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What Is African Walnut?

By C.B. Fox
Updated May 16, 2024
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The African walnut, Coula edulis, is an evergreen tree endemic to tropical and subtropical regions of West Africa. Though it has the word walnut in its name, the tree is not related to other walnut trees. In countries where the African walnut grows naturally, the various parts of the tree may be used as food, medicine, fuel, or building materials. The lumber from these trees is commonly exported to other parts of the world, where it is used for flooring or furniture.

A hardy tree, the African walnut can grow in a variety of soil conditions and tolerates low light well. It commonly grows in jungles, where an upper canopy may stop a great deal of sunlight from reaching the leaves of this tree. An evergreen, the African walnut tree keeps its leaves year round and produces flowers in the late spring and nuts in the autumn. The nuts resemble walnuts in size and shape, though not in flavor. Countries that grow African walnut trees may cook and eat the nuts, grind them into a flour, or render them into a cooking oil.

The wood of the African walnut can be used in the construction of houses or furniture. It is a sturdy wood that is resistant to weathering and many types of insect infestations, though it is susceptible to infestations of termites. The cost of exporting the wood of this tree makes it impractical for use in large construction projects in areas outside of West Africa, though it is commonly used around the world for flooring or specialty furniture. In West African nations, the wood is used frequently in buildings, bridges, and other large structures. The wood of the African walnut is also commonly made into a charcoal for cooking.

An attractive wood, the African walnut is popular for both its color and grain. The heartwood of the tree, which comprises the largest portion of the wood, ranges from a dark, golden-yellow to a reddish-brown, often with darker veins that run through it. The outer portion of the wood, called the sapwood, is usually gray or pale yellow. The grain of the wood is considered to be quite lustrous, and has medium-sized pores and texturing. In many trees, the grain is interlocked, which can make it difficult to create long, straight boards out of the African walnut. It can, however, be worked easily from different angles and sides, which makes it desirable as a wood for furniture.

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