| Hyphaene (high-FEHN-eh) |
Lobed fruit. Dungul Oasis, Egypt. Photo by Dr. William J. Baker, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb.
Habitat and DistributionBenin, Burkina, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea,
Hyphaene thebaica is distributed from Senegal and Gambia eastwards to Somalia, and is especially common between latitudes 8°N and 12°N. It also occurs in Libya, Egypt, Israel, the Arabian Peninsula and western India. Hyphaene thebaica is often planted. It was already cultivated in ancient Egypt, where it was considered sacred. (PROTA4U)
A palm tree easily recognizable by the dichotomy of its stem. Bole fairly smooth but clearly showing the scars of the fallen leaves. Bark dark grey. Leaves 120 x 180 cm, fan shaped, in tufts at the ends of branches with the blade divided into segments about 60 cm long. Male and female flowers on separate trees. The inflorescence is similar in both sexes, up to 1.2 m long. Male flowers shortly stalked, solitary in pits of the spadix, spathe-bracts encircling the spadix, pointed. Branches of female spadices stouter, in the fruiting stage marked by densely tomentose cushions after the fall of the fruit. Fruits 6-10 x 6-8 cm, smooth, shiny brown when ripe.
|Detailed Scientific Description|
Dioecious tree up to 20 m tall, with dichotomous branching; trunk solitary, up to 40 cm in diameter, soon dividing into 2 branches, which may divide again to give 8(–16) crowns, most of the trunk covered with leaf bases breaking up into fibres near the base of the trunk. Leaves spirally arranged into dense crowns, with 8–20 leaves per crown, fan-shaped, up to 1.5(–2) m long, sheathing at the base; petiole up to 140 cm long, margins brown or black with spines up to 1 cm long, hastula up to 1.5 cm long; costa up to 3.5(–8) cm long; blade 55–90 cm long, costapalmately divided for up to 75% of its length, with up to 40 segments, with a single fibre between each segment, blue-green; segments single-fold, apex divided, outer half with brown or pale scales. Inflorescence unisexual, axillary, between the leaves; male inflorescence up to 120 cm long, first erect, later pendulous, with a tubular prophyll opening out to a lanceolate blade, partial inflorescences 25–30 cm × 1 cm, rachillae up to 20 cm × c. 1 cm, bracts 7–8 mm × 3 mm and united into a pit with a small opening, flowers 3 per pit, arranged as a cincinnus; female inflorescence similar to male, up to 80 cm long, rachillas usually solitary, rarely 2 together, 12–25 cm × 1–2 cm, flowers 1 in each pit. Flowers unisexual, 3-merous; male flowers with minute green bracts, calyx with tubular base and 3 acute, hooded lobes, corolla with a basal stalk and 3 overlapping, obovate and hooded lobes, stamens 6, on the base of the corolla lobes; female flowers much larger than male ones, pedicel short and wide, sepals 3, free, triangular, acute and leathery, petals 3, rounded, somewhat smaller than sepals, scarious, staminodes 6, ovary globose, 3-locular, but only 1 locule fertile, stigmas 3, sessile. Fruit a drupe, highly variable in shape and size, ovate to globose to obovate, usually with some irregular bumps around the base and/or shoulders towards the apex, 4.5–9 cm × 4.5–7(–8) cm, sessile or with short and wide pedicel, smooth, yellowish brown to orange, red or dark red-brown, dull or shiny, 1-seeded; mesocarp 4–8 mm thick, dry, fibrous; endocarp 3–8 mm thick, bony. Seed shaped like fruit, 3–4 cm × 2.5–4 cm; endosperm white, with hollow centre.
Although more than 40 Hyphaene species have been recorded, the genus probably comprises only about 10 species, occurring in the drier parts of tropical and subtropical Africa, with a few species extending into the Middle East and the western coast of India. Its taxonomy is much confused and often misunderstood. It has been revised for East Africa, but a further revision for the other parts of Africa is badly needed. Records of Hyphaene thebaica in East Africa usually refer to Hyphaene compressa. (PROTA4U)
Hyphaene thebaica is propagated by seeds and suckers. The 1000-seed weight is 20–50 kg. Direct sowing instead of sowing in nurseries is recommended, as the radicle and plumule are buried deep before germination. Germination may start 1 month after sowing, but can also take up to a year.
After sowing, the soil must be kept moist for 2–3 months, but after that seedlings are able to withstand as much as 10 months drought. In germination trials in Niger freshly collected seeds germinated much better than 13-month-old seeds. Furthermore, untreated seeds had much lower germination than seeds with the pericarp removed and bare nuts (pericarp and endocarp removed). Fresh or 13-months-old seeds that had been soaked in water before sowing had higher germination than unsoaked seeds. The highest germination for freshly-collected seeds was obtained with mechanically-scarified seeds soaked in water for 3 days.
On germination, the cotyledon stalk buries the radicle and plumule to a depth of 60 cm. The first leaf is strip-shaped; fan-shaped leaves are produced from 2–3 years after germination onwards. The stem forms after 18–20 years. Flowering is usually in the second half of the rainy season. Pollination is by wind. The first fruits are produced after 6–8 years. The fruit ripens in 8–12 months. Elephants and baboons eat the fruits and disperse the seeds. Hyphaene spp. are pleonanthic, i.e. the stems do not die after flowering. Stems cut for tapping palm wine die, but the tree coppices from the root. The tree may produce suckers. The palm can be coppiced and lopped. (PROTA4U)
Comments and Curiosities
Uses: Strips from the young, unexpanded leaves are widely used for weaving mats, bags, baskets, hats, fans, strainers, bowls, rope, string, nets and coarse textiles. Older leaves are also used for weaving mats, hats, baskets, ropes, containers and other items. In the Sahel ropes for wells are often made from Hyphaene thebaica. The midveins of the leaf segments are used as frames for woven objects and tied together they are used as brooms. Whole leaves are used for thatching. In Eritrea the petioles are woven into bed mats and used in the construction of houses, fences and bridges. Fibres from the leaf blade are used for making rough bags, but extraction is laborious and the quality not high. Waste material from fibre extraction is used in Eritrea for stuffing and reinforcing cement. Fibre from the petiole is used for making sponges and brushes. The roots yield a fibre used for making snares and fishing nets and traps.
The trunk is used for house construction, fences, railway sleepers and canoes. Cut into planks it is made into canoes and water wheels. Hollowed trunks are used as water troughs and irrigation pipes. In Mali the wood is used for poles, shafts and harpoons. The wood is also used as fuel and for making charcoal. The leaves, rachis and fruits are used as fuel as well. Ash from the stem is used as a vegetable salt.
The apical bud is eaten as a vegetable (‘palm cabbage’). The heart at the base of the trunk is sometimes eaten cooked, and the hypocotyl of seedlings is also cooked and eaten. Sap is extracted from the tree just before flowering for the production of palm wine.
Young leaves and stems are browsed by livestock. In Sudan the young leaves are cut and dried to be used as fodder during the dry season. Older leaves are bitter and unpalatable. The male inflorescence is a fodder in Sudan. The fruit mesocarp of some trees is inedible, but that of other trees is very palatable, with a sweet, gingerbread-like taste. It is sometimes made into syrup or ground into meal, which is made into cakes and sweetmeat.
The fruits have a hard endocarp, and the ‘nuts’ are made into balls, toys and weapons. The endocarp is made into small containers. The hard kernel of mature seeds was formerly used as vegetable ivory for the production of buttons, beads and small carvings. The endosperm of unripe seeds is soft and has a cavity holding a liquid which is a much-savoured drink in northern Nigeria. The endosperm of unripe seeds is eaten raw or boiled. Dry fruits yield a black dye, used fur dyeing leather.
In traditional medicine in Mali a paste of the root is massaged on the chest to relieve chest-pain. In Benin a decoction of the leaves of Hyphaene thebaica and Elaeis guineensis Jacq., the aerial parts of Indigofera suffruticosa Mill. and the fruit of Xylopia aethiopica (Dunal) A.Rich. is drunk for the treatment of jaundice. A maceration of the root bark is taken for the treatment of intestinal colic and inguinal hernia. In Sudan an infusion of the leaf fibre is used as an eyewash for the treatment of conjunctivitis, and the fruit is eaten against stomach pain and bladder infection. The mesocarp is credited with diuretic properties, and a root extract is drunk in case of blood in the urine.
The ‘nuts’ were formerly exported, e.g. from Sudan and Eritrea, for the production of buttons and beads from the kernel and small boxes from the endocarp, but nowadays buttons are mainly made from plastic. The fruits are collected to be sold in towns. Bundles of leaf strips to be used for weaving, as well as woven products are traded on local markets.
Properties: Fresh leaves contain about 20% fibre, but the yield after decortication is only 12–13%. The fibre is about 40 cm long, and weaker and coarser than jute fibre. The ultimate fibres are (0.5–)1.5–2.1(–3.6) mm long and (10–)13–15(–25) μm wide. Leaf pulp can be made into good-quality paper, but available quantities are too low for commercial production. The ultimate fibres of the rachis are on average 0.8 mm long and 13.7 μm wide, with a cell wall thickness of 3.5 μm and a lumen width of 6.8 μm. Pulps obtained from the rachis by the soda-anthraquinone (soda-AQ), alkaline sulphite-anthraquinone (AS-AQ) and alkaline sulphite-anthraquinone-methanol (ASAM) processes had low strength properties and seemed unsuitable for competitive papermaking. However, blending with kenaf bark pulp gave paper suitable for writing and printing.
The wood of male trees is said to be hard, tough, durable and resistant to termites, but the wood of female trees is recorded to be more fibrous, less durable and more susceptible to attacks by termites and borers. The wood fibre cells are 0.8–1.5 mm long and 25–45 μm wide. Paper made from pulp obtained from the wood is of inferior quality.
Flour made from the pericarp contains per 100 g edible portion: moisture 10.7 g, energy 1239 kJ (296 kcal), protein 2.6 g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrates (including fibre) 79.0 g, fibre 14.0 g, ash 7.3 g, Ca 68 mg, thiamine 0.05 mg, riboflavin 0.10 mg and niacin 3.4 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968). The kernel contains per 100 g edible portion: moisture 5.7–6.2 g, energy 1654 kJ (395 kcal), protein 2.4–5.0 g, fat 4.9–8.0 g, carbohydrates (including fibre) 80.6 g, fibre 6.5–11.0 g, ash 1.9–5.4 g, Ca 121–168 mg and P 170–281 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968). Per 100 g dry matter the seeds contain 1.11 g tannic acid and 330 mg phytic acid.
The dried and ground fruit has shown hypotensive and hypolipidaemic effects. An aqueous extract of the fruit mesocarp stimulated contractions of frog’s heart and rat intestine, but inhibited uterine contractions in rats. The extract was capable of lowering the blood pressure in normal and hypertensive dogs, but had no diuretic effects in rabbits, and no oestrogenic and androgenic effects in rats. The aqueous extract contained alkaloids, reducing sugars and glucosides. Ethyl acetate, methanolic and aqueous extracts of the fruit shave shown antibacterial and antifungal activity. Aqueous and methanolic extracts of the fruit have shown antioxidant activity, due to the presence of phenolic constituents. An aqueous extract of the leaf showed strong radical scavenging activity. Aqueous root suspensions showed hypolipidaemic activity in rats, but were also found to be toxic to both the liver and the kidneys.
To obtain weaving material, the segments are separated and are made supple by wetting them, the midvein is removed, and the blade is divided into strips, with the width depending on the article to be made. In Eritrea fibre has been extracted from the leaves with machines. Before being decorticated, the leaves were soaked in water for 24 hours. Fibre is obtained from the roots by soaking them for 2–3 days and beating them with pieces of wood.
Hyphaene thebaica is an extremely useful multipurpose tree for arid and semi-arid regions, yielding fibre, construction material, food, fodder and a range of other products. In Eritrea it plays an important role in food security: it provides food in times of food shortage and the leaves are a source of income. To assure its availability in the future, care should be taken that the species is exploited in a sustainable way. The variability in the fruit quality may offer scope for selection and breeding.
Hyphaene thebaica has a wide distribution area and is often common, but it is locally overexploited and endangered. In Niger, for instance, entire juvenile leaves are cut from young palms too regularly and intensively, resulting in a change of the normal arborescent habit into a subterranean-creeping habit. In Eritrea the felling of living trees is illegal. (PROTA4U)
The legendary Doum palm from North-east Africa was well known to the ancient Egyptians who buried large numbers of the fruits in the tombs of their pharaos. The large seeds germinate easily and readily, and should be planted in deep containers since they produce long 'sinkers' before any top growth is visible. If you are looking for a palm that can grow on salt, this is it! Yes, you are reading right, salt! This shrubby Hyphaene populates salt flats, in some places it even seems to grow on encrusted salt banks, where the ground looks white, as if covered in freshly fallen snow, a most incredible sight especially when you can feel the unbelievable heat that characterizes this area. The Afar Depression, between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti, includes the lowest point in Africa and one of the hottest places on earth. It also experiences very low rainfall and it is a miracle anything can grow here. Hyphaene dankaliensis in most places forms a low shrub with a forking trunk growing along the ground. Only in the most favorable locations it can grow taller and develop a modest aboveground trunk. The leaves vary from green to gray and are held by beautiful, bright yellow leaf stalks which are armed with black thorns along their margins. (RPS.com) Editing by edric.
- Glossary of Palm Terms
- MODERN BOTANICAL LATIN
- "Just To Be Clear"
Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.
Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.
Special thanks to Palmweb.org, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.
Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).
Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.