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Adenanthera pavonina L. 1753
pronounced: ad-en-AN-ther-uh pav-ON-ee-nuh
(Mimosaceae – the wattle family)
common names: Red Bead Tree, Saga Seed Tree, Red Sandalwood
Adenanthera is from two Greek words, αδην (adén), a gland, and ανθος (anthos), a flower, anther. The anthers are tipped with a deciduous gland. Pavonina is from the Latin pavo (pavonis), a peacock – like a peacock.
The red bead tree comes originally from South-east China and India, and it has been introduced throughout much of the humid tropics. It has become naturalized in Malaysia, western and eastern Africa, and on most islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean. Cultivated in home gardens and often protected in forest clearings and village common areas, this useful tree provides quality fuelwood, wood for furniture, food, and shade for economic crops such as coffee and spices.
This is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree, ranging in height from 6 to 14 m, with diameters up to 45 cm depending on the location. It is generally erect, with dark brown to greyish bark and a spreading crown. Multiple stems are common, as are slightly buttressed trunks in older trees.
The leaves are bipinnate with 2 – 6 opposite pairs of pinnae, each having 8 – 21 leaflets on short stalks. The alternate leaflets, 2 – 2.5 cm wide and 3 cm long, are oval-oblong with an asymmetric base and a blunt apex, coloured dark green on top and blue-green beneath. The leaves yellow with age. The flowers are borne in narrow spike-like racemes, 12 – 15 cm long, at branch ends. They are small, creamy-yellow in colour, and fragrant. Each flower is star-shaped with 5 petals, connate at the base. There are 10 prominent stamens, bearing anthers tipped with minute glands. The curved pods are long and narrow, 15 – 22 cm by 2 cm, with slight constrictions between the seeds. As they ripen, they become dark brown and eventually black. The leathery pods curve and twist upon dehiscence to reveal the 8–12 showy seeds characteristic of this species. The hard-coated seeds, 7.5 – 9 mm in diameter, are lens-shaped, a vivid scarlet in colour, and adhere to the pods. The ripened pods remain on the tree for long periods, and may persist until the following spring.
As mentioned above, this tree is esteemed for firewood in the Pacific islands, often being sold in local markets. The wood burns readily, producing significant heat, and is used in both above- and below-ground ovens. Good sized wood, 11 cm or more in diameter, can be produced in 5 years. The wood is hard and durable, having red-coloured heartwood with light grey sapwood. It is close- and even-grained, making it useful for constructing furniture and decorative wood products, as well as for building. The seeds are roasted for food, or, in some places, boiled. Historically, especially in India, the seeds were used as weight measures for jewellery and goldsmithing, due to their small variation in weight (4 seeds make up about 1 gramme). They are still used as beads. The tree is cultivated from seed. The seed coat is extremely hard and requires scarification if even germination is to occur. Untreated seeds can be stored for up to 18 months.
Various parts of the tree are used to treat boils, promote the discharge of pus, make a tonic, make soap, and a red dye is extracted from the heartwood.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken 2010-2017, Nelly Bay
Page last updated 1st October 2016