Herbs & Plants

Borassus aethiopum

Botanical Name: Borassus aethiopum
Family: Arecaceae
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Arecales
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Arecales
Genus: Borassus
Species: B. aethiopum

*Borassus aethiopum var. bagamojense Becc.
*Borassus aethiopum var. senegalense Becc.
*Borassus deleb Becc.
*Borassus flabellifer L. var. aethiopum (Mart.) Warb.
*Borassus sambiranensis Jum. & H. Perrier

Common Names: African fan palm, African palmyra palm, Deleb palm, Ron palm, Toddy palm, Black rhun palm, Rônier palm

Habitat:Borassus aethiopum is native to Tropical Africa – semi-arid and sub-humid zones of Senegal to Somalia, south to S. Africa. It grows on the riverine flats and coastal plains; open secondary forest; dense forest borders; savannah in drier areas where it is restricted to grassland with high ground water table, or along water courses, often forming dense stands in temporary flooded areas.

The typical form of Borassus aethiopum is a solitary evergreen palm tree grows up to 25 metres (82 ft) in height and 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) in diameter at the base. In the river bottoms (floodplains) of many East African rivers (the Rufiji in Tanzania and the Tana in Kenya among others) a closely related form can be up to seven feet (2.1 meters) thick at breast height (4 feet (1.2 meters) above ground) and having the same thickness in its upper ventricosity. It also has a height of up to 100 feet (30.5 meters) The fan-shaped leaves are 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide (larger, to 12 feet (3.66 meters) in the bottomlands form) with petioles 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) long; the margins are armed with spines. In male plants, the small flowers are largely concealed within the scaly catkins; the much larger female flowers reach 2 centimetres (0.79 in) wide and produce yellow to brown fruits. Each fruit contains 1-3 seeds, each enclosed within a woody endocarp. The floodplains variety is almost certainly the most massive of all palms.
The flowers are pollinated by Insects. The plant is not self-fertile. It is noted for attracting wildlife.


A plant of hot, tropical climates with low to medium rainfall, usually at elevations below 400 metres, but up to 1,200 metres in east Africa. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 20 – 35c, but can tolerate 15 – 45c. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 500 – 1,000mm, but tolerates 400 – 1,200mm[ 418 ]. Requires a well drained soil and a position in full sun. It is usually found in sandy, well-drained soils, but prefers alluvial soils near watercourses[ 418 ]. Plants are able to extract nutrients, and thus grow, on very nutrient-poor soils. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 – 7, tolerating 5 – 7.5. Established plants are drought tolerant. A slow-growing but long lived tree to over 100 years old. Three phases of growth are recognized. The first phase, taking around 6 – 8 years, involves leaf development, in which about 20 leaves grow in a wide crown around 3 metres by 3 metres. Very little upward growth takes place at this time. The second phase involves rapid growth of the trunk above the ground and takes place around the ages of 8 – 20 years. The bark of the tree is still rough at this stage and have many leaf stalks. The third phase, from about 20 years onwards, involves flowering and shedding of leafstalks. The trunk becomes smooth and swellings appear on it. The plant usually flowers and produces fruit all year round. The flowering stems are tapped for their sap, a process that starts when the tree is about 30 years old and can continue for another 30 years if managed carefully. Yields of 2 litres of sap per day can be achieved. Plants are very tolerant of forest fires. A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required. A female palm can produce 20-50 fruits per flower stalk. Green to orange round fruit 15 cm across. Each fruit contain 3 hard coated seeds weighing 100g each. The individual fruit is about 1 kg.

Edible Uses:
Edible portion: Fruit, Cabbage, Sap, Seeds, Palm heart, Vegetable. Fruit – fresh or dried. Slightly sweet, but with a mild turpentine-like flavour. The fruits have a large, fibrous pulp, weighing around 500g each, that smells strongly of turpentine. They are consumed raw or cooked, preferably with rice. Eaten as a food supplement. Rich in oil. The ripe, fallen fruit are collected, peeled and the juicy pulp is squeezed in water to form a solution which is added to porridge during cooking in order to improve the flavour. The fruit is 15cm in diameter and is produced in large clusters. The immature seed contains a sweet juice which can be drunk like coconut water. As it matures, it solidifies becoming jelly-like and eventually solid. It can be eaten at all stages, the flavour gradually becoming more nut-like. Young seedlings – eaten as a vegetable like asparagus. Highly esteemed. The mature seeds can be buried in pits and allowed to germinate, and the shoots are said to be a delicacy. The tuberous portion of the first juvenile leaves are rich in starch – they make a highly prized vegetable. Apical bud and young leaves – raw or cooked. Eaten in salads, or used as a vegetable. Eating this bud leads to the eventual death of the plant since it is unable to produce side shoots. The sap is extracted from the stem. Rich in sugars, it can be made into a refreshing beverage, fermented to make palm wine (toddy) or vinegar, or the sugars can be extracted. The tip of the trunk is cut and excavated so that a bowl-shaped depression is made where sap accumulates. The sap is then collected and slightly fermented into a refreshing drink. Destructive harvesting is sometimes employed, where the cut is renewed twice every day for 3 – 4 weeks until the tree is exhausted and dies. Chemical composition: Protein (crude) = 2.8% (dry). Fat = 0.5% (dry). Ash (insoluble) = 3.5% (dry). Fibre (crude) = 16.8% (dry). Amino acids (g (16g N)-1): Aspartic acid = 9.3g. Threonine = 3.6g. Serine = 3.9g. Glutamic acid = 8.9g. Proline = 5.0g. Glycine = 5.0g. Alanine = 5.0g. Valine = 5.0g. Cysteine = 0.1g. Methionine = 1.2g. Isoleucine = 3.6g. Leucine = 6.1g. Tyrosine = 2.8g. Phenylalanine = 3.6g. Lysine = 3.9g. Histidine = 2.1g. Arginine = 2.4g. Minerals: Sulphur = 0.04% (dry). Potassium = 0.09% (dry). Magnesium = 0.10% (dry). Calcium = 0.08% (dry). Na = 0.01% (dry). Zinc = 4 mg/kg (dry). Iron = 488 mg/kg (dry). Manganese = 8 mg/kg (dry). Copper = 2 mg/kg (dry)

Medicinal Uses:
The roots serve for the treatment of stomach parasites, bronchitis, sore throats and asthma, as well as being used for a mouthwash. The leaves are said to be an aphrodisiac. The sap is reported to have many uses.

Other Uses:
Agroforestry Uses: The tree is used to form an excellent firebreak, especially in the arid regions of West Africa, which are prone to wildfires. Other Uses The leaves are used for various purposes including for shelter, thatch, making mats and baskets. Young leaves, before unfolding, can be split into strips and woven into thin mats, baskets and other household objects. Mature leaves are used for thatch. A fibre obtained from the leaves is used for making nets. The leaf petioles are used for making furniture, baskets, fences etc. The fibre extracted from the base of the leaf stalk has valuable qualities of resistance to chemicals, termites and water. The leafstalk endings can be soaked in water to provide fibres that are used as sponges or filters. The leaf midribs are used to make brooms, fish traps and nets. An oil is extracted from the fruit. Ashes from the male flowers make a good potash. The dark brown, coarsely fibrous wood is a highly prized timber locally. It is very solid, hard, heavy, very resistant to termites and fungi. It is difficult to saw, plane or sand; splits when nailed. Only the outer part of the stem, between the base and the first swelling, is suitable for use. This layer, which can be 7 – 10cm thick on male trees, but only 4 – 5cm on female trees, is used in carpentry, construction, for telegraph poles, piers, and also for household articles. The wood is used for fuel and to make charcoal.

Known Hazards: Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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