and rocky hills.
    Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria. Considered to be locally threatened in northern Burkina Faso.

    None known.

    Timber, firewood, tanning, medicinal, edible leaves and fruits.



    Found In:

    Burkina, Cameroon, Central African Repu, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zaïre

    Common Names

    Small-leaved bloodwood

    Pterocarpus lucens Lepr. ex Guill. & Perr. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jan 1, 1969 Kitson, A. [836], Ghana K000239592
    Jan 1, 1969 Kennedy, J.D. [7238], Nigeria K000239594
    Jan 1, 1969 Dalziel, J.M. [s.n.], Nigeria K000239596
    Jan 1, 1969 Wilde, W.J.J.O. de [10714], Ethiopia K000627811
    Jan 1, 1966 Eggeling, W.J. [1279], Uganda K000627808
    Nongonierma, A. [556], Senegal K000239583
    Diallo, D. [295], Mali K000239584
    Chevalier, A.J.B. [1003], Mali K000239588
    Lécard, T. [43], Mali K000239589
    Lécard, T. [60], Mali K000239590
    Hall [46313], Ghana K000239591
    Dalziel, J.M. [s.n.], Nigeria K000239597
    Wickens, G.E. [2936], Sudan K000627812
    Wickens, G.E. [3621], Sudan K000627813
    Francis, D. [55], Sudan K000627814
    Friis, I. [11699], Ethiopia K000627816
    Breteler, F.J. [1155], Cameroon K000627817
    Gerard [844], Congo, DRC K000627820
    Troupin, G. [1252], Congo, DRC K000627821

    First published in Fl. Seneg. Tent.: 228 (1832)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015) The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan . Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [2] Kalema, J. & Beentje, H. (2012) Conservation checklist of the trees of Uganda . Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [6] (2009) Scripta Botanica Belgica 41: 1-517
    • [7] Mannheimer, C.A. & Curtis, B.A. (eds.) (2009) Le Roux and Müller's field guide to the trees and shrubs of Namibia , rev. ed.: 1-525. Macmillan Education Namibia, Windhoek
    • [11] Barry, J. P. & Celles, J.S. (1991) Flore de Mauritanie 1: 1-359. Centre Regional de Documentation Pedagogique, Nice.
    • [12] Jones, M. (1991) A checklist of Gambian plants . Michael Jones, The Gambia College
    • [13] Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991) Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso . Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort
    • [14] (1989 publ. 1990) Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps
    • [15] Lock, J.M. (1989) Legumes of Africa a check-list . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [16] Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986) Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali . Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux
    • [17] Brunel, J.F., Hiepo, P. & Scholz, H. (eds.) (1984) Flore Analytique du Togo Phanérogames: 1-751. GTZ, Eschborn
    • [18] Boulvert, Y. (1977) Catalogue de la Flore de Centrafrique 3: 1-89. ORSTROM, Bangui
    • [19] Peyre de Fabregues, B. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1976) Catalogue des Plantes Vascularies du Niger . Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort
    • [20] Lebrun, J.-P., Audru, J., Gaston, A. & Mosnier, M. (1972) Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Tchad Méridional . Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort


    • [3] Saslis-Lagoudakis, C., Klitgaard, B.B., Forest, F., Francis, L., Savolainen, V., Williamson, E.M. & Hawkins, J.A. (2011). The use of phylogeny to interpret cross-cultural patterns in plant use and guide medicinal plant discovery: an example from Pterocarpus (Fabaceae: Dalbergieae). PLoS ONE (Public Library of Science).
    • [4] Groom, A. (2010). Pterocarpus lucens. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [5] Saslis-Lagoudakis, C., Forest, F., Hawkins, J.A., Francis, L. & Klitgaard, B.B. (2010). Repeated transoceanic long-distance dispersal in the history of the pantropical genus Pterocarpus (Fabaceae). Poster at 5th International Biogeographical Society meeting (Crete, 2011).
    • [8] Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (2008). Pterocarpus lucens Lepr. Ex Guill.& Perr. In: Plant Resources of Tropical Africa, Timbers 1. D. Louppe, A.A. Oteng-Amoako & M. Brink, pp. 482-383. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen.
    • [9] Brummitt, R.K., Harder, D.K., Lewis, G.P., Lock, J.M., Polhill, R.M. & Verdcourt, B. (2007). Leguminosae: Flora Zambesiaca 3. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [10] Sacandé, M. & Sanon, M.D. (2007) Pterocarpus lucens Lepr. Hørsholm: Forest & Landscape Denmark.
    • [21] Rojo in Phanerogam. Monogr. 6: 48 (1971).
    • [22] Hepper in Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 517 (1958).
    • [23] Hauman in Flore du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi, 6: 17 (1954).
    • [24] F. W. Andr., The Flowering Plants of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan 2: 226 (1952).
    • [25] Aubrév. Fl. For. Soud.-Guin. 312, t. 63, 1–2.
    • [26] Aubrév., Fl. For. Soud.-Guin.: 312, t. 63/1, 2 (1950).
    • [27] Bak. f. Leg. Trop. Afr. 2: 539
    • [28] Bak. f., Leguminosae of Tropical Africa: 539 (1929).
    • [29] Chev. Bot. 212
    • [30] Harms in A. Engler & O. Drude, Die Vegetation Der Erde, IX, Pflanzenwelt Afrikas 3 (1): 633 (1915).
    • [31] Bak. in Flora of Tropical Africa 2: 238 (1871), pro parte, excl. specim. Kirk.
    • [32] —F.T.A. 2: 238
    • [33] Guill. & Perr. in Fl. Seneg. Tent.: 228 (1832).
    • [34] in Guillemin, Perrottet & Richard, Fl. Seneg. Tent.: 228 (1832).


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