According to Kew Species Profiles[KSP]
Kew Species Profiles
- General Description
The wood of Vachellia nilotica was used by ancient Egyptians to make statues and furniture.
Vachellia nilotica has been used since early Egyptian dynasties. Disocorides (the Greek philosopher, physician and ‘father of botany’ c.40 to 90 A.D.) described in his Materia Medica a preparation extracted from the leaves and fruit pods. He called this ‘akakia’, and it is from this word that the modern name is derived. The origin of the previous name for the genus was Acacia which means 'spiny' and is a typical feature of the species.
- Species Profile
Geography and distribution
Vachellia nilotica is widespread in subtropical and tropical Africa from Egypt to Mauritania southwards to South Africa, and in Asia eastwards to Pakistan and India.
It has been introduced in China, Australia (in Northern Territory and Queensland where it is considered to be a pest plant of national importance), the Caribbean, Indian Ocean islands, Mauritius, the United States, Central America, South America and the Galápagos Islands. It has naturalized in several countries where it has been introduced as a medicinal, forage and fuelwood plant.
Some African subspecies occur in wooded grassland, savanna and dry shrub forest. Other subspecies are restricted to riverine habitats and seasonally flooded areas. The subspecies nilotica is adapted to periodic flooding followed by extended droughts. It grows at up to 1,500 metres above sea level, although only to 500 m in the Himalaya mountains. It grows best in alluvium soil but also grows well on heavy clay soil with a pH range of 5 to 9.
There are nine subspecies of Vachellia nilotica, which occur in Africa (two in southern Africa), India and Pakistan.
Overview: A small to medium tree, 7 to 13 m tall, with a stem diameter of 20 to 30 cm. The crown is low, spreading and almost symmetrical, and can be flattened or a rounded umbrella-shape (in free standing specimens). The bark is very dark brown to black with deep regular vertical grooves in older specimens. The thorns are almost straight, paired at the nodes of the stem and usually pointing slightly backwards.
Leaves: The leaves are bipinnate, 4.5 to 7 cm long, with 2 to 14 pairs of pinnae. The leaflets are 1.5 to 7 mm long. The trees generally lose their leaves during the dry season, though riverine subspecies can be almost evergreen.
Flowers: The flowers are bright yellow and borne on globe-shaped flower heads. The flowers are sweetly scented and appear near the beginning of the rainy season. Flowering is prolific, and can occur a number of times in a season. Often only about 0.1% of flowers set pods.
Fruits: The nutritious pods retain their seeds at maturity and are dispersed by animals. The pods are compressed, slightly curved, and vary from slightly constricted to almost rosary-like (like a string of beads). The pods are smooth or covered with fine hairs. A mature tree can produce 2,000 to 3,000 pods in a good fruiting season, each with eight to 16 seeds, yielding 5,000 to 16,000 seeds per kg, depending on the subspecies.
Threats and conservation
Vachellia nilotica is a pioneer species, easily regenerated from seed, and is not considered to be threatened. It can become a weed when introduced out of its native range, particularly in more humid zones. Thorniness can be a problem when introduced to areas where people do not traditionally use thorn trees.
A wide range of pests and diseases affect this species. The stem borer Cerostema scabrator is a pest of economic importance on young plantations in India. Euproctis lunata and E. subnotata occasionally defoliate patches of forest in Sukkur and Hyderabad. In Africa, bruchid beetles attack the seeds, destroying up to 70% of them. Buprestid beetles cause a dieback disease in Sudan. Fungal rots ( Fomes papianus and F. badius) attack unhealthy trees, and powder-post beetles ( Sibixylon anale and Lyctus africanus) attack the sapwood of felled timber. Many wild mammals feed on the seed pods and a large number of insect species attack the mature seeds.
Vachellia nilotica has a wealth of medicinal uses. It is used for stomach upset and pain, the bark is chewed to protect against scurvy, an infusion is taken for dysentery and diarrhoea. In Nigeria it is one of the standard drugs for treating diarrhoea. It has also been used to eliminate stomach worms, as an antiseptic for open wounds and as an expectorant for treating coughs. The species has also been used in veterinary medicine, for example as a molluscicide to reduce liver-flukes in cattle.Gum
Gum is present in the bark and tends to be dark in colour. This species may indeed have been the original source of true gum arabic which is now obtained commercially from Senegalia senegal. The Vachellia nilotica gum, samogh or samuk (arabic) is sold in balls and is commercially of inferior quality. It has been used as an emulsifying agent and emollient. It is edible and is used to relieve throat and chest complaints.Other uses
The pods are desirable as fodder for cattle, and the leaves, young shoots and young pods are thought to aid milk production.
Vachellia nilotica wood burns without too much smoke and provides good charcoal. The flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees. This species is suitable for live fencing, mine timber, railway sleepers, boat building, wheels, and water wells as its wood is durable and resistant to borers and termites.
The sap-wood and heart-wood was used in ancient Egypt for house beams, furniture, panelling and statues as it was regarded as impervious to insect and fungus attack. The bark contains tannins and has been used to preserve and soften leather. Phytochemical analysis has shown the presence of two types of tannin (gallotannins and catechins) which explain its therapeutic action as well as its use in tanning hides.
Babul (subspecies indica) is a popular farm tree of the central plains of India. More recently, interest has centred on the fastigiate form (subspecies cupressiformis). This subspecies makes an ideal windbreak to surround fields as its narrow crown shades less than other windbreak species.
In shamanism Vachellia nilotica has been used to drive away evil spirits.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in a seed bank vault.
A collection of Vachellia nilotica seeds is held in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.
See Kew's Seed Information Database for further information on Acacia nilotica seedsDescription of seeds
Subcircular in outline, 6-9 x 5-8 mm, the two faces of the seed with a U-shaped pleurogram surrounding an areole 5-7 x 4-7 mm. The seed is free of tannins, but contains mucilage and sugars. They also contain a dark yellow oil at a concentration of 5.5%.
Seed from natural populations of some subspecies are available from India and some Sahelian countries. A broader range of germplasm and Rhizobium inoculum, is available from the Oxford Forestry Institute (Oxford OX1 3RB UK) for field trials.
Vachellia nilotica is a slow-growing species but is moderately long-lived. It is easily established from seed, but needs scarification (the hard seed coat must be subjected to mechanical abrasion or hot water treatment), especially if seeds are not fresh. Seeds generally germinate quickly (7-15 days). Seedlings need full exposure to sunlight and a free-draining soil.
This species will tolerate only light frost, but is extremely resistant to drought and heat. It is also tolerant of saline soil. Young trees coppice well, and this species can be propagated from truncheons, root suckers and cuttings. Some subspecies can be invasive (and can be extremely invasive in exotic habitats). The species can be direct seeded or established by seedlings. In the nursery long poly-tubes (20 x 7 cm) should be used so as not to restrict rapid tap root growth. Frequent root pruning is advised. Nursery grown seedlings are usually planted out after six months, but in some cases stay in the nursery for up to a year. Establishment varies depending on the site. Seedlings are shade intolerant.
In irrigated plantations in the Sind and Punjab, 10-15 seeds are spot sown at 2 x 3 m spacing on the tops of trenches. They are thinned to three to four seedlings after three to four months. Further thinning occurs at five year intervals. Rotations are 20-25 years. In the Thal desert, Pakistan (where there is 250 mm annual rainfall), promising growth resulted from irrigation at 10 day intervals. Growth rates varied considerably depending on the sites, with maximum mean annual increment of 13 m3 / ha at 20 years old and 10.5 m3 / ha at 30 years recorded.
This species at Kew
Preserved specimens of Acacia nilotica seeds, flowers, fruits, gum, wood and bark are held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection, where they are available to researchers by appointment.
Search Kew's Economic Botany Collection
Kew's species profile for Vachellia nilotica - a tree used by ancient Egyptians as a source of wood for statues and furniture.
- Egypt, India, South Africa
- This species can withstand extremely dry environments and can also endure floods. It thrives under irrigation.
- Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
The leaves and fruits can be poisonous if eaten in large quantities.
According to Flora of Tropical East Africa under the synonym Acacia nilotica[FTEA]
Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971
- An exceedingly variable species.
- Tree (1.2–) 2.5–14 m. high; bark on trunk rough, fissured, blackish, grey or brown, neither powdery nor peeling.
- Young branchlets from almost glabrous to subtomentose; glands inconspicuous or absent; bark of twigs not flaking off, grey to brown.
- Stipules spinescent, up to 8 cm. long, straight or almost so, often ± deflexed; “ant-galls” and other prickles absent.
- Leaves often with 1(–2) petiolar glands and others between all or only the topmost of the 2–11 pairs of pinnae; leaflets 7–25 pairs, 1.5–7 mm. long, 0.5–1.5 mm. wide, glabrous to pubescent; lateral nerves invisible beneath.
- Flowers bright yellow, in axillary pedunculate heads 6–15 mm. in diameter; involucel from near base to about halfway up peduncle.
- Calyx 1–2 mm. long, subglabrous to pubescent.
- Corolla 2.5–3.5 mm. long, glabrous to ± pubescent outside.
- Pods especially variable, indehiscent, straight or curved, glabrous to grey-velvety, ± turgid, (4–) 8–17(–22) cm. long, 1.3–2.2 cm. wide.
- Seeds deep blackish-brown, smooth, subcircular, compressed, 7–9 mm. long, 6–7 mm. wide; areole 6–7 mm. long, 4.5–5 mm. wide.
According to Flora Zambesiaca under the synonym Acacia nilotica[FZ]
Leguminosae, J.P.M. Brenan. Flora Zambesiaca 3:1. 1970
- An exceedingly variable species.
- Tree (1·2)2·5-14 m. high; bark on trunk rough, fissured, blackish or grey or brown, neither powdery nor peeling; young branchlets from almost glabrous to subtomentose; glands inconspicuous or absent; bark of twigs not flaking off, grey to brown.
- Stipules spinescent, up to 8(11) cm. long, straight or almost so, often ± deflexed; “ant-galls” and other prickles absent.
- Leaves often with 1 (2) petiolar glands and other glands between all or only the topmost of the 2-11(17) pairs of pinnae; leaflets 7-25(30) pairs, 1.5-7 x 0.5-1.5 mm., glabrous to pubescent, not spinulose-mucronate at the apex; lateral nerves invisible beneath.
- Flowers bright-yellow, in axillary pedunculate heads 6-15 mm. in diam.; involucel from near the base to c. half-way up the peduncle, very rarely somewhat higher up.
- Calyx 1-2 mm. long, subglabrous to pubescent.
- Corolla 2.5-3.5 mm. long, glabrous to ± pubescent outside.
- Pods especially variable, indehiscent, (4)8-17(24) x 1.3-2.2 cm., straight or curved, glabrous to grey-velvety, ± turgid.
- Seeds deep-blackish-brown, 7-9 x 6-7 mm., smooth, subcircular, compressed; areole 6-7 x 4.5-5 mm.
According to Project MGU – Useful Plants Project (UPP) database as Acacia nilotica[UPPd]
- #NAME? Charcoal. Unspecified plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Stems - Traditional food Plants of Kenya
- Food Additives
- Bark boiled with meat to soften it (Pokot). Bark - Traditional food Plants of Kenya
- Infections & Infestations
- Bark is peeled off and the phloem strands folded into a ball and cheed. Juice produced by chewing phloem strands folded into a ball is used to treat coughs Bark - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition A decoction of the bark is given to children with fever Bark - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition
- Bark is peeled off and the phloem strands folded into a ball and cheed. Juice produced by chewing phloem strands folded into a ball is used to treat sore throats. Bark - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition
- chest pain/ pneumonia Leaves - Tree Seed Handbook of Kenya
- Constructions - Polemaking. Stems - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Constructions Stems - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa: basic list of species and commodity grouping Wood hard and durable, used as posts for grain stores (Kamba). Stems - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Roofs - The wood is hard, tough, termite resistant and durable used as roof support in traditional Maasai homes. Stems - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Buildings - The wood is hard, tough, termite resistant and durable used as posts for grain stores. Stems - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Other Products - Live fence. Live plant (in situ) - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Genitourinary System Disorders
- Decoction drunk for impotence Bark - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition Used to treat gonorhoea Roots (incl. Rhizomes etc) - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition Used as an aphrodisiac Bark and roots - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition
- Digestive System Disorders
- Decoction used to aid digestion Bark - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition Boiled roots are used for indegestion or stomach trouble Roots (incl. Rhizomes etc) - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition
- Deoction drunk as a powerful stimulant Bark - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition
- Boundary Barrier Support Plants
- Fencing material. Live plant (in situ) - Traditional food Plants of Kenya
- Sacred Spiritual Plants
- Ground bark used for rituals (Maasai). Bark - Traditional food Plants of Kenya
- Leaves - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa: basic list of species and commodity grouping
- Soil Improvers
- Nitrogen-fixing. Live plant (in situ) - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Other Materials
- Other Products - Thorns used for piercing ears (Kamba, Tharaka), Other plant parts - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Other Products - Thorns used for removing jiggers (Mbeere). Other plant parts - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Other Products - Thorns used as plugs for gourds (Kamba, Mbeere). Other plant parts - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Tools - Thorns used as plugs for gourds. Other plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Tools - Thorns used for piercing ears. Other plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Tools - The bark is a tenderizer for meat. Bark - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Tannins Dyestuffs
- Pigments - Bark and roots are a source of dye for baskets (Machakos). Bark - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Pigments - Bark used for tanning (Mbeere). Bark - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Pigments - Gum from fruits rubbed on hair by old men (Digo). Other plant parts - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Unspecified Product - The bark is used for tanning and dying leather (red-brown colour). Bark - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Shade Shelter
- Shade. Live plant (in situ) - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Erosion Control
- Soil conservation and stabilization. Live plant (in situ) - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Dune fixation. Live plant (in situ) - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Respiratory System Disorders
- Tbe leaves may be boiled in tea, or coffee which is drunk without milk or sugar as a treatment for chest pains or pneumonia Leaves - Medicinal Plants of East Africa. Second edition
- Other Food Type
- The boiled bark is commonly used as a substitute for tea. Bark - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Unspecified Materials Chemicals
- Tools Unspecified plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Personal Items - Toothbrush Unspecified plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Unspecified Animal Unspecified plant parts - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa: basic list of species and commodity grouping Other Domesticated Animals/livestock - Fooder for livestock. - Traditional food Plants of Kenya chest pain/ pneumonia Leaves - Tree Seed Handbook of Kenya Unspecified Animal - Leaves used as fodder. Leaves - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Unspecified Environmental Uses
- Unspecified plant parts - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa: basic list of species and commodity grouping
- Unspecified Fuel Type
- Unspecified plant parts - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa: basic list of species and commodity grouping
- Unspecified plant parts - Traditional food Plants of Kenya Firewood. Unspecified plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Gums Resins
- Unspecified Product Unspecified plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Unspecified Medicinal Disorders
- Veterinary medicine. Unspecified plant parts - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya Medical Accessories - treatment of veneral diseases Bark - Tree Seed Handbook of Kenya Stems - Tree Seed Handbook of Kenya Sap used in medicine. Exudates - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
- Other Environmental Uses
- Windbreak. Live plant (in situ) - Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya
Benin, Burkina, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, New Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Yemen
Argentina Northeast, Bahamas, Bolivia, California, Cuba, Ecuador, Galápagos, India, Iraq, Jamaica, Leeward Is., Mauritius, Mexico Central, Mexico Southwest, Northern Territory, Peru, Puerto Rico, Queensland, South Australia, Trinidad-Tobago, West Himalaya, Western Australia, Windward Is.
First published in Plant-book, ed. 3: 1021 (2008)
-  (2014) Australian Plant Census (APC) . Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria. http://www.anbg.gov.au/chah/apc/index.html.
-  (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
-  (2012) Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 36: 33-45
-  (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
-  (2012) Indian Journal of Forestry 35: 79-84
-  (2007) Scripta Botanica Belgica 36: 1-220
-  Spicer, N., Barnes, R. & Timberlake, J. (2007). Acacia Handbook. DFID Forestry Research Programme, U.K.
-  de Lourdes Rico-Acre, M. (2007) A checklist and synopsis of American species of Acacia (Leguminosae: Mimosoideae) . CONABIO, México D.F..
-  Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006) Flore Analytique du Bénin . Backhuys Publishers.
-  Lock, J.M. & Ford, C.S. (2004) Legumes of Malesia a Check-List . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
-  Jørgensen, P.M. & León-Yánes, S. (eds.) (1999) Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador . Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.
-  Timberlake, J., Fagg, C. & Barnes, R. (1999). Field Guide to the Acacias of Zimbabwe. CBC Publishing, Harare 160 pp.
-  Ellery, K. & Ellery, W. (1997). Plants of the Okavango Delta: a Field Guide. Tsaro Publishers Durban. vi, 225 pp.
-  Burkill, H. M. (1995). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa : Volume 3 Families J – L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 857 pp.
-  Audru, J., Cesar, J. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1994) Les Plantes Vasculaires de la République de Djibouti. Flore Illustrée 1: 1-336. CIRAD, Départerment d'Elevage et de Médecine vétérinaire, Djibouti.
-  Jones, M. (1991) A checklist of Gambian plants . Michael Jones, The Gambia College.
-  Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991) Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso . Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
-  Fagg, C. W. & Greaves, A. (1990). Acacia nilotica 1869-1988. CABI/OFI Annotated Bibliography No. F42. CAB International, Wallingford, Oxon, UK 77 pp.
-  (1989 publ. 1990) Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
-  Lock, J.M. (1989) Legumes of Africa a check-list . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
-  Sheik, M. I. (1989). Acacia nilotica (L.) Willd. ex Del. Its Production, Management and Utilization. Pakistan. Regional wood energy development programme in Asia, GCP/RAS/111/NET Field document no. 20, FAO, Bankok 10200, Thailand. 45 pp.
-  Tybirk, K. (1989). Flowering, pollination and seed production of Acacia nilotica. Nordic Journal of Botany 9: 375-381.
-  (1974) Flora of Iraq 3: 1-662. Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform, Baghdad.
International Plant Names Index
The International Plant Names Index (2016). Published on the Internet http://www.ipni.org
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Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families(2016). Published on the Internet http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
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