Parkinsonia aculeata (Mexican palo-verde)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Wood Products
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Parkinsonia aculeata L.
Preferred Common Name
- Mexican palo-verde
Other Scientific Names
- Parkinsonia spinosa H.B.K.
- Parkinsonia thornberi M.E. Jones
International Common Names
- English: Barbados flower fence; Jerusalem thorn; Mexican paloverde; parkinsonia; retama
- Spanish: Cina-cina; palo verde
- French: Epine de Jerusalem; Genet epineux
Local Common Names
- Argentina: cina cina; retamo rojo; sina sina
- Barbados: holy thorn; royal cashiaw
- Brazil: espinho de Jerusalem; rosa da turquia; rosa da turquina; turco
- Costa Rica: sulphato
- Cuba: espinillo; junco marino; palo de rayo; pararrayo
- El Salvador: sulphato
- Gambia: barkasoñé; barkasonyo; julugodi; parkasonu
- Germany: Jerusalemdorn; Stacheliger Ginsterbaum
- Ghana: zugu-bai-tia
- Guatemala: palo de rayo; sulphatillo; sulphato
- India: adanti; bawal; kikar; pardeshi baval; ram baval; rombawal; sima tumma; sima-tumma; vedi-badhal; vilayati babul; vilayati kikar
- Italy: Ginestra spinosa; Spina di Jerusalem
- Mexico: bacapore; bagote; cacaporo; cahuinga; guacóporo; guichebella; guichibelle; haocóporo; junco; junco marino; mezquite extranjero; mezquite verde; quechi-pelle; retama china; retama de cerda
- Nicaragua: espino negro; sauce del playa
- Niger: sassabaanii
- Nigeria: bàgààrùwàr maka; bàgààrùwàr másàr; dán-sárkín ítáátúwàà; jannatu; sassabaanii; sharan labbi; shukar hali
- Pakistan: kabuli kikar; vilayati kikar
- Senegal: barkasoñé; barkasonyo; parkasonu
- Somalia: geed walaayo
- Sri Lanka: belaiti kikar
- USA: horsebean
- PAKAC (Parkinsonia aculeata)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Fabales
- Family: Fabaceae
- Subfamily: Caesalpinioideae
- Genus: Parkinsonia
- Species: Parkinsonia aculeata
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Parkinsonia aculeata is an easily recognized and morphologically well delimited species first described and illustrated in Plumier's Nova Plantarum Americanum Genera (1703). The original Linnaean citation was in the Hortus Cliffortianus (1737). Two species were described which were later placed in synonymy with P. aculeata, i.e. P. spinosa H.B. & K. and P. thornberi M.E. Jones; neither name gained wide usage. The most significant taxonomic controversy connected with the species concerns its dubious relationship with three east African species (P. scioana (Chiovenda) Brenan, P. anacantha Brenan and P. raimondoi Brenan), one south African species (P. africana Sond.) and with the small Central American genus Cercidium Tul. There has been more than a century of confusion surrounding the delimitation and subdivision of Parkinsonia L. and Cercidium (reviewed by Carter, 1974). Carter argued that Cercidium forms a discrete, easily recognisable genus confined to the Americas and preferred to consider Parkinsonia as monotypic, comprising only P. aculeata. However, a recent detailed study of the two genera suggests that the species of Cercidium should be transferred to Parkinsonia, and that P. africana and Cercidium are more closely related to P. aculeata than the East African species (Hawkins, 1996).
DescriptionTop of page
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
It appears that the native distribution is larger than stated in the Forestry Compendium (CABI, 2003). PIER (2001) states that it is native to southern USA, the Caribbean, Mexico and northern South America, and Garcia (2000) notes that it is also native to northern Argentina. Starr et al. (2003) state that the native distribution is disputed. It is likely that it should include at least the whole of mainland Central America. Also, descriptions of native vegetation complexes in Peru (Pasiecznik et al., 2001) suggest that it is native to dry coastal areas there, and thus, probably, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Wiggins and Porter (1971) state it is native to the Galapagos, disputed by Starr et al. (2003). The native distribution published here has been taken as that of ILDIS (2003), to include most of Central and South America, the USA and the Bahamas.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|Cabo Verde||Present||Introduced||Planted||First reported: before 1895|
|Congo, Republic of the||Present||Introduced||Planted|
|Egypt||Present||Introduced||Planted||First reported: Before 1932|
|Mozambique||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Planted||Original citation: Palgrave (1977)|
|Nigeria||Present||Introduced||Planted||Original citation: Keay et al. (1964)|
|South Africa||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Planted||Original citation: Palgrave (1977)|
|Zimbabwe||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Planted||Original citation: Palgrave (1977)|
|India||Present, Widespread||Introduced||First reported: before 1850|
|Indonesia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Iran||Present||Introduced||Planted||First reported: before 1850|
|Israel||Present||Introduced||Planted||First reported: Before 1932|
|Pakistan||Present||Introduced||Planted||First reported: before 1850|
|Syria||Present||Introduced||First reported: before 1850|
|Cyprus||Present||Introduced||Planted||First reported: before 1895|
|Italy||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Planted||First reported: before 1850|
|-Canary Islands||Present||Introduced||First reported: 1990's|
|Puerto Rico||Present||Planted||Original citation: USDA-ARS, 2002|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Present||Planted|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Present||Planted|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Planted|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Alabama||Present||Original citation: USDA-ARS, 2002|
|-Mississippi||Present||Original citation: USDA-ARS, 2002|
|-Nevada||Present||Native||Original citation: USDA-ARS, 2002|
|-Utah||Present||Native||Original citation: USDA-ARS, 2002|
|Australia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-New South Wales||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Present||Introduced|
|Guam||Present||Introduced||First reported: 1970s; Original citation: Fosberg et al., 1997|
|Brazil||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
The use of P. aculeata throughout arid regions of the British Empire, and later the Commonwealth, as an ornamental, for soil fixation and as a hedging plant was documented by Troup and Joshi (1983) and by Streets (1962). P. aculeata has a widespread distribution in Africa, and is becoming naturalized in many areas. Dale (1953) recommended P. aculeata for forestry usage in Uganda, and Brenan (1967) noted cultivation of P. aculeata in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Neither were aware of naturalization in East Africa, though more recently an extensive naturalized population has been discovered in the vicinity of Nakuru, Kenya. P. aculeata is cultivated for ornament, shade, wind-breaks and hedging and is sometimes naturalized in Somalia (Madany, 1991; Thulin, 1993). Palgrave (1977) noted cultivation of P. aculeata as an ornamental in South Africa, and naturalized populations also in Mozambique along the Limpopo River, between Nelspruit in the Transvaal and Maputo in Mozambique and in the vicinity of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
P. aculeata is planted throughout West Africa (Hutchison and Dalziel, 1928) and is commonly planted in dry zone Nigerian towns and villages (Keay et al., 1964). It has been introduced to the Cape Verde Islands as a forestry species: specimens deposited at Kew were collected from Cape Verde as early as 1895; specimen notes from 1919 indicate the use of P. aculeata as a hedging plant. P. aculeata was not included in the first edition of the Flora of Syria, Palestine and Sinai (Post, 1896); in the second edition Post and Dinsmore (1932) noted widespread cultivation. Lock and Simpson (1991) indicate cultivation in Iran, Iraq, Oman and South Yemen. Le Houérou (1984) considered P. aculeata well adapted to the climate of the Mediterranean zone, indeed, naturalized individuals have been reported from Sicily (Orlando and Grisafi, 1977) and the species appears to be established as a weed in the environs of Athens.
The distribution of P. aculeata in Asia, other than in India, is less extensive, and may represent more recent introductions. Lock and Heald (1994) note that P. aculeata is sometimes cultivated in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
HabitatTop of page
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Deserts||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Data from tree breeding and provenance trials for P. aculeata are lacking. The conservation status of the species, in terms of interspecific variation, has not been examined. The establishment of extensive weedy populations, ready regeneration from seed or coppice stumps, and abundance in its putative range suggests that the species is not at risk (Stewart et al., 1992). Natural hybrids have been described between P. aculeata and C. praecox (Ruiz and Pavón) Harms., a thorny arid zone species with a disjunct distribution spanning the arid regions of tropical and subtropical North and South America (Carter, 1974; Hawkins, 1996). The hybrids, which are unarmed, have been identified as a potential new agroforestry species (Hughes, 1989), although they may pose a novel and significant threat of weediness. Hybrids are known to often display increased weedy tendencies (Abbott, 1992), so novel hybrids of Parkinsonia should be utilized with particular care or avoided.
Physiology and Phenology
Plants flower in the second or third growth season (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). In Central America peak flowering is from February to March, with sporadic flowering thereafter. Flowering is somewhat later in Mexico and the southern USA, with peak flowering occurring between April and May. In India, flowering is in April and May, with sporadic flowering almost throughout the year (Troup and Joshi, 1983). In Australia, plants usually flower in May or June but, as elsewhere, sporadic flowering can occur throughout the year (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Leaflets may be partially or completely deciduous in the dry season, but the phyllodial secondary rachises are persistent.
Propagation of P. aculeata is generally by seed and seeding is prolific, though pods are indehiscent. Mahmoud and El-Sheikh (1981) noted two types of seed, light seeds which are water permeable and germinate freely, and dark seeds which appear to have a harder seed coat and require pre-treatment. Seedlings germinate over a wide temperature range, varying from continuous exposure to temperatures between 15°C and 35°C to alternating temperature regimes of 20/10°C, 25/15°C and 30/20°C (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Propagation is also reported by (root or shoot) cuttings or air-layering (Singh, 1989).
It is tolerant of a wide range of soil and climate types. It may be assumed that triggers for invasion would include flooding, which would spread seed widely and provide improved conditions for establishment. P. aculeata is extremely hardy and thrives in moist and semi-arid environments, surviving seasonal flooding and a dry season of greater than 8 months duration. A mean annual rainfall between 250 mm and 1000 mm is tolerated, though the species is most valuable in dry areas and may exhibit weedy tendencies where mean annual rainfalls exceed 500 mm (Hocking, 1993; Luna, 1996). Temperatures as high as 48°C and mild frosts are tolerated, although die-back occurs after intense or extended frosts (Hocking, 1993).
Seedlings tolerate a wide range of soil pH, from 3 to 11 (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992) and moderate to excessively saline soils (Webb et al., 1984; Singh, 1989; Luna, 1996). Although many authors suggest that P. aculeata will not tolerate waterlogging (Webb et al., 1984; Singh, 1989; Luna, 1996), P. aculeata is known to favour seasonally flooded sites which other species are less able to tolerate (Miller and Pickering, 1980; Hughes, 1989; Killeen et al., 1993). Although the natural distribution of P. aculeata is arguably limited to seasonally flooded black cotton vertisols (Hughes, 1989), tolerance of soil types is wide. Good growth has been reported from shallow and skeletal soils, gravelly, rocky gullies and hillsides and deeper loamy valley soils (Hocking, 1993). The use of P. aculeata as a soil-binding species for sandy sites has been reported (Abohassan and Rudolph, 1978; Mahmoud and El-Sheikh, 1981; Troup and Joshi, 1983).
P. aculeata is visited by large and small bees. P. aculeata does not fix nitrogen and thus has no association with Rhizobia (Sprent, 1986). It is found in similar vegetation associations through Central America and northern South America, often with Acacia spp. (e.g. A. farnesiana in Central America and the USA), Caesalpinia spp., Capparis spp., Cercidium spp., Leucaena spp. and Prosopis spp. (Pasiecznik et al., 2001).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||0|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||20||28|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||22||32|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||18||24|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||6||9||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||200||1000||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
- very acid
Special soil tolerances
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
The main reason for international spread was intentional introduction as a fodder tree, for hedging, or as an ornamental. However, awareness of its status as a weed now means further introductions are less likely. The attractive characteristics of P. aculeata (performance under difficult or harsh environmental conditions; coppicing ability, pollarding response and resistance to browsing; plentiful production of seed) are those which are also problematic weedy characteristics (Hughes, 1994).
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page
Social ImpactTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Highly mobile locally
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Produces spines, thorns or burrs
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
Wood is used as firewood and for charcoal and sometimes in paper-making (Thonner, 1915; Standley and Steyermark, 1937; Deshaprabhu, 1966; Hocking, 1993; Burkill, 1995; Luna, 1996). The wood is considered easy to work, but it is brittle and of dubious durability (Stewart et al., 1992). It is also small, but may be used for making tool handles, or light poles and posts (Singh, 1989; Luna, 1996).
Leaves and pods are reported to be used as fodder (Mahmoud and El-Sheikh, 1981; Webb et al., 1984; Stewart et al., 1992). Hocking (1993) noted that leaves and twigs are sometimes fed to goats in India, and Singh (1989) noted use of the leaves for sheep and goat fodder. Trees are not browsed by cattle or horses (Burkill, 1995). In west tropical Africa children eat the flowers and seed (Burkill, 1995), and in Sonora-Chihuahua, Mexico the raw seeds are eaten by the Warihio Indians (Gentry, 1963). In India, the seeds of P. aculeata have been investigated as a minor human food source (Rajaram and Janardhanan, 1991). The use of P. aculeata in native medicine has been described: an infusion of the leaves is considered to have diaphoretic, arbotifacient and antiseptic properties, and to be valuable for fevers, for epilepsy, and to stop vomiting (Perez-Arbelaez, 1956; Burkill, 1995).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Boundary, barrier or support
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
- Shade and shelter
- Soil improvement
Human food and beverage
- Honey/honey flora
- Carved material
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Wood ProductsTop of page
- Short-fibre pulp
- Building poles
- Industrial and domestic woodware
- Tool handles
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.Cultural Control
With a sufficient fuel load, fire can kill smaller seedlings, however adult plants will usually survive (DNR, 1998). Singh (1989) noted that waterlogging and browsing animals could negatively affect seedling survival. In Australia, improving pasture conditions is suggested to manage P. aculeata through competition (DNR, 1998).
Small seedlings and juveniles can be hand pulled, taking care not to injure oneself on the thorns (Starr et al., 2003). Mechanical removal by bulldozing, pulling with a tractor or grubbing gives effective control, especially where subsequent seedling growth can be controlled (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). In Australia (DNR, 1998), blade ploughing or ripping is found to be effective, though it can only be done in level areas away from watercourses. In addition, follow up work is crucial for total control as disturbance often leads to subsequent seed germination.
Good control of mature trees is possible with herbicides, with basal bark or cut stump treatments usually giving better results than an overall spray (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Picloram + 2,4-D or triclopyr in diesel oil applied to the basal 75 cm of trunk, completely circling it and thoroughly drenching the bark was effective, as were cut stump treatments, swabbing the whole of the butt with picloram, 2,4-D or triclopyr as basal bark sprays immediately after cutting (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Alternatively, hexazinone can be applied to the soil surface close to the base of the stems and when washed into the soil by subsequent rains slowly kills the shrubs. The severed aerial growth should be burned when dry.
In Australia, three biological organisms have been introduced to try to reduce the invasion of Jerusalem thorn, two seed beetles (Penthobruchus germaini and Mimosestes ulkei) which attack the mature seeds, and one leaf bug (Rhinacloa callicrates) which feeds on the leaves and shoots (DNR, 1998). Although all three insects have established at release sites, Penthobruchus germaini is currently the most effective at establishing and attacking seeds of P. aculeata. The following information on biological control agents introduced to Australia for control of P. aculeata is from DNR (1998).
Penthobruchus germaini is a small brown beetle from Argentina. It was first released in Australia in 1995 and has established more readily than Mimosestes ulkei. It has established and spread rapidly at all release sites in Australia. Up to 95% seed predation has been documented in some of the release sites. This species is documented as a very important tool in the management of P. aculeata in Australia. Female beetles lay up to 350 eggs of the surface of seed pods. Larvae tunnel into seeds soon after hatching. Each larvae spends its developmental period in the same seed which it enters after hatching. There it will eat all of the living contents of the seed preventing germination of that seed before exiting from the end of the seed and seed pod. Life cycle ranges from 5-12 weeks. This species is not reported from Hawaii (Nishida, 1994).
Mimosestes ulkei is a small 2-toned grey beetle from the USA, first released in Australia in 1993. It has established at several release sites in Australia, though not nearly as readily as Penthobruchus germaini. The life cycle and means of attack of this seed beetle is similar to that of P. germaini. Female beetles lay clusters of eggs in cracks and holes in seed pods. The larvae tunnels into seeds after hatching where it spends the rest of its developmental stage eating the living contents, preventing germination of that seed. Larvae pupate then exit through the side of the seed then out of the pod. Life cycle ranges from 5-12 weeks.
Rhinacloa callicrates was introduced into Queensland, Australia; under evaluation (Julien, 1992). It was imported from the USA, first released in Australia in 1989, and has established in Queensland, though it does not have a significant impact on P. aculeata (Starr et al., 2003).
ReferencesTop of page
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