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Exploring Cordia Species in Kenya

Exploring Cordia Species in Kenya


Kenya's diverse landscapes are home to a rich array of plant life, including several Cordia species. As part of the Boraginaceae family, the Cordia genus boasts around 300 shrubs and trees, mostly thriving in warmer regions globally. These plants not only enhance the visual appeal of their surroundings but also play pivotal roles in supporting local ecosystems. Let's delve into the distinctive Cordia species found in Kenya:

  1. Cordia sinensis: A Lifeline Along the Turkwel River

Also known as the bush Cordia or grey-leaved Cordia, is a small, multi-stemmed tree with a distinctive grey bark and Grey-green,sandpapery leaves with rounded or notched tips. Its fruits are orange-red like egg yolk with very sticky edible pulp.

Reaching up to 12 meters, it withstands harsh drought conditions, thriving in areas with just 600-1000mm of annual rainfall. Its intricate root system delves deep, extracting precious moisture from the depths and offering stability against the wind's fury. These adaptations allow it to flourish in areas where many other trees struggle.

Along the banks of the Turkwel River thrives the Cordia sinensis, a tree known for its vibrant orange berries. These fruits, though initially bitter, hold a special significance for the Turkana people. Women in the community have mastered the art of boiling the berries to remove the bitterness, transforming them into a nutritious and delicious food source for their families. This age-old practice not only provides essential vitamins and minerals but also serves as a testament to the community's deep understanding and appreciation of their natural environment.

The gum from the tree is also edible and its leaves and fruits provide nutritious fodder for goats, sheep, cattle, and camels, sustaining vital livestock populations in arid regions. The sweet, edible fruits, enjoyed by humans and monkeys alike, offer a valuable source of sustenance. Its strong, flexible wood is used for building poles, fences, and even tool handles.

  1. Cordia Subcordata: A Coastal Gem

Standing tall by the sea, the seaside Cordia, with its heart-shaped leaves and sweetly scented flowers, is a familiar sight on the coastlines of Kenya.

Image source: CABI Compendium

This resilient tree thrives in the face of salty winds, sandy soil, its spreading branches and lush foliage offering welcome shade and shelter. It plays a crucial role in coastal ecosystems, helping to control erosion by stabilizing sandy soils and preventing land loss.

Beyond its ecological importance, the seaside Cordia boasts undeniable aesthetic appeal. Its large leaves and beautiful flowers make it a popular choice for landscaping, adding a touch of tropical charm to coastal gardens and landscapes.

Image source: Wikipedia

But the uses of this versatile tree extend far beyond decoration. Its lightweight, buoyant wood finds its way into canoes and fishing equipment, while its inner bark is woven into baskets, dance skirts, hats, and fans. Traditionally, it has been used in medicines and dyes.

It is planted as a windbreak, living fence, or for coastal protection, the seaside Cordia embodies the spirit of resilience and beauty, making it a true gem of the coast.

  1. Cordia africana: Giant among Cordia species

Cordia africana is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree or rounded crown. often reaching heights of 15 to 30 meters. The tree is characterized by its broad umbrella-shaped , glossy leaves and small, fragrant white flowers that develop into plum-like fruits.

Image source: Research gate

In Kenya, flowering is from April to June. It is repeated at intervals over several weeks and is evidently triggered off by rain showers. After pollination by insects, fruit development takes a period of almost 6 months.

It has been used in the manufacture of drums, flooring, high-quality furniture, window making, interior decking. The wood can be used to manufacture beehives which can be kept in this tree where the bees can live off the plentiful supply of nectar which comes from the flowers. In addition the tree supplies leaves for forage and an edible fruit.


Oldfield, S. (2019). "Cordia subcordata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2019: e.T33199A67739216. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T33199A67739216.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.

~ "Cordia africana" (PDF). AgroForestryTree Database. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-01-31. Retrieved 4 October 2010.