Botanical Name: Vachellia seyal
Species: V. seyal
*Acacia fistula Schweinf.
*Acacia flava (Forssk.) Schweinf. var. seyal (Delile) Roberty
*Acacia seyal Delile
*Acacia stenocarpa A.Rich.
Common Names: Shittah tree, Shittim Wood
Vachellia seyal is native to Semi-arid areas of tropical Africa – Senegal to Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia, south to Zambia. It mostly grows in groups or patches, sometimes of considerable size, in areas inhabited by Senegalia senegal.
Vachellia seyal is an evergreen thorny tree growing to 10 m (32ft) by 12 m (39ft) with a pale greenish or reddish bark. At the base of the 3–10 cm (1.2–3.9 in) feathery leaves, two straight, light grey thorns grow to 7–20 cm (2.8–7.9 in) long. The blossoms are displayed in round, bright yellow clusters about 1.5 cm (0.59 in) diameter. The flowers are pollinated by Bees.
This species is more commonly found within 12 degrees of the equator, especially in semi-arid areas. It is found in an altitude range of 1,700 – 2,000 metres, growing best where the mean annual temperature is in the range 18 – 28°c and the mean annual rainfall is 250 – 1,000mm. Grows best in a well-drained, neutral to acid soil. It normally prefers heavy, clayey soils, stony gravely alluvial soils or humic soils. This species is tolerant to a high pH in the range 6 – 8. Plants also tolerate salts in the soil and periodic flooding. The subspecies var. Fistula is more tolerant to waterlogging than var. Seyal. Plants are tolerant of wind and salt spray. On good sites, young trees can increase in height by more than 1 metre a year. Trees managed on a 10 – 15 years rotation can yield 10 – 35 cubic metres of fuel wood per hectare per year. Trees usually coppice very freely. The flowers are borne in profusion and are spicy scented or sweet smelling. Bees are the likely pollinators, the flowers yielding a white-coloured honey with mild aroma. Flowering is concentrated in the middle of the dry season, with ripe fruits appearing 4 months later. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby. Carbon Farming – Cultivation: regional crop. Management: standard.
An edible gum is obtained from the bark. Eaten when fresh, although it has slightly acid taste. It is also mixed with pulp from the fruit of Balanites aegyptiaca to make a syrup.
The bark, leaves and gums are used for colds, diarrhoea, haemorrhage, jaundice, headache and burns. A bark decoction is used against leprosy and dysentery, is a stimulant and acts as a purgative for humans and animals. Exposure to smoke is believed to relieve rheumatic pains. A root decoction mixed with leaves of Combretum glutinosum and curdled milk causes strong diuresis.
Agroforestry Uses: The plants root system makes it a good soil stabilizer. Other Uses: A gum arabic is obtained from the trunk. The gum (known as talha gum) is darker and inferior in quality to that of Acacia senegal (gum arabic). However, it forms 10% of the Sudanese gum exported to India and Europe. Talha does not meet the requirements of the food industry because it has not been toxicologically evaluated and contains tannins. For technological use outside the food industry, talha gum is attractive because of its clarity and solubility. The gum is mixed with soot and powdered Nubian sandstone for black and red ink. Pods and bark contain 20% tannin. The bark contains 18-30 % tannins and is a source of red dye. The smoke produced by burning the wood acts as a fumigant against insects and lice. Chemicals in the bark kill the freshwater snails that carry bilharzia parasites and algae growing in ponds. Methanolic extracts from the bark applied to ponds display algicidal properties. Molluscidal properties have been demonstrated with spray-dried powder of ethyl extracts, which are effective against schistosomiasis vectors Biomphalaria pfeifferi and Bulinus truncatus. The roots are used for making staves. The bark is used for making rope. The fibre has promising technological characteristics for use as particleboard. In many areas, farmers cut branches of A. Seyal to make fences. The thorny branches are good for this purpose and last about 2 years. The wood is pale yellow to medium brown, with localized pinkish-brown patches and some dark mahogany-red heartwood in larger or older individuals. It has potential in rural areas as timber. If the tree is grown with few knots and straight grain, sprayed with insecticide after felling, and treated with preservatives, the timber works well and is hard and tough. It produces a hard, dark wood, called shittim wood, with interlocked, irregular and coarse-textured grain. It takes good a polish but is susceptible to insect attack. Therefore, it must be properly treated by splitting it, putting it under water for a few weeks and then drying it thoroughly. Shittim wood was used by ancient Egyptians for pharaohs’ coffins. Produces a good, dense firewood that is highly valued and is used widely throughout its range. The smoke is pleasantly fragrant and the wood burns rather quickly. In Sudan it is used to make a fragrant fire over which women perfume themselves. A. Seyal var. Seyal is an important source of rural energy as both firewood and charcoal. Carbon Farming – Industrial Crop: gum. Agroforestry Services: nitrogen. Fodder: pod.
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