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Tree Species

Our Tree Species

Source: Better Globe Forestry

Melia volkensii (mukau)

Melia volkensii belongs to the Meliaceae or mahogany family, primarily found in tropical regions of Central America, West Africa, and Central Africa, with a few exceptions. Traditional mahogany species like Swietenia, Entandrophragma, and Cedrela naturally occur in rainforests, while Khaya anthotheca and K. senegalensis can tolerate drier conditions.

Among the mahogany species, Melia volkensii thrives in the driest settings. It is indeed a true mahogany, as confirmed by wood technologists from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) through analysis (refer to the two tables below).

Melia trees in Nyongoro
Melia trees in Nyongoro

Some physical properties of mukau (Melia volkensii), mahogany (Khaya spp), and teak (Tectona grandis): 

PropertyMeliaMahoganyTeak
Average density (kg/m3)-[air dry]620 (Moderately heavy)685 (Moderately heavy)650 (Moderately heavy)
Heartwood and sapwood colourPale brown sapwood to Pale red heartwoodPale brown sapwood to Pinkish brown to deep red heartwoodLight golden with dark markings
Texture and grainCoarse textured with straight grainsCoarse textured with straight or interlocked grainsUneven coarse textured with straight grains

Some mechanical properties of mukau (Melia volkensii), mahogany (Khaya spp) and teak (Tectona grandis).

PropertyMeliaMahoganyTeak
Bending strength (MOR) [N/mm2]74-9650-11081-196
Bending stiffness (MOE) [KN/mm2]5.8-9.27.8-10.37.6-17.5
Crushing strength [N/mm2]42-5624-5334-70
Shear strength (parallel to grain) [N/mm2]14-1814-Aug16-May
Hardness [N/mm2]3.5-5.13.4-5.73.8-4.8

Interestingly, this species is exceptional in its ability to grow rapidly and produce high-value timber in relatively dry areas with a mean annual rainfall of 350-900mm. Indigenous to East Africa, it is predominantly found in Kenya, particularly in semi-arid and warm regions. It can tolerate various soil types but prefers sandy soils. Locally, it is known as mukau and is highly valued by farmers in Kenya’s drylands of the former Eastern Province.

Recognizing its quality timber, fast growth, and adaptability to dry environments, KEFRI and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have conducted a breeding program for M. volkensii for nearly 20 years. This effort has led to the establishment of provenance and progeny trials since 2015, which also serve as seed orchards where KEFRI harvests seeds for sale.

Our partner Better Globe Forestry aims for a maximum rotation period of 20 years, although this may vary depending on rainfall levels and agroforestry setups.

Four year-old-Melia-volkensii-trees
Four year-old-Melia-volkensii-trees

Melia volkensii Gallery

A mature Melia tree, selected by KEFRI for their melia conservation and breeding programme.
A mature Melia tree, selected by KEFRI for their melia conservation and breeding programme.
The potential of Melia. This tree has a diameter at breast height (DBH)of above 45cm and a commercial stem about 7m longe.
The potential of Melia. This tree has a diameter at breast height (DBH)of above 45cm and a commercial stem about 7m longe.
The potential of Melia.
The potential of Melia.
A tree that is at least 12 years old. Its commercial height is above 8m.
A tree that is at least 12 years old. Its commercial height is above 8m.

Melia azedarach (giant lira)

Melia azedarach, botanically related to Melia volkensii, is less drought-resistant and requires more rainfall. It is also considered a mahogany-type tree capable of producing valuable timber, as confirmed by preliminary timber analysis conducted by KEFRI’s wood technology scientists. This species is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions but originates from Southeast Asia and northern Australia.

Our co-operation partner Better Globe Forestry (BGF) collaborates with farmers in northern Uganda to plant Melia azedarach, where higher rainfall allows the species to mature in 12 to 15 years. Locally, it is known as the giant lira and is well-known among farmers. Silvicultural management practices, such as spacing and pruning, are similar to those applied to M. volkensii, but seedling production is less complicated.

Melia azedarach Gallery

Four-month-old seedlings of M. azedarach, planted by a Better Globe Forestry partner-farmer in Dokolo District.
Four-month-old seedlings of M. azedarach, planted by a Better Globe Forestry partner-farmer in Dokolo District.
Two-and-a-half-year-old M. azedarach trees, in Abongowo, Dokolo District.
Two-and-a-half-year-old M. azedarach trees, in Abongowo, Dokolo District.
A mature M. azedarach tree, about 12 - 15 years old in Dokolo District. Note the straight stem.
A mature M. azedarach tree, about 12 – 15 years old in Dokolo District. Note the straight stem.
The same tree from a distance.
The same tree from a distance.

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