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
  • 04 October 2022
  • 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).


Botanical Features


B. aegyptiaca is a semi-deciduous tree, sometimes occurring as a shrub, up to 10 m (rarely 10-12 m), (Goldsmith and Carter, 1981; Palgrave, 1983) with a long tap root of several metres. Under sufficiently humid conditions the 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 (von Maydell, 1986). Trees reach maturity after 25 years (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983) and have a minimum lifespan of 100 years (Maydell, 1986).


Germination of B. aegyptiaca is hypogeal, with approximately two-thirds of each cotyledon being retained within the endocarp. Shoots are green and very lightly pubescent. Leaves are spirally arranged, at first lanceolate, elliptic to oval, with irregular margins, then becoming compound and bijugate (bigeminate). Petioles are short (0.5-4.0 mm), with two narrow adaxial channels, one occasionally becoming branched, but absent or vestigial in the lowest nodes; a single or two small pubescent leaves occur laterally and medially; these subtend the thorny branches when branching occurs (Hall and Walker, 1991).


The crown is almost spherical or hemispherical and conforms to Champagnat's model (Halle et al., 1978). The branches are clearly distinguished from a trunk progressively built up by superposition of renewal shoots, which are generated by lateral buds after the apical shoot bends and becomes pendulous under its own weight (Hall and Walker, 1991).


The trunk is 30-45 cm in diameter, with thick, grey to dark brown bark, deeply fissured with ragged corky scales. branches with weeping habit and armed with green axillary thorns up to 8 cm long. On younger trees and on the branches the bark is smoother and is often green. Trees are generally smaller (15-17 m) in West Africa, Saharan Africa and the Middle East than in the eastern and southern parts of its range.

Root system

The root system is a complex system of strong, diagonally radiating roots forming a hemispherical mass (Adam, 1967). There are reports of deep penetration and restricted lateral spread (Glover et al., 1962) as well as prominent shallow, wide-spreading lateral roots (NRC, 1983). Deeply penetrating taproots, which extend up to several metres, are mentioned by several authors (Goor and Barney, 1976; NRC, 1983; Maydell, 1986; Booth and Wickens, 1988).

Branches and spines

B. aegyptiaca is usually described as a small tree or shrub, as lopping or heavy browsing imposes a dwarf or bushy growth form (Maydell, 1986). However, in ideal conditions, the crown can reach over 6 m in diameter (Glover et al., 1962). The usual form is a tangled mass of long thorny twigs, stiff and brittle proximally but terminating in slender, drooping, flexible branchlets bearing spines, but often very few leaves. Branchlets and young branches are green, with grey lenticels, terete and initially pubescent. The spines are generally simple and arise singly in supra-axillary positions in spiral phyllotaxy. Each is stout, almost straight, ascending, and green with a brown tip (Hall and Walker, 1991).


The leaves are compound, alternate, green or grey-green, each with one pair of leathery leaflets (NRC, 1983). The canaliculate petiole is 5-20 mm long and the rachis is short. The leaf shape is sometimes slightly asymmetric, but generally close to ovate, obovate or elliptic, although narrower forms may exist (Berhaut, 1967; Ozenda, 1977). Apices of the leaflets are rounded or cuneate. The petiole and lamina are pubescent initially, but the lamina is usually described as becoming glabrous with time.

Sands (1990) describes the stipules as triangular and usually falling early.

Inflorescence, flowers and fruits

Flower buds are ovoid and tomentose. Flowers are inconspicuous, most commonly in a sessile or shortly pedunculate fascicle of a few flowers (Goldsmith and Carter, 1981), although considerable variation in inflorescence form has been reported, even within localities (Post, 1932; (Eggeling and Dale, 1952; Gilbert, 1958; Keay et al., 1960; Zohary, 1972; Geerling, 1982; Maydell, 1986).

Individual flowers are hermaphrodite, pentamerous and actinomorphic, 8-14 mm in diameter and generally greenish-yellow. The five coriaceous sepals are free, deciduous, finely pubescent on the outside, whereas the inner bears long, silky hairs.

The fruits are fleshy, ellipsoidal drupes, green, 2.5-4 x 1.5-2.5 cm and weigh 6-15 g, ripening to a yellowish colour and finally pale brown. When mature, a thin, leathery smooth or, more typically, transversely wrinkled exocarp loosely encloses a thick yellow-brown, fibrous, oily gummy mesocarp, surrounding a hard-pointed thick woody endocarp (stone) containing the seed. The mesocarp is rich in the sugars fructose, glucose and sucrose (NRC, 1983; Maydell, 1986) and the kernel is rich in oil (30-58%) and crude protein (26-30%). After air-drying (15% moisture content) there are 500-1500 cleaned seeds per kg (Maydell, 1986). Seeds are 15 mm long (Corner; 1976), rugulose, yellow and ex-albuminous.


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. 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. Herbarium specimens and other reports support this view. Wickens (1976) suggests that two flowering periods may occur. Records of fruiting are less easily interpreted because the fruits apparently take at least 1 year to ripen and mature, although the most reliable references suggest that the dry season is the peak period for fruiting.

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).

Review of Natural Distribution

Hall and Walker (1991) state that B. aegyptiaca extends across more than 50° of latitude, from Israel to Zimbabwe. It also has a wide longitudinal extension from the Atlantic coast of Mauritania to the Horn of Africa (Somalia) on the African mainland and to the coast of Iran (Launert, 1963; Quezel, 1965; Zohary, 1973).

Vegetation types

B. aegyptiaca is present in a wide range of vegetation types from savanna woodland to deciduous bushland and thicket to desert vegetation of wadis (IBPGR-Kew, 1984; Hall and Walker, 1991). Natural formations of B aegyptiaca, characteristically well-spaced individuals with full crown exposure, have largely disappeared in Sahelian and East Africa and human activities have often highlighted the secondary nature of the vegetation. Pure stands can occur as they are often left when other trees are felled, due to their value (Suliman and Jackson 1959).

Location of Introductions

Booth and Wickens (1988) report that there are plantings of B. aegyptiaca in the Cape Verde Islands, Curacao, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Plantings have also been reported in India. Individual trees are planted extensively in Africa, and small plantations have been established in Niger, Chad and northern Nigeria.

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).


B. aegyptiaca has a wide ecological amplitude (Maydell, 1983), being distributed throughout Africa and tolerating wet and dry conditions (Hall and Walker, 1991).


As a drought-resistant species, rainfall requirements range between 250 and 800 mm, but B. aegyptiaca can tolerate 100-1000 mm annually (Maydell 1983). In lowest rainfall areas, it is confined to sites with available groundwater (Suliman and Jackson, 1959; National Academy of Sciences, 1983).

Hall and Walker (1991) suggest a 1000 mm annual mean rainfall isohyet as the limit to the natural spread of B. aegyptiaca in Sudan. Where reports indicate frequent presence in wetter conditions, it is usually apparent that the vegetation is secondary and that disturbance has favoured progressive invasion, and probably at times conscious introduction, from drier areas into unoccupied sites. Isolated reports of B. aegyptiaca from areas with a mean rainfall of 1300 mm in Guinea Bissau and the Central African Republic also reflect this.


B. aegyptiaca can withstand high temperatures up to 40°C (NAS, 1983). Mean annual temperatures between 20 to 30°C are found over most of its range, underlining the probability of a tropical origin for the species.

Hall and Walker (1991) reported that in low elevations of West Africa it is subject to mean annual temperatures of 24°C whereas over elevated areas of Eastern and Southern Africa the range is generally 20-25°. Mean annual temperatures decline under coastal influences, but only in the Ethiopian mountains does this fall below 19°C.


B. aegyptiaca can grow from altitudes of 300-1500 (-2000) m (Hall and Walker, 1991) and shows relatively little sensitivity to elevation. It has been reported from 380 m below sea level beside the Dead Sea in Israel (Zohary, 1973) to as high as 1850 m in the Tibesti mountains of Chad (Quezel, 1965).

Soil and Physiography

B. aegyptiaca occurs on a wide range of soils: sandy, stony, clayey or alluvial (Maydell 1983), volcanic materials (Glover et al., 1962; Ramsay and Leeuw, 1965), old crystalline rocks (Kassas, 1956), sandstones (Ramsay, 1964), sandy plains (Ramsay, 1958), alluvial soils (Brenan and Greenway, 1949) and black clays (Bodgan, 1958). It can tolerate heavy clay soils (Teel, 1984), but growth is weaker and more sporadic on deep, fine sandy soils (Suliman and Jackson, 1959; Baumer, 1983). Mbuya et al. (1994) report that it can grown on sand, clay, black cotton, alluvial and stony soils, but prefers valley soils.

It is often found on sites liable to inundation, for example, near ponds, along wadis, in depressions, but also on scree slopes (Baumer, 1983; Burkill, 1985). It resists seasonal, but not prolonged flooding (NAS, 1983; IBPGR-Kew, 1984), being common on clays subject to inundation for up to 3-5 months in the year. This adaptation for intermittent flooding accounts for the prominence of B. aegyptiaca at the edges of floodplains and along water courses in areas of low rainfall (when reliance is on groundwater) and high rainfall, where flooding may exclude most species that grow in interfluvial situations under the same rainfall regime.


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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: Wood Uses

Wood properties

The sapwood and heartwood are undifferentiated; a clear, creamy colour with a tinge of pale brown, or pale yellow, with paler conspicuous bands of ray parenchyma (Goldsmith and Carter, 1981). The wood has a medium to fine texture, well defined growth rings, exhibits no serious seasoning defects and resembles that of beech (Fagus sylvatica) (Dale and Greenway, 1961). The wood density is 765 kg/cubic metre at 12% moisture content (Goldsmith and Carter, 1981) and specific gravity is 0.65. It is hard, compact, fine grained and resistant to insects including termites (Burkill, 1985; Teel, 1985). It planes, saws, splits, polishes and turns easily (Suliman and Jackson, 1960; Burkill, 1985), but small sized stems or fluting of larger stems by ingrowing bark (Suliman and Jackson, 1960) limit its usefulness. With regard to durability, Goldsmith and Carter (1981) regard the timber as poor because of a low heartwood content, although other sources note better durability. The wood is resistant to borers and termite attack, but is prone to blue sap-stain and fungal mould (Goldsmith and Carter, 1981).


The timber is suitable for small furniture, cabinetry and joinery, making tool handles, domestic utensils, agricultural implements, carved throwing sticks, walking sticks and chewsticks (Baumer, 1983; Burkill, 1985). Occasionally, poles are used for hut building (Suliman and Jackson, 1960).

Fuelwood and charcoal

B. aegyptiaca is a high quality firewood (Burkill, 1985) with a calorific value of 4600 kcal/kg (NAS, 1983). It burns almost smoke-free and can be used in dwellings (Malzy, 1954; NAS, 1983; Burkill, 1985), but Suliman and Jackson (1960) describe it as burning with an oily smoke.

B. aegyptiaca produces high quality charcoal (Burkill, 1985), which is also used for making ink in Ghana and Nigeria (Pipe-Wolferson, 1987) and indigo dyeing in Mali and Chad. Abu-Al-Futuh (1983) notes that the hard, woody fruit shell could be used for fuel and for making activated charcoal.

Uses: Non-Wood Uses


This tree is of great importance to many African desert peoples, so much so that it is used in ceremonies and has superstitious value (Maydell, 1983; Burkill, 1985). It is mainly appreciated for fruit, fuelwood and forage; and fruits and seeds and even flowers are sold in African food markets (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1960; Liu and Nakanishi, 1982).


The fruit of B. aegyptiaca is a very important wild food and is eaten widely in North, West and East Africa. The mesocarp is nourishing, rich in sugars and palatable, with a bitter-sweet flavour. Ripe fruits are eaten raw or sun-dried and stored like dates, made into sweetmeats or fruit juice (when macerated with water) and mixed with cereals, or fermented to make alcoholic beverages (Bernus, 1979; Storrs, 1982; Becker, 1983; Burkill, 1985). The fruit should not be eaten in excess as the saponin content can act as a laxative, but schoolchildren in West Africa reportedly consume 15-20 fruits per day. As fruits are eaten so widely, they may not be toxic, but uncertainty prevents its promotion as food (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983). The fruits are used to flavour chewing tobacco (Maydell, 1983).

Traditionally, the fruit was processed by soaking to remove the pulp, the shells cracked manually and seed debittered by steeping for 3-4 days or cooking twice. Manual techniques are suitable on a small scale, but industrial usage requires handling of tonnes of fruit (especially for sapogenin production). Abu-Al-Futuh (1983) describes methods and processes that allow full industrial use of the fruit, including separation of mesocarp, shell and kernel; conversion of shell to activated charcoal; extraction of crude oil from seed, refining oil and soap production; debittering kernel seed or seed cake for food and fodder use; extraction of sapogenins from seed, seed cake, and fruit pulp slurry; alcohol distillation, fermentation of fruit pulp and fodder production process. Hardman and Sofowora (1972) also describe industrially applicable methods of obtaining resin-free sapogenins from both pulp and seed.

Leaves and young shoots

These are used as a vegetable, added to soups or to melon seed and peanut pastes, and used as a relish (FAO, 1967; Becker, 1983; Burkill, 1985). Leaves have a high protein content and preliminary boiling removes bitterness (Burkill, 1985).


The nectar is sucked by children, and flowers added to soups, or couscous, often at ceremonial meals (FAO, 1967; Burkill, 1985; Pipe-Wolferson, 1987). The flowers are also added to vegetable relishes.


The kernels are a valuable supplementary food in many areas (Grivetti, 1981) or play a role as famine food (Bernus, 1979) and staple in others (Burkill, 1985). Kernel and seed meal are protein rich and only slightly inferior to groundnuts with respect to amino acid content (Tayeau et al., 1955; Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983; Nour et al., 1985). Seeds are added to soups and made into a type of bread (Burkill, 1985) and seed meal is eaten in Senegal, Sudan and Uganda (FAO, 1967). Kernels are obtained by hand cracking (Burkill, 1985), otherwise the nuts are boiled in water until the shell bursts and frees the seed (Bernus, 1979). The bitter principle in seeds is eliminated by cooking twice (Burkill, 1985), steeping for 3-4 days (Pipe-Wolferson, 1987) or leaching with water at 60°C for 48 hours. Debittered seeds could possibly be marketed as salted, roasted nuts, used in making sweets or made into a paste-like nut butter. Seed meal tested on rats showed no gross toxicity (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983). The kernel yields 40% of an oil called zachun oil (Eggeling and Dale, 1952).


The oil is a valuable cooking oil (Suliman and Jackson, 1960; Palgrave, 1983) with no obvious flavour and an acceptable smell (Davis et al., 1983).


The resin is soft, arranged in globular pieces and is full of fluid when freshly collected from the bark. It is pleasant to suck (Burkill, 1985) or can be made into a drink (IBPGR-Kew, 1984). It hardens to a firm cement, which is used to fix arrows and spearheads to shafts in Kenya (Burkill, 1985).


These are used as pieces in board games and in making curios such as necklaces, rosaries and dolls (Burkill, 1985). The seed is sometimes used to detoxify yam (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). The oil from seeds burns with a bright flame, hence dry kernels are sometimes used as torches (Palgrave, 1983).

Medicinal Properties

A wide range of complaints are treated using all parts of the tree. Scientific interest has been shown in hypoglycaemic and hypocholesterolemic agents in fruit pulp (Abdel-Rahim et al., 1986; El-Saadany et al., 1986), but the main interest is in the presence of diosgenin and yemogenin which are starting points for the manufacture of cortisone and other corticosteroid drugs, especially sex hormones and oral contraceptives (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983; Burkill, 1985).

Leaves are used to cleanse malignant wounds in Libya and Eritrea (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962), septic carbuncles in Senegal (Burkill, 1985) and boils (Bernus, 1979). Shoots are chewed into a paste for wound dressing in Sudan (Burkill, 1985). The oil is used to treat parasitic skin conditions and as an antiseptic (Moldenke, 1954).

The bark and resin are used for bronchial complaints, colds and pneumonia in Central Sahara, Senegal, northern Nigeria and Kenya. Fruits also used as a cold cure (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962).

Seeds are sold as a febrifuge in northern Nigeria (Burkill, 1985; Maydell, 1983); the leaf infusion is drunk against fever, as it causes vomiting (Bernus, 1979). Roots and seeds are used effectively for malaria treatment (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962; B. aegyptiaca) and the leaves and oil used against trypanosomiasis (Liu and Nakanishi, 1982).

The bark and root bark are used to treat mental disorders (Burkill, 1985) and epilepsy (Maydell, 1983). Powdered bark preparations are taken for angina in the Central Sahara (Burkill, 1985). Seed, root bark, bark and fruits are all consumed to alleviate stomach complaints; they are cathartic, laxative and purgative depending on dose (Liu and Nakanishi, 1982; Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983, Baumer, 1983, Burkill, 1985, Maydell, 1983).

Other conditions that have been reported to be treated by B. aegyptiaca are syphilis, sterility, rheumatism, toothache, yellow fever and it is used as an abortifacient (Burkill, 1985), galactagogue (Burkill, 1985) and remedy for snakebite and poisons (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962; Maydell, 1983; Burkill, 1985).

Antimicrobial properties

Root and bark extracts are active against Bacillus subtilis, Penicillium crustosum and Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Liu and Nakanishi, 1982).

Insecticidal properties

Root and bark extracts are active against the Mexican bean beetle, Epilachna varivestis (Liu and Nakanashi, 1982), and saponins are lethal to water fleas (Cyclops), which act as a vector for guinea-worm (Dracunculus medinensis) disease (Burkill, 1985).

Molluscicidal properties

The mesocarp and kernel contain water-soluble molluscicidal saponins (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983) and balanitin molluscicides have been extracted from both the root and bark (Liu and Nakanishi, 1982). Freshwater snails, host of the Schistosoma trematode, are killed by the saponins; activity against Lymnaea natalensis, Biomphalaria pfeifferi, B. glabratus and Bulinus truncatus adults has also been observed (Liu and Nakanishi, 1982, Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983). Saponins derived from B. aegyptiaca are also active against free-living stages of Schistosoma and Dracunculus medinensis (guinea worm), tadpoles and some fish (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). The potency of preparations is high, for example, one fruit will kill all the snails in 30 l of water (Palgrave, 1983). Water treated with fruit pulp remains non-toxic to humans and stock (Maydell, 1983), but Jahn (1981) recommended avoidance of water treatment using bark owing to sapotoxins. Trees planted around wells, waterholes, ponds and streams would allow fruit drop to spontaneously remove snails from water courses and ponds (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962; Storrs, 1982; Burkill, 1985). A field trial using this practice in Puerto Rico gave 15-75% mortality of snails and low fish mortality (Booth and Wickens, 1988).

Fish poison

Strong emulsions of the fruit, bark, roots or leafy stems are widely used as fish poison in drier parts of East and West Africa (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962; Burkill, 1985). The powdered fruit shell is used in the Côte d'Ivoire, but reportedly can cause loss of eyesight in fishermen (Burkill, 1985).

Saponins and soap products

Saponins occur in most parts of the tree, but are more concentrated in fruit pulp (7.2-8%) and the kernel (4-6.7%) (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962; Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983). Steroid sapogenins in the fruit pulp are 25-33% diosgenin and 66-75% yamogenin, and 70% and 30%, respectively, in the kernel (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983).

The fruits, green fruit pulp, wood chips, bark, roots, root barks and bark fibre produce soapy water with detergent properties when soaked, pounded and agitated in water, which can be used for washing clothes (Bernus, 1979; Burkill, 1985).

The oil is suitable for soap manufacture (Davis et al., 1983); oleic-linoleic soaps have good foaming and detergency properties, but lack firmness. This is overcome by the addition of tallow (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983).

Fuel oil

Munavu and Odhiambo (1984) discuss the potential of B. aegyptiaca oil as a non-conventional fuel, as it has a heating value which compares favourably to diesel. However, engine performance tests have not yet been undertaken and its use could cause corrosion or deposits on engines and environmental pollution due to incomplete combustion. Additionally, its use as an edible oil means it is unlikely to be developed as a fuel oil.


Leaves and shoots both contain sufficient protein for livestock, wild herbivores and camels (Houerou, 1980a, 1980b; Baumer, 1983; Burkill, 1985). The fruits when fallen are eaten by livestock and wild animals (Maydell, 1983; Burkill, 1985). Up to 40, 10 and 5% fruit pulp can be incorporated into cattle, poultry-layers and chicken's diets, respectively. Slop remaining after the fermentation of pulp for chemical products is also potentially useful fodder (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983).

Feeding value of seed cake is slightly lower than that of groundnut but it contains saponins which may give it a bitter taste. A mixture of 20% seed cake plus 10% straw successfully replaced 30% cotton seed cake in sheep's diet (El-Khidir et al., 1983) and 5-20% replacement is palatable and does not cause digestive disturbances in desert sheep (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983). Inclusion of 25% of seed cake (without removal of steroidal sapogenins) has adverse effects on weight gain and mortality in poultry, but 7.5% (debittered or not) can replace 9.5% of other seedcakes (cotton, groundnut, sesame) in poultry feed without toxic effect, but causes reduced egg production (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983).

Uses: Land Uses

B. aegyptiaca is used as a live fence in West and East Africa, and is especially suitable for cattle kraals due to its thorns and suckering habit (Storrs, 1982, Burkill, 1985), although it may take long to establish. It can be browsed, although for certain livestock under some conditions it is effectively unpalatable and would be appropriate for barriers. Thorny branches of B. aegyptiaca are also used for brushwood fencing (Maydell, 1983), a threat to wild trees since the trees are destroyed to use the branches.

B. aegyptiaca can protect against wind (Maydell, 1983) and could be of value as a shade tree and protection in green belts (Suliman and Jackson, 1960). The usually evergreen behaviour potentially makes it an attractive element to introduce into shelterbelts, although not as a principal species, due to its slow growth.

Due to its usefulness, B. aegyptiaca is often respected, if not actively protected (Burkill, 1985), but young trees can be subject to over-browsing by livestock, and trees are frequently reduced to small bushes near villages (Abu-Al-Futuh, 1983; Maydell, 1983).

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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Abu-Al-Futuh IM, 1983. Balanites aegyptiaca; an Unutilized Raw Material Potential Ready for Agro-industrial Exploitation. United Nations Industrial Development Organization Report TF/INT/77/021. Vienna, Austria: UNIDO.

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Baumer M, 1983. Notes on trees and shrubs in arid and semi-arid regions. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Becker B, 1983. The contribution of wild plants to human nutrition in the Ferlo (Northern Senegal). Agroforestry Systems, 1(3):257-267.

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Distribution References

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

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