Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Balanites aegyptiaca
(simple-thorned torchwood)

Rojas-Sandoval J, 2016. Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood). Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.8311.20203483138



Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood)


  • Last modified
  • 20 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Balanites aegyptiaca
  • Preferred Common Name
  • simple-thorned torchwood
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • B. aegyptiaca is one of the most important tree species for African people because it provides food, medicinal products and fuel-wood valued for subsistence living in arid and semiarid areas (...

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Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); tree habit.
TitleTree habit
CaptionBalanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); tree habit.
Copyright©John Parrotta/USDA Forest Service (IITF)
Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); tree habit.
Tree habitBalanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); tree habit.©John Parrotta/USDA Forest Service (IITF)
Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); bark.
CaptionBalanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); bark.
Copyright©John Parrotta/USDA Forest Service (IITF)
Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); bark.
BarkBalanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); bark.©John Parrotta/USDA Forest Service (IITF)
Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); twigs with leaves and seperate fruit.
TitleLeaves and fruit
CaptionBalanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); twigs with leaves and seperate fruit.
Copyright©John Parrotta/USDA Forest Service (IITF)
Balanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); twigs with leaves and seperate fruit.
Leaves and fruitBalanites aegyptiaca (simple-thorned torchwood); twigs with leaves and seperate fruit.©John Parrotta/USDA Forest Service (IITF)


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Balanites aegyptiaca (L.) Delile

Preferred Common Name

  • simple-thorned torchwood

Other Scientific Names

  • Agialid membranacea Tieghem
  • Agialid abyssinica Tieghem
  • Agialid aegyptiaca (L.) Adason
  • Agialid aegyptiaca (L.) O. Kuntze
  • Agialid arabica Tiegh.
  • Agialid barteri Tieghem
  • Agialid chevalieri Tieghem
  • Agialid cuneifolia (Poiret) Tieghem
  • Agialid ferox Tieghem
  • Agialid glomerata Tieghem
  • Agialid latifolia Tieghem
  • Agialid nigra Tieghem
  • Agialid palestinica Tieghem
  • Agialid schimperi Tieghem
  • Agialid senegalensis Tieghem
  • Agialid tombouctensis Tieghem
  • Balanites aegyptiacus (L.) Delile
  • Balanites arabica (Tiegh.) Blatt.
  • Balanites ferox (Poir.) G. Don
  • Balanites fischeri Mildbr. & Schltr.
  • Balanites horrida Mildbr. & Schltr.
  • Balanites latifolia (Tieghem) Chiov.
  • Balanites quarrei De Wild.
  • Balanites racemosa Chiov.
  • Balanites roxburghii
  • Balanites suckertii Chiov.
  • Balanites tomentosa Mildbr. & Schltr.
  • Balanites ziziphoides Mildbr. & Schltr.
  • Canthium zizyphoides Mildbr. & Schltr.
  • Ximenia aegyptiaca L.
  • Ximenia agihalid Miller
  • Ximenia ferox Poir.

International Common Names

  • English: desert date; Egyptian balsam; Jericho balsam; lalob tree; soap berry tree; soapberry tree; thorn tree; torch wood
  • French: dattier du desert; dattier sauvage; myrobalou d'Egypte
  • Arabic: hadjilidge; heglig; hejlij; zacon

Local Common Names

  • Curaçao: corona de Jesus; korona di Hesus; lamunchi shimaron
  • Eritrea: kog
  • Ethiopia: bedeno
  • Germany: Zachunbaum
  • Ghana: gungu
  • India: betu; hingotia; lalo; zachun
  • Italy: dattero deserto
  • Kenya: mjunju
  • Mali: taborak
  • Niger: garbey; murotanki; taborak
  • Nigeria: aduwa; cingo; cungo
  • Senegal: segire; serene; sumpo
  • Sudan: heglig; shashob
  • Tanzania: mkonga; olkwai; olng'oswa; osaragi
  • Uganda: ecomai; ekorete; mutete
  • Zimbabwe: muvambangoma

EPPO code

  • BALAE (Balanites aegyptiaca)

Trade name

  • betu
  • betu oil
  • desert date
  • Egyptian myrobalan
  • lalob
  • lugba
  • zachun oil

Summary of Invasiveness

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B. aegyptiaca is one of the most important tree species for African people because it provides food, medicinal products and fuel-wood valued for subsistence living in arid and semiarid areas (PROTA, 2016). This species is well adapted to grow in a wide range of habitats, soil types (from fine sands to heavy clay) and climatic moisture levels (Janick and Paull, 2008; Orwa et al., 2009). This thorny, long-lived tree has been introduced into cultivation in the Cape Verde islands, the Azores, India, Curacao, Bonaire, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Chothani and Vaghasiya, 2011; Burg et al., 2012; Govaerts, 2016). Currently it has been listed as invasive only in Curacao (Burg et al., 2012). On this island it is spreading primarily across ruderal areas. B. aegyptiaca is also listed as a weed in Palestine and in Sudan where it grows forming dense thorny thickets (Zohary, 1973; Miehe, 1986).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Geraniales
  •                         Family: Balanitaceae
  •                             Genus: Balanites
  •                                 Species: Balanites aegyptiaca

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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For many years, there have been conflicts for the family position of Balanites. While some authors recognized Balanites as a member of the family Zygophyllaceae, other botanists have recognized Balanitaceae as a monotypic family (Maksoud and Hadidi, 1988; Judd et al., 2002; Janick and Paull, 2008). In the last revised and updated classification of Angiosperm families, the genus Balanites is placed within the family Zygophyllaceae, subfamily Tribuloideae (Stevens, 2012). Currently, the genus Balanites comprises 9 species, seven of which occur in Africa and the remaining two in Asia (Sands 1983).

Although B. aegyptiaca is one of the most widely distributed of Africa's trees, considerable uncertainty surrounds its origin. Controversy over taxonomic affinities is one complication and the lack of fossil records is another. Zohary (1973) recounts Komarov's views that Balanites can be considered part of the floristic assemblage of tropical desert conditions dating back at least as far as the Tertiary. Komarov goes further and identifies the genus as Nitraria, another desert genus. Corner (1976), from evidence on seed anatomy, favoured links between the Balanitaceae and the Simaroubaceae or Ixonanthaceae, although the Simaroubaceae and Ixonanthaceae are remote from each other in most currently accepted classification schemes. The Balanitaceae do not feature in summaries produced by Muller (1981) concerning the appearance of the modern angiosperm flora, but families thought by some to be related were present in the Oligocene, and fossil material of Balanites in the Miocene has been reported (Zohary, 1973). There is no suggestion that the genus Balanites ever occurred outside Africa and South Asia.

B. aegyptiaca was first scientifically described by Prosper Alphinus in 1952, who named the genus Agihalid. Linnaeus (1753) applied the conventional binomial name Ximenia aegyptiaca, and noted early references by Caspar Bauhin in 1623 and John Ray, as well as that of Prosper Alphinus. These early references relate to Egypt; Launert (1963) indicates that the type specimen is from Egypt, and Sands (1990) specifies Alphinus' specimen.

The possibility that the tree was wrongly classified in the genus Ximenia was first noted by Michel Adanson in 1763. However, this was based on what he considered a different species, giving it the name Agialid senegalensis and applying an epithet indicating that the specimen was collected in Senegal in 1750. Adanson's proposed name was not adopted in the botanical world and in 1813, Alire Delile replaced Agialid (derived from the Arabic name for the tree, 'heglig') by Balanites (from the Greek for acorn, referring to the fruit) and reduced A. senegalensis to synonymy within B. aegyptiaca. The name Balanites, although not the oldest valid generic name, has since been formally conserved.

Gilbert (1958) reported the existence of a botanical variety, var. quarrei, in Zaire, although no other relevant flora has distinguished this taxon (Hall and Walker, 1991).


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B. aegyptiaca is a multi-branched, spiny shrub or tree up to l0 m high. Stem with a reticulate dark brown or grey (rarely green) bark; branches green or greyish, stiff and brittle, always armed with stout simple green or yellowish spines. Leaves petiolate; leaflets shortly petiolulate; lamina 2.5–6 × 1.5–4 cm., slightly asymmetric, elliptic to elliptic-obovate, apex subacute to obtuse, sometimes slightly refuse, base cuneate or rarely rounded, coriaceous, puberulous when young, later glabrescent or sometimes remaining puberulous on the lower surface; secondary nerves 4–6 pairs, ± prominent beneath; petiole (0.5) 0.8–2 cm. long, puberulous or glabrescent, canaliculate. Flowers in usually few-flowered sessile or shortly pedunculate fascicles; pedicels up to 1·5 cm. long, ± densely greyish-pubescent. Flowers c. 1·4 cm. in diam. Sepals 5.2–7 × 2.7–3·25 mm., ovate or ovate-lanceolate, coriaceous, caducous, densely pubescent outside, with long silky whitish hairs inside. Petals 7.2–9.5 × 2–2.4 (2.8) mm., narrowly elliptic or elliptic-oblong, rarely lanceolate-oblong, glabrous on both surfaces. Stamens with the anthers 1.7–2.2 mm. long, ovate or ovate-oblong, glabrous; filaments c. 3.75 mm. long. Ovary densely covered with long silky hairs. Drupe yellowish or green, up to 5 × 2.5 cm., usually subcylindric, more rarely narrowly ellipsoid or subobclavate, finely puberulous, sometimes glabrescent (Flora Zambesiaca, 2016).


Plant Type

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Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


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B. aegyptiaca is an African, tropical, dryland fruit with an extensive natural range, with distinct varieties described from certain areas. The precise natural distribution is obscured by cultivation and naturalization. Evidence suggests use in Egypt and the Near East for 4000 years. North of the equator, B. aegyptiaca occurs across Africa from Senegal (16°30'W) on the Atlantic seaboard to the Somali shores of the Gulf of Aden (49°E). The latitudinal range is from 35°N to 19°S, south from the Jordan valley to southern Zimbabwe. It is absent from the equatorial humid forest region.

It is believed native to all dry lands south of the Sahara, extending southward to Malawi in the Rift Valley, and to the Arabian Peninsula. Currently, B. aegyptiaca is considered native to Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula (Govaerts, 2016; PROTA, 2016). It has been introduced and can be found naturalized in the Cape Verde islands, the Azores, India, Curacao, Bonaire, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Chothani and Vaghasiya, 2011; Burg et al., 2012; Govaerts, 2016).

Distribution Table

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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: 14 Dec 2020
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


Burkina FasoPresentNative
Cabo VerdePresentIntroduced
Central African RepublicPresentNative
Congo, Democratic Republic of thePresentNative
Congo, Republic of thePresentNative
Côte d'IvoirePresentNative
Equatorial GuineaPresent
Sierra LeonePresent
South AfricaPresent
Western SaharaPresentNative


-Madhya PradeshPresentIntroduced
Saudi ArabiaPresentNative


PortugalPresent, LocalizedIntroducedAzores

North America

Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced
Puerto RicoPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced1936Guayama Agricultural Experiment Station

History of Introduction and Spread

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B. aegyptiaca was introduced into cultivation in the West Indies, Cape Verde Islands and India (Chothani and Vaghasiya, 2011). This species is also extensively planted across Africa (Booth and Wickens, 1988). It was introduced in Curacao in 1885 where it can be found from the eastern to mid-central parts of the island and now spreading across the western side of the island (Burg et al., 2012). In Puerto Rico, it was grown from seeds introduced in 1936 from Palestine, South Africa, and Kenya. Seeds were planted on the banks of the Vives Irrigation Reservoir near Guayama in 1937 (Plank, 1950). In India, it is particularly found in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Deccan (Chothani and Vaghasiya, 2011).


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Curaçao Africa 1885 Yes No Burg et al. (2012)
Puerto Rico Africa 1936 Yes No Plank (1950) 76 trees were originally planted


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B. aegyptiaca can be found in arid and semiarid thickets, subhumid tropical savannas, and deciduous bushlands. It also occurs in hot dry areas, along watercourses and in woodlands. It borders seasonally inundated plains and grows well in valleys and on riverbanks in depressions, and on the slopes of rocky hills (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Janick and Paull, 2008; FAO, 2016).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRocky areas / lava flows Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalDeserts Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalArid regions Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Hall and Walker (1991) report that B. aegyptiaca has a chromosome number of 2n = 18, speculating a base number of x = 9 for the family, although values of 2n = 16 have also been reported. No cultivars have been described (Janick and Paull, 2008).

Reproductive Biology

The flowers of B. aegyptiaca are hermaphrodite, protandrous and gathered in several types of inflorescence (clusters, fascicles or glomerules). Anthesis is nocturnal, particularly in the 3 hours before sunrise. The anthers of the inner stamens dehisce and release pollen in the morning and those of the outer ring in the afternoon. Stylar extension commences around midday and continues for 12-15 h. The stigma becomes receptive an hour after the conclusion of pollen shedding (Ndoye et al., 2004; Janick and Paull, 2008). Pollen grain production is prolific (approx. 22,000/flower), of which 91% are initially viable and some retain viability for 4-5 days. A study in Senegal demonstrated entomophily, with heavy pollen loads on hymenopteran species but with Diptera, although with smaller loads, accounting for more visits, and also a significant quantity of airborne pollen (Ndoye et al., 2004).

Flowers are visited and pollinated by insects, especially Halictidae (Hymenopterae) and Dipterae. Hand-pollination experiments performed on trees growing in Senegal showed that B. aegyptiaca is a partially auto-compatible species (Ndoye et al., 2004). Few fertilized flowers (5-10%) produce mature fruit. Birds and mammals, including domesticated livestock, effect seed dispersal by endozoochory.

Physiology and Phenology

Under sufficiently humid conditions this tree is evergreen (for example, in Zambia and Zimbabwe; White, 1962; Launert, 1963), but more commonly most of the foliage is shed when the effects of the dry season become pronounced (Wickens, 1976). It is not clear whether semi-deciduous behaviour begins in the first season or later, but fruiting commences after 5-7 years (Maydell, 1986).

The reproductive phenology of B. aegyptiaca varies across Africa. According to Maydell (1986) there is no definite time for flowering in the Sahel, although he identifies the dry season as the period when flowering is most likely. In Nigeria, flowering varies between November and April with ripe fruits becoming available in December and January and occasionally later, from March to July (Orwa et al., 2009). Palgrave (1983) reports that in southern Africa (unimodal rainfall) the tree flowers in November (during the rainy season) and the fruit is ready in April, the end of the rainy season. Wickens (1976) suggests that two flowering periods may occur.

It is not clear if fruits are derived from flowers produced earlier in the same year or if fruits need more than a year for development (Booth and Wickens, 1988). Fruits tend to ripen and fall at the beginning of the wet season (Booth and Wickens, 1988).


B. aegyptiaca is a long-lived tree species. Trees reach maturity after 25 years (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983), and adult trees may exceed 100 years (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Janick and Paull, 1988).

Activity Patterns

The growth of B. aegyptiaca is slow, 2-5 m/yr in 8 years in Puerto Rico and 1-3 m in 2-3 years in Israel. Trees begin to fruit in 5-7 years and reach maturity in 25 years. Average mature trees yield 100-150 kg of ripe fruits/year (1 kg contains approximately 70-100 whole fruits). Seeds of B. aegyptiaca germinate easily. Under suitable conditions, the hypogeal germination takes 1 week. Because of the slow growth rates reported for this species, seedlings in cultivation require protection from weeds, fire, and cattle for at least 3 years (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Orwa et al., 2009).

Population Size and Structure

Except where proliferation of root suckers occasionally leads to thicket formation, B. aegyptiaca is typically a woody species of open parkland or grassland and does not form dense stands. Individuals occur singly and full crown exposure is typical, particularly as the species is often taller than any of its associates. Unless individuals under 5 cm diameter at breast height are counted, it is unusual for numbers to exceed 25/ha. However, pure stands can occur as Balanites trees are often left when other trees are felled due to their value (Suliman and Jackson, 1960; Booth and Wickens, 1988).


Typical, although not ubiquitous, tree associates are Acacia senegal, Acacia seyal, Acacia tortilis, Sclerocarya birrea and Ziziphus mauritiana (Hall, 1992). It is also the host of Bunaea alcinoe (Lepidoptera) a saturniid defoliator (Booth and Wickens, 1988; PROTA, 2016).

Environmental Requirements

B. aegyptiaca grows on arid, semiarid and dry habitats at frost-free elevations from 300 to 2000 m and mean annual temperatures ranging from 20°C to 30°C, but it is able to tolerate high temperatures as 40°C (Janick and Paull, 2008; Orwa et al., 2009). Vigorous populations occur in relatively fertile, low-lying sites with deep sandy soil and uninterrupted access to water, but it also grows well on heavier, fertile vertisolic soils, provided salinity is low.

This species grows in areas subject to water-stress with mean annual rainfall ranging from 100 to 1000 mm, but it usually occurs in areas with 250-800 mm (Orwa et al., 2009), thus it is very drought resistant (Booth and Wickens, 1988). In lowest rainfall areas, it is confined to sites with available groundwater (Suliman and Jackson, 1960). B. aegyptiaca also resists seasonal but not prolonged flooding (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Janick and Paull, 2008).


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As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Preferred > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Preferred < 430mm annual precipitation
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
35 -19 0 2000

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 0
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 20 30
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 30 40
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 0 25


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration04number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall2501000mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • saline
  • shallow
  • sodic

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Phoma balanites Pathogen Plants|Whole plant to genus
Septoria balanites Pathogen Plants|Whole plant to genus

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Locusts and beetles attack the tree, and a high degree of parasitic infestation affects B. aegyptiaca. For example in Burkina Faso 50% of the population had leaf galls, bugs or scales. Phoma balanitis and Septoria balanitis are two fungi species often found on this plant (Orwa et al., 2009). Seeds are often attacked by an insect borer (Orwa et al., 2009; PROTA, 2016).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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B. aegyptiaca spreads by seeds. Seeds are dispersed by birds, mammals and by humans. Sheep, goats, cattle and camels eat fruits and disperse the seeds. Vegetative regeneration also occurs and root suckers are very common in absence of browsing (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Orwa et al., 2009; PROTA, 2016).

B. aegyptiaca has been extensively introduced by humans across Africa (Booth and Wickens; 1988). In Puerto Rico, B. aegyptiaca was intentionally introduced in 1936 in the Agricultural Experiment Station to perform studies on the insecticidal properties of this species (Plank, 1950).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
FoodEdible fruits Yes Booth and Wickens (1988)
ForageLeaves and young shoots are used as forage Yes Booth and Wickens (1988)
Hedges and windbreaksUsed for live fences in Africa Yes Booth and Wickens (1988)
Medicinal useUsed in traditional African medicine Yes PROTA (2016)

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
LivestockFruits are eaten by livestock Yes Orwa et al. (2009)

Impact Summary

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Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive

Economic Impact

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B. aegyptiaca is listed as a weed of irrigated crops in the rift valley of Palestine (Zohary, 1973).

Environmental Impact

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In Curacao, B. aegyptiaca is considered an aggressive invasive species (Burg et al., 2012). On this island, this species is spreading and invading ruderal areas despite the presence of free-ranging goats. In the Jebel Marra area of Sudan it invades degraded areas (Miehe, 1986). B. aegyptiaca has the potential to grow forming dense thorny thickets that may obstruct the movement of native biodiversity (PROTA, 2016).

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - smothering
  • Poisoning
  • Rooting
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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B. aegyptiaca is one of the most important wild plant species of the arid and semiarid areas of Africa because it provides food, medicinal products and fuelwood valued for subsistence living (PROTA, 2016). In addition to its edible fruits, the leaves and young shoots of B. aegyptica are used as vegetables and added to soups. Kernels are used as supplementary food, to extract oil and as famine food. The fruits are also used to brew an alcoholic drink. The fresh and dried leaves, fruits and sprouts are all used as forage for livestock. It is also used as firewood and to produce charcoal. As a thorny tree, B. aegyptiaca is often planted for fencing and to make livestock enclosure (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Orwa et al., 2009; FAO, 2016; PROTA, 2016).

The fruits and bark have been known for a long time in Africa and in India to have fish-killing and insecticidal properties. In Egypt, B. aegyptiaca has been used to control the molluscan hosts (Biomphalaria, Bulinus) of the liver fluke, Schistosoma mansoni, a species that infests man and other animals (PROTA, 2016).

Economic Value

B. aegyptiaca is a tree of great importance to many African people. This species is mainly appreciated for its edible fruits. Fruits and seeds are often sold in African food markets. B. aegyptiaca also has fine-grained dense and heavy heartwood that is easily worked and takes a good polish. Timber is suitable for small furniture, domestic utensils, and agricultural tools (FAO, 2016; PROTA, 2016). It is a source of steroidal sapogenins (diosgenin) often used for the synthesis of corticosteroids, sex hormones and oral contraceptives (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Chothani and Vaghasiya, 2011; Tesfaye, 2015).

Social Benefit

B. aegyptiaca is often used in traditional African medicine. The fruits are used in the treatment of liver and spleen diseases. The fruit is also known to kill the snails carrying schistosomiasis and bilharzia flukes (Booth and Wickens, 1988). The roots are used to treat abdominal pains and as a purgative. Gum from the wood is mixed with maize meal porridge to treat chest complaints. A decoction of the root is used to treat malaria. The seeds are used for rosary beads, necklaces and in the game of warri played in Sudan.

B. aegyptiaca trees are of great importance to many African desert people, so their fruits, seeds and leaves are often used in ceremonies and rituals (Booth and Wickens, 1988; Orwa et al., 2009; FAO, 2016; PROTA, 2016).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed

Drugs, stimulants, social uses

  • Religious


  • Agroforestry
  • Boundary, barrier or support
  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Revegetation
  • Shade and shelter
  • Windbreak


  • Charcoal
  • Fuelwood


  • Ritual uses

Human food and beverage

  • Beverage base
  • Emergency (famine) food
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Oil/fat
  • Vegetable


  • Beads
  • Carved material
  • Dye/tanning
  • Essential oils
  • Fibre
  • Gum/resin
  • Miscellaneous materials
  • Pesticide
  • Resins
  • Rubber/latex
  • Wood/timber

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore

Wood Products

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  • Boxes
  • Cases
  • Crates



  • Building poles
  • Posts
  • Roundwood structures

Sawn or hewn building timbers

  • Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
  • Exterior fittings
  • Fences
  • For light construction
  • Gates
  • Wall panelling


  • Brushes
  • Cutlery
  • Industrial and domestic woodware
  • Musical instruments
  • Tool handles
  • Toys
  • Turnery
  • Wood carvings

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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B. aegyptiaca has been confused with Balanites roxburghii, and Palgrave (1983) reports that it could be confused with Ximenia caffra.

Prevention and Control

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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.

There is no information published for the control or management of B. aegyptiaca.


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Distribution References

Booth F E M, Wickens G E, 1988. Non-timber uses of selected arid zone trees and shrubs in Africa. In: FAO Conservation Guide, vii + 176 pp.

Burg WJ van der, Freitas J de, Debrot AO, Lotz LAP, Burg WJ van der, Freitas J de, Debrot AO, Lotz LAP, 2012. Naturalised and invasive alien plant species in the Caribbean Netherlands: status distribution, threats, priorities and recommendations. In: Report of a joint IMARES/CARMABI/PRI project, Wageningen, Netherlands: Plant Research International. 82 pp.

CABI, Undated. Compendium record. Wallingford, UK: CABI

CABI, Undated a. CABI Compendium: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI

Chothani D L, Vaghasiya H U, 2011. A review on Balanites aegyptiaca Del (desert date): phytochemical constituents, traditional uses, and pharmacological activity. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 5 (9), 55-62.;year=2011;volume=5;issue=9;spage=55;epage=62;aulast=Chothani

Govaerts C, 2016. World Checklist of Zygophyllaceae., Richmond, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Orwa C, Mutua A, Kindt R, Jamnadass R, Anthony S, 2009. Agroforestree Database: a tree reference and selection guide version 4.0.,

Plank HK, 1950. Insecticidal properties of some plants growing in Puerto Rico. In: Federal Experiment Station in Puerto Rico. Bulletin, 49 Washington, USA: USDA. 1-16.


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12/10/16 Updated by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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