Endemic to the lowland forests of Southwest Cameroon, the African Zebrawood is much sought after for its beautiful black and creamy striped timber. Instantly recognisable, and one of the largest trees in the forest, it is a flagship species for a highly threatened ecosystem.
The zebrawood towers above other trees in the forest reaching a height of up to 40m. Its uppermost branches sprout a series of miniature leaves, each smaller than a paperclip, and its flowers resemble those of a garden pea.
Using a trick common to other members of the pea family, the zebrawood makes a significant contribution to ecosystem health. Beneath the tree’s large buttress roots, ectomycorrhizal associations with soil fungi are formed, and these support soil nutrient cycling.
The African Zebrawood is also of high economic value. It’s black and creamy striped timber fetches high prices from the international market and is subsequently a target for selective logging. This has led to the local extinction of the species from the foothills of Mount Cameroon.
Other parts of its former range have been converted to agriculture and populations of this tree are now known to exist in only two places in the world: in Korup National Park and in the Mokoko River Forest Reserve.
Conservation efforts for the species are supported by the on-going protection of the species at Korup National Park although the population at the Mokoko River Forestry Reserve is severely threatened by illegal logging, the expansion of palm oil plantations and oil mining.
In partnership with ERuDeF, the Global Trees Campaign is monitoring the remaining population at Mokoko River Forestry Reserve and collecting seeds from the surviving trees to support reintroduction of the species into secure areas of forest. In June 2014, 4,500 African zebrawood seedlings were planted into a community forest adjacent to Mount Cameroon National Park.
Cable, S. and Cheek, M. 1998. The Plants of Mount Cameroon, A Conservation Checklist. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Did you know?
The African zebrawood is one of 175 tree species native to Cameroon that are threatened with extinction.