The African whitewood (Triplochiton scleroxylon), known as arere in Yoruba and obeche in Bini, is a large fast-growing tree, reaching 65 m (213 ft), usually with a straight trunk and buttresses up to about 8 m (26 ft) high. It belongs to the family Sterculiaceae and is common in semi-deciduous rainforests from Sierra Leone to Gabon and Congo, including secondary forests where it may fill gaps as a pioneer species.
Trees are often found in clusters of 10 or more, often in the transition zone between rainforest and savannah. Another common name is African maple, referring to the hand-shaped (palmate) leaves, which are 10-15 cm long and have 5-7 lobes. Flowering takes place in the dry season, usually from December to March and at intervals of 2 to 7 years. The flowers are saucer-shaped and scented, with 5 white, hairy petals, I cm long, which are red-purple at the base and insect-pollinated. These are followed by brown fruits 6 cm (2.4 in) long, each with a single wing, which ripen in February to March and are dispersed by the wind.
Triplochiton scleroxylon has many uses. It is the host of the African silk moth, Anaphe venata, whose caterpillars feed on the leaves and spin huge cocoons from which a high quality traditional silk cloth called sanyan is made. The young leaves are edible and used occasionally as a vegetable in Nigeria. Medicinal uses are not recorded in Nigeria though in Côte d'Ivoire bark and root bark preparations are used to relieve painful menstruation and reduce oedema in pregnancy.
The main use however is for timber. The wood is an important export, being in great demand for furniture, shingles, frames, beams, crates, boxes, veneers and plywood. It is soft, easily worked, and takes stains well. It is also used for paper pulp. As a result of over-exploitation, trees are scarce in many areas or locally extinct, and there is concern about genetic erosion. Attempts to grow Triplochiton in plantations have limited success due to insect damage. An alternative strategy would be to restore degraded forests using this species, as is being done successfully by the IITA Forest Project.