Index | Search | Home

new crop Logo

Acacia nilotica (L.) Del.

Syn.: Mimosa nilotica L.
"Motse", Egyptian Mimosa, or Thorn

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Some feel that the thorn bush of Exodus 3 was Acacia nilotica, the fire, the parasite Loranthus acaciae. Inner bark contains 18–23% tannin, used for tanning and dyeing leather black. Young pods produce a very pale tint in leather, notably goat hides (Kano leather). Pods were used by the ancient Egyptians. Young bark used as fiber, twigs esteemed for tooth brushes (chewsticks). Trees tapped for gum arabic. The gum arabic is still used in making candles, inks, matches, and paints (NAS, 1980). Tender pods and shoots used as vegetable, and used as forage for camels, sheep and goats, especially in Sudan, where it is said to improve milk from these animals. Seeds are a valuable cattle food. Roasted seed kernels, sometimes used for flavoring and when crushed provide the dye for black strings worn by Nankani women. Trees used in Sudan for afforestation of inundated areas. Sapwood is yellowish-white, heartwood reddish-brown, hard, heavy, durable, difficult to work, though taking a high polish. Because of its resins, it resists insects and water, and trees are harvested for the timber for boat-making, posts, buildings, water-pipes, well-planking, plows, cabinet-work, wheels, mallets and other implements. Wood yields excellent firewood and charcoal (Duke, 1981a). The aqueous extract of the fruit, rich in tannin (18–23%) has shown algicidal activity against Chroccoccus, Closteruim, Coelastrum, Cosmarium, Cyclotella, Euglena, Microcystis, Oscillatoria, Pediastrum, Rivularia, Spirogyra, and Spirulina (Ayoub, 1983).

Folk Medicine

Zulu take bark for cough, Chipi use root for tuberculosis. Masai are intoxicated by the bark and root decoction, said to impart courage, even aphrodisia, and the root is said to cure impotence. Astringent bark used for diarrhea, dysentery, and leprosy. Bruised leaves poulticed onto ulcers. According to Hartwell, the gum or bark is used for cancers and/or tumors (of ear, eye, or testicles) and indurations of liver and spleen, condylomas, and excess flesh. Said also to be used for cancer, colds, congestion, coughs, diarrhea, dysentery, fever, gallbladder, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, leucorrhea, ophthalmia, sclerosis, smallpox, and tuberculosis. Bark, gum, leaves, and pods used medicinally in West Africa. Sap or bark, leaves, and young pods are strongly astringent due to tannin, and are chewed In Senegal as antiscorbutic; in Ethiopia as lactogogue. Bark decoction drunk for intestinal pains and diarrhea. Other preparations used for coughs, gargle, toothache, ophthalmia, and syphilitic ulcers. In Tonga, the root is used to treat tuberculosis. In Lebanon, the resin is mixed with orange-flower infusion for typhoid convalescence. Masai use the bark decoction as a nerve stimulant. In Italian Africa, the wood is used to treat smallpox. Egyptian Nubians believe that diabetics may eat unlimited carbohydrates as long as they also consume powdered pods (Duke, 1983a). Extracts are inhibitory to at least four species of pathogenic fungi (Umalkar et al, 1976).


Babul has been reported to contain l-arabinose, catechol, galactan, galactoaraban, galactose, N-acetyldjenkolic acid, N-acetyldjenkolic acid, sulphoxides pentosan, saponin, tannin. Seeds contain crude protein 18.6%, ether extract 4.4%, fiber 10.1%, nitrogen-free extract 61.2%, ash 5.7%, and silica 0.44%. Phosphorus 0.29% and calcium 0.90% of DM. When bullocks were given the seeds and bran (2:1) with dry pasture grass daily DM intakes were 1.82, 0.91, and 5.35 kg respectively. Total DM intake/100 kg bodyweight was 1.40 kg. The animals retained 20.8 g N and 7.4 g Ca daily but the P balance was slightly negative (Pande et al, 1981). Walker (1980) puts the CP content of the browse at 12.9%, the crude fiber at 15.2%


Small tree, 2.5–14 m tall, quite variable in many aspects; bark of twigs not flaking off, gray to brown; branches spreading, with flat or rounded crown; bark thin, rough, fissured, deep red-brown; branchlets purple-brown, shortly or densely gray-pubescent, with lenticels; spines gray-pubescent, slightly recurved, up to 3 cm long; leaves often with 1–2 petiolar glands and other glands between all or only the uppermost pinnae; plnnae 2–11 (-17) pairs; leaflets 7–25 (-30) pairs, 1.5–7 mm long, 0.5–1.5 mm wide, glabrous or pubescent, apex obtuse; peduncles clustered at nodes of leafy and leafless branchlets; flowers bright yellow, in axillary heads 6–15 mm in diam.; involucel from near the base to about half-way up the peduncle, rarely somewhat higher; calyx 1–2 mm long, subglabrous to pubescent; corolla 2.5–3.5 mm long, glabrous or pubescent outside; pods especially variable, linear, indehiscent, 8–17 (-24) cm long, 1.3–2.2 cm broad, straight or curved, glabrous or gray-velvety, turgid, blackish, about 12-seeded; seeds deep blackish-brown, smooth, subcircular, compressed, areole 6–7 mm long, 4.5–5 mm wide. Fl. Oct.–Dec.; fr. Mar.–June (Duke, 1981a).


Acacia nilotica var. kraussiana (Benth.) Brenan is the most common form in east tropical Africa. Young branches more or less densely pubescent; pods not necklace-like, 1–1.8 cm wide, oblong, more or less pubescent all over at first with raised parts over seeds becoming glabrescent, shining and black when dry, margins shallowly crenate. Exhibits wide range of altitudinal and habitat requirements. Found in Botswana, Zambia, Rhodesia, Malawi, Tanzania, Angola, Mozambique, Transvaal, and Natal. A. nilotica var. tomentosa A. F. Hill (A. arabica var. tomentosa Benth.), has pods straight, constricted between seeds and densely tomentose; found in Senegal and northern Nigeria, to Sudan, Arabia and India. A. nilotica var. adansonii (Guill. et Perr.) Kuntze is a tree up to 17 m with dark reddish-brown bark deeply fissured, tomentose, reddish-brown twigs and gray fruits; commonest variety in West Africa, from Senegal to Nigeria and widespread in northern parts of Tropical Africa. Assigned to the African Center of Diversity, babul or cvs thereof is reported to exhibit tolerance to clay, drought, heat, heavy soil, high pH, poor soils, salt, savanna, and waterlogging. (2n=52.)


Native from Egypt south to Mozambique and Natal; apparently introduced to Zanzibar, Pemba, and India; Arabia. Considered a serious weed in South Africa.


Woodlands of various sorts, wooded grasslands, scrub and thickets. Thrives in dry areas, but endures floods. Grows 10–1,340 m altitude, in a wide range of conditions. Grows on a wide variety of soils, seemingly thriving on alluvial soils, black cotton soils, heavy clay soils, as well as even poorer soils (NAS, 1980). Ranging from Subtropical Desert to Subtropical Dry through Tropical Desert to Tropical Dry Forest Life Zones, babul is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3.8–22.8 dm (mean of 12 cases = 12.0 dm), annual mean temperature of 18.7–27.8°C (mean of 12 cases = 24.1°C), and pH of 5.0–8.0 (mean of 10 cases = 6.9) (Duke, 1981a).


Trees propagated in forest by seeds. Direct seeding is the common practice. Stored seed may require scarification. Young seedlings are said to "require full sun and frequent weeding" (NAS, 1980a).


Although there are other sources of gum arabic, trees are still tapped for the gum by removing a bit of bark 5–7.5 cm wide and bruising the surrounding bark with mallet or hammer. The resulting reddish gum, almost completely soluble and tasteless, is formed into balls. Though used in commerce to some extent, it is inferior to other forms of gum arabic, with which it is sometimes mixed.

Yields and Economics

Various products of the tree are used locally in tropical Africa, but none enter international markets. Trees usually add 2–3 cm in diameter each year (NAS, 1980a).


Extensively used, e.g. in India, for firewood and charcoal, this species has been used in locomotives and steamships as well as industry balers. It is cultivated for industrial fuel in the Sudan. The calorific value of the sapwood is 4,800 kcal/kg of the heartwood 4,950. The species does nodulate and fix nitrogen.

Biotic Factors

Wood borers may afflict the stems and bruchids may afflict the seeds. Following fungi have been reported on this plant: Ctyospora acaciae, Diatryphe acaciae, Diplodia acaciae, Fomes badius, F. endotheius, F. fastuosus, F. rimosus, Fusicoccum indicum, Phyllactinia acaciae, Ravenelia acaciae-arabicae, Septogloeum acaciae, Septoria mortolensis, Sphaerostilbe acaciae. Trees are also parasitized by Dendrophthoe falcata and Loranthus globiferus var. verrucosus (Duke, 1981). In a survey for phytophagous insects on Acacia nilotica, 43 species were recorded in Pakistan, of these, 16 appeared stenophagous. The more promising for biological control of the tree were: Anarsia sp. cf. acaciae, Pseudosterrha paulula, Azanus ubaldus, and Ceutholopha isidis feeding on flowers; Bruchidius sahlbergi and Sulcobruchus sp. damaging seeds; Ascalenia callynella, Gisilia stereodoxa and an unidentified gracillariid boring shoots; and Cydia sp. making stem galls (Mohyuddin, 1981).

Yields and Economics

Various products of the tree are used locally in tropical Africa, blit none enter international markets. Trees usually add 2–3 cm in diameter each year (NAS, 1980).


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update December 16, 1997