Hyphaene thebaica

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Hyphaene (high-FEHN-eh)
thebaica (theh-BIGH-kah)
Lobed fruit. Dungul Oasis, Egypt. Photo by Dr. William J. Baker, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Hyphaene (high-FEHN-eh)
thebaica (theh-BIGH-kah)
Hyphaene dankaliensis (1910)
Native Continent
Habit: Clustering & Given to aerial branching.
Leaf type: Palmate
Survivability index
Common names
Egyptian Doum Palm, Gingerbread tree

Habitat and Distribution

Benin, Burkina, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea,
Foster Botanical Gardens in downtown Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. Photo by BGL.
Ethiopia, Gambia, The, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Netherlands Antilles, Niger, Nigeria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sinai, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and Yemen. Hyphaene thebaica occurs in arid and semi-arid areas with an average annual rainfall of (50–)200–600 mm, from 100 m below sea level up to 1000 m altitude. It is found in river valleys, around oasis, in moist places in grassland and woodland and on floodplains, but also in drier locations. It usually grows on light soils and prefers a pH of 6.5–7.5. Hyphaene thebaica withstands fire and tolerates mild frost and moderate salinity, but does not tolerate stagnant water. The presence of the tree is considered an indicator of good soil with a high groundwater table.

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.


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.

External Links


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.

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