Cynometra (Cynometra webberi)

Cynometra webberi forest on both sides of road
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Cynometra fact file

Cynometra description

GenusCynometra (1)

Cynometra webberi is a relatively common component of the scattered remnants of forest which once covered much of the coast of east Africa (2) (3). It is a shrubby evergreen tree, 4.5 to 18 metres high, with buttress roots extending into a grey, smooth trunk topped by a bushy crown. The leaves are composed of three to four pairs of elliptical leaflets projecting from a central stem. During flowering, a stalk grows from the end of this stem, bearing small, sweet-smelling, white flowers. Like other members of the legume family, C. webberi produces its seeds in pods. These are green and elongated, reaching up to six centimetres in length and over three centimetres in width, and end in a sharp point (4).


Cynometra biology

Although there is currently little information about this species’ biology, it does play an important ecological role. The extensive C. webberi thickets within the Arabuko-Sokoke forest are inhabited by a number of threatened species, such as the Sokoke scops-owl (Otus ireneae) and the east coast akalat (Sheppardia gunningi) (2).


Cynometra range

C. webberi is found along the eastern coastal regions of Kenya and Tanzania, extending from the Kenyan districts of Kwale and Kilifi to north-eastern Tanzania (1) (4).


Cynometra habitat

C. webberi is a characteristic species of the Kenyan and Tanzanian dry coastal forests, where annual temperatures are high and rainfall is low. In the western parts of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest in Kenya, it is the dominant canopy forming species (1), growing abundantly in the region’s striking, red, sandy soil (2) (5).


Cynometra status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Cynometra threats

As a result of long-standing overexploitation for firewood and building materials, as well as clearance for agriculture and settlements, the once extensive forests of the east African coast have, today, been reduced to small, scattered fragments (2). The largest of these is the Arabuko-Sokoke forest, which covers an area of 420 square kilometres and contains the greatest population of C. webberi (2). Despite Arabuko-Sokoke’s protected status, pressure from increasing local human populations is ongoing and intensifying. The region’s poverty drives people to illegally exploit the forest, particularly targeting C. webberi because of its multiple uses as a building material, and for fuelwood and charcoal (3).


Cynometra conservation

The preservation of Arabuko-Sokoke is vital, as it supports a high number of endemic and rare species, and is ranked by BirdLife International as the second most important forest for bird conservation on mainland Africa (2). Unfortunately, people living around the forest frequently have a negative view of conservation; from their perspective it denies them access to the resources that they require to survive (3) (5). To overcome this, a number of organisations are working to create programs whereby local people can derive a sustainable income from the forest, without causing its destruction. For example, the Kipepeo Butterfly Project has trained local people to farm butterflies within the forest for export to overseas exhibits (6). If programs like these can be maintained, it may halt the otherwise inevitable destruction of the east African coastal dry forests (3).


Find out more

For further information about conserving the Arabuko-Sokoke forest see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


Buttress roots
Found in certain tree species, these are large roots which extend above the ground creating flares at the base of the trunk.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2008)
  2. BirdLife International (November, 2008)
  3. Burgess, N.D. and Clarke, G.P. (2000) Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa. IUCN Forest Conservation Programme. IUCN, Gland.
  4. Aluka (November, 2008)
  5. McClanahan, T.R. and Young, T.P. (1996) East African Ecosystems and Their Conservation. Oxford University Press US, New York.
  6. Kipepeo Butterfly Project (November, 2008)

Image credit

Cynometra webberi forest on both sides of road  
Cynometra webberi forest on both sides of road

© Richard W. Spjut

Richard W. Spjut


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