This small tropical tree is distributed across Kenya and Tanzania. It is found in the Coastal Forests Biodiversity Hotspot of Eastern Africa, where 43% of the roughly 4,050 plant species are endemic. Mkilua fragrans is found in several forest reserves – Witu, Mrima, Kwamgumi and Rondo, in sacred kaya forests – Muhaka, Kinondo and Chale, and in the Shimba Hills National Reserve and Mafia Marine Park.
Mkilua fragrans is in a single member genus – meaning that it is the only species in that genus, which was named after its name in Swahili, ‘Mkilua’. The essential oil from this tree has traditionally been used in the perfumery of local communities in Kenya. Recently, this essential oil has been found to have antifungal properties.
Most of the sites where this species occurs are not in protected areas and are under direct threat from agriculture, charcoal production and development projects. M. fragrans is reported to be relatively common where it occurs, but the population is declining due to the fragmentation of remaining coastal forests. It is estimated that this species is now only found in 10 locations. Saving this tree species will provide an exciting opportunity to enhance the livelihoods of local communities through the sustainable harvesting of the essential oil.
Survey work will be carried out in remaining coastal forest fragments to determine if other populations of this species exist and to identify community partners. Propagation material will be collected and propagation protocols will be developed so that community nurseries can be established. Experimentation will begin on techniques for the extraction of the essential oil of this tree. Areas for restoration planting will be identified, along with any additional species for restoration. Seedlings will be planted in community homesteads and community-based oil extraction facilities will be established along with the expansion of the propagation and restoration programme.