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(Amharic) : dokma
(English) : snake bean tree, water berry, waterboom, waterpear, woodland waterberry
(Luganda) : kalunginsanvu, muziti
(Ndebele) : umdoni
(Shona) : mukute
(Swahili) : msambaran, mzambarai, mzambarani, mzambarau, mzambarau mwitu, mzuari
(Tigrigna) : Liham
Syzygium guineense is a medium-sized or tall evergreen tree, 15-30 m high. The bark varies in subspecies and is greyish-white or silver mottled and smooth in young trees, turning rough, flaky, creamy, light grey, dark brown or black in older trees. Bark scales in rectangular flakes and produces red, watery sap if cut; slash is fibrous, even pale brown to dark red-brown. Branchlets sometimes drooping. Crown rounded and heavy; stems thick and angular. Bundles of fibrous aerial roots, about 2 m up the bole, have been observed in Botswana. Leaves narrow at both ends, length 5-17.5 cm, width 1.3-7.5 cm; simple, opposite, elliptic, lanceolate or ovate-elliptic; with margins that are untoothed and sometimes slightly wavy and rolled inward; apex obtuse to acuminate and rounded, occasionally notched; base cuneate; stalk short and grooved; midrib sunken on top, raised below, with many fine, lateral veins; glabrous, grey-green, tough, shiny; fragrant when crushed. Flowers (filaments) 1.5 cm in diameter, sessile or subsessile, fragrant, creamy white; borne in terminal panicles forming heads up to 10 x 10 cm, or with 4-8 widely spaced flowers in branched heads up to 3 cm in diameter; calyx persistent with 4 petals; stamens numerous, about 6 mm long. Petals fall early but the white stamens are showy, making a conspicuous short brush or puff contrasting with the red or pink calyx tips. Fruits ovoid or ellipsoid drupes, 1.2-3.5 cm x 1 x 2.5 cm, 2-3 celled, in bunches of 20 to 30, whitish-green when immature, turning to shiny purplish-black and juicy after ripening; 1-seeded. Seeds are 1.3-1.4 cm in diameter, yellowish to brownish and rounded. ‘Syzygium’ is derived from the Greek ‘syzygios’ (‘paired’), on account of the leaves and twigs that in several species grow at the same point. The specific name means ‘of Guinea’, where the tree was first collected. The common name ‘water pear’ refers to its preference for stream banks and to its wood, supposedly like that of a pear.
Ecology and distributionNatural Habitat
S. guineense usually occurs in lowland rain forests, mountain rain forests, fringing riverian swampy forests and open Brachystegia - Faurea woodland. It usually grows in moist conditions, sometimes even in water, and is usually found along streams and wadis and on rocky ground in high rainfall savannah.
Native : Botswana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Biophysical limitsAltitude: 0-2 100 m, Mean annual temperature: 10-30 deg. C, Mean annual rainfall: 1 000-2 300 mm Soil type: S. guineense prefers fresh, moist, well-drained soils with a high water table but will also grow in open woodlands.
S. guineense is able to interbreed with other species in the genus. Pollination agents are insects. Where there are 2 rainy seasons, the species flowers twice: during the short dry season and towards the end of the long rains. In areas with 1 rainy season, the species flowers once, starting towards the end of the dry season and extending into the rainy season.
Propagation and managementPropagation methodsThe species regenerates adequately in its natural habitats by seed and coppice. For successful germination and seedling establishment, the seed should come in contact with mineral soil and moisture. Artificial regeneration by direct sowing, seedlings, wildings and coppicing. Seed needs no presowing treatment, as germination rates are good and uniform. Rates of 80-90% are attained after 20 to 50 days. Seeds are sensitive to desiccation. Direct sowing into pots is recommended and planted stock could be planted and raised on cleared sites. Fruits are perishable hence should be picked from the ground soon after falling. They may also be collected by shaking the branches with hooks. After collection, the fruits should be sown out immediately as seeds will lose viability if they are dried; if this is not possible, fruit can be stored for a few days in moist sawdust and open containers in well ventilated rooms.
S. guineense is planted on cleared sites, tolerates pollarding and is able to coppice. The species is sensitive to crown competition and is a strong light demander, thus it could be necessary to refine the crop in natural forests to distribute growth potential to trees.
Seed storage behaviour is recalcitrant with seeds being spoiled in less than 24 hours of storage. On average, there are 2 400 to 3 700 seeds/kg.
Functional usesProductsFood: The ripe, pleasant-flavoured fruits of S. guineense are gathered and eaten. Apiculture: Flowers provide good bee forage. Timber: Syzgium guineense provides reddish-brown, hard, strong, durable wood, that is easy to work and is suitable for poles, posts and for building and bridge construction. Medicine: Fruit is used as a remedy for dysentery, while a decoction of the bark is used as an antidiarrhoeic. In traditional medicine, liquid from the pounded bark and roots, mixed with water, is used as a purgative. Poison: The poisonous bark has been reported to cause human deaths. Fuel: S. guineense is used as firewood and in the production of charcoal. Other products: Smoke from the burning wood is used to season milk containers.
Shade or shelter: The handsome evergreen tree is preserved in gardens for its deep shade.
Pests and diseasesS. guineense is liable to attack by a cerambicid beetle larva, which makes the timber defective. Inflorescence is frequently attacked by insects, in which case flowers do not develop and a spherical greenish-yellow head, 7.6-10.2 cm in diameter, is formed instead of the normal panicle. Vervet monkeys eat buds and flowers.
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