Herminiera elaphroxylon Guill. & Perr.
Common Name: Ambatsch
Aeschynomene elaphroxylon is a large shrub or small tree with prickly stems, growing up to 9 metres tall with occasional specimens up to 12 metres[
This species is one of the main sources of ambatch wood, a very light, pithy wood that can be used like balsa wood. It is used for a range of purposes such as floats and making canoes. It is often utilised locally and has the potential for wider application as a balsa wood substitute[
]. The tree is sometimes grown as an ornamental and for soil stabilization purposes.
Aeschynomene elaphroxylon is widespread with stable populations and does not face any major threats. The plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2019)[
Tropical Africa - Senegal east to Ethiopia and Kenya and south to Zambia, Angola and Mozambique.
Lakesides and pools; swamps bordering lakes; usually standing in 1 - 2 metres of water (with dense mats of adventitious roots from the stems); often in extensive stands; at elevations of 70 - 1,850 metres[
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The plant is well suited to seasonally flooded localities where the soil remains wet[
]. The lower part of the stem of plants in the wild is often submerged[
The plant is capable of rapidly colonizing rivers and swamps[
]. The stems and branches may form dense floating masses that clog watercourses[
The plant is sometimes grown as an ornamental for the beauty of its conspicuous orange-yellow flowers, especially along the sides of water where it also serves to prevent erosion[
This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[
The plant deserves more attention as a nitrogen fixing tree that is potentially useful for enhancing soil fertility in temporarily flooded agricultural land, e.g. as a green manure in rice cultivation[
It is grown along watersides both as an ornamental, for the beauty of its flowers, and also to prevent erosion[
When grown in wet areas it produces a massive root system with adventitious roots on the lower bole above the water level and also on prostrate stems and submerged parts. These become a barrier to floating vegetative flotsam, resulting in an accumulation of vegetative matter which settles and fills inundated areas[
The pale coloured and spongy wood is very light[
]. Known as ambatch wood, it weighs around 110 - 190 kilos per cubic metre and is one of the lightest known woods. It is used for making canoes, rafts and shields, and also for building poles and furniture[
The stems are used for fishing-net floats and sandals[
]. The wood is attached to spears to serve as a buoy[
This species could be a good substitute for the wood of balsa (Ochroma pyramidale) for special applications such as model making[
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