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Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass.

Niger, Niger seed

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 unpublished.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


Niger is cultivated as an oil seed crop, the seeds yielding about 30% of a clear, excellent, edible oil which is slow-drying, used in foods, paints, and soaps, and as an illuminant. It is used as a substitute for olive oil, can be mixed with linseed oil, and is used as an adulterant for rape oil, sesame oil, et al. Seeds can also be used fried or as a condiment. Seeds pressed with honey are made into cakes in Ethiopia, and the press-cake from oil extraction is used for livestock feed. Whole plants are used as green manure in the pre-flowering stage. Seed is commonly used as food for cage birds. Plants are used as a 'bee plant'.

Folk Medicine

Oil of the seeds is used in rheumatism.


Per 100 g, the seed is reported to contain 483 calories, 6.2–7.8 g H2O, 17.3–19.4 g protein, 31.3–33.9 g fat, 34.2–39.7 g total carbohydrate, 13.5 g fiber, 1.8–8.4 g ash, 50–470 mg Ca, 180–800 mg P, 0 mg b-carotene equivalent, 0.43 mg thiamine, 0.55 mg riboflavin, 3.00 mg niacin, and 0 mg ascorbic acid. Hager's Handbook puts the oil content at 35–40% with glycerides of oleic, linoleic, palmitic, myristic, and physetolic acids. Wealth of India summarizes fatty acid composition as 1.7–3.4% myristic (including capric and lauric), 5.0–8.4% palmitic, 2.0–4.9% stearic, 31.1–38.9% oleic, and 51.6–54.3% linoleic. The cake (ZMB) contains: 32.7% CP, 4.4% EE, 17.6% CF, 31.4% NFE, 13.8% ash, 0.84% CaO, and 2.55% P2O5. On an air-dry basis, the herbage, used as green manure, contains 0.2% N, 0.85% potash, and 0.11% phosphoric acid (C.S.I.R. 1948–1976). Roots contain several polyacetylenic compounds.


Herbaceous annual, 0.5–1.5 m tall; stems pubescent to tip; leaves opposite, sessile, subcordate to ovate-lanceolate, serrate, subscabrous, to 22 cm long; involucre with ovate, biseriate scales; flowers yellow, conspicuous, in solitary or clustered heads to 2 cm across, arranged in corymbs; heads with 40–60 tubular hermaphroditic florets, surrounded by a marginal row of ligulate florets, flowering in each head lasting 7–8 days, cross-pollinated, probably by bees.


Reported from the African Center of Diversity, niger or cvs thereof is reported to tolerate disease, grazing, insects, laterites, poor soil, and slope. In Bombay, the selections 'Poona 2-2-9-1', 'Roha 3-8-2-3', and 'Sholapur 8-4-1-1' gave 15–25% higher yields than controls. (2n = 30) (Duke, 1978)


Niger is extensively grown in S. India and Ethiopia, and to a limited extent in the West Indies, East Africa, and in various parts of India.


Ranging from Warm Temperate Dry to Moist through Tropical Very Dry to Moist Forest Life Zones, niger is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 6.6 to 17.9 dm (mean of 6 cases = 9.8), annual temperature of 13.6 to 27.5°C (mean of 6 cases = 20.3), and pH of 5.5 to 7.5 (mean of 6 cases = 6.4). Niger is adapted to tropical and temperate regions, said to require moderate rainfall not exceeding 10 dm per year. It is adapted to a wide range of soils, from sandy to heavy, growth being poor on light sandy or gravelly soils. In East Africa it is grown at altitudes up to 2,500 m, but will give satisfactory yields at lower altitudes. Niger is often cultivated on very poor acid soils, on hilly slopes, where fertility is low due to leaching and washing away of the plant nutrients by erosion. Several factors lend credence to fears that niger might become a pest if introduced into the U.S.: (1) animals do not relish it, (2) it tolerates poor soil and drought, (3) it has few serious pests or diseases, especially in the U.S., (4) seeds store for a year or more without deterioration, and (5) seeds mature 3–4.5 months after planting. Arguing against its weed potential are the facts that it is a short day plant, self-sterile, and requiring bees for pollination.


Niger seed are broadcast or sown in rows in tropical areas (during June to August for a rainy season crop, and September to mid-November for a winter season crop in India; May-July in Ethiopia; at beginning of rainy season in Kenya). Seed may be broadcast at rate of 10 kg/ha or sown in rows 40 to 50 cm apart at rate of 5 kg/ha. Broadcast seed is often mixed with fertilizer and then thoroughly worked onto the soil by light harrowing. Germination begins ca 2 days after sowing. In about 7 days plants should be thinned to stand about 13–24 per 30 cm square. One hand-weeding is usually sufficient. Many cultivators do not manure the land. Best yields of seed and straw obtained with a balanced NPK fertilizer. In India, when niger is mixed with ragi, rows should be 15–30 cm apart to allow weed control, the land being harrowed 3–4 times before planting. Niger is a good crop for rotation with corn or wheat. Before flowering, about 3 months after sowing, niger should be rogued of off-type plants to insure better seed production.


Niger is harvested 3–4.5 months after planting, depending on the region. It should be allowed to stand until flowers have withered. Further delay will cause heavy loss of seed through shedding. Crop can be harvested by hand or machine. When harvested by hand, crop is cut with sickles, tied in bundles and dried by the sun for a week or so, during which time some of the late-formed seed will mature. Threshing consists of beating dried stalks with sticks on a threshing floor. Seeds are easily separated then they are cleaned of all earth and weed seed by winnowing and sieving. Seeds are bagged and shipped to oil factories.

Yields and Economics

Average seed yields in India range from 100–200 kg/ha when grown with ragi, and 300–400 kg/ha when grown in pure stands. Similar yields obtained in Ethiopia when grown alone. In Kenya, monocultural yields average 600 kg/ha. Bhardwaj and Gupta (1977) report seed yields of 1,000 to 1,200 kg/ha on fertile Himalayan soils, 200–400 kg/ha in degraded habitats. Oil yields range about 235 kg/ha, especially in fields where NPK combination fertilizers have been used. Of three row spacings, 30 cm was reported to give the highest yields (552 kg/ha) at Jalapur, India. Plants whose growing tips were nipped, yielded 462 kg/ha compared with 489 for the controls (Singh et al., 1973). Although no biomass data are available, Kachapur et al. (1978) report DM increases of roots and shoots, following drought hardening of the seed by soaking in water (1–5 times seed weight) for 6 hours, followed by drying to the original moisture content before sowing. Niger is grown primarily in Ethiopia, where 100,000–200,000 tons of oil is produced annually, about 75,000 tons in India per year. In 1970–1971, India had 483,500 ha in cultivation, producing about 11,800 MT seeds, up 14% from the previous year.


Since it is difficult to keep up with the birdseed market for this potential weed, there have been few suggestions of Guizotia as a diesel substitute. Yields are generally so low, that without marked improvement, oil yields of higher than 500 kg/ha are difficult to visualize. For example, Rao and Rao (1980), testing 8 cvs, reported the highest yield as only 205 kg/ha seed with the highest oil content of 41.9%. Oil recovery uses range from 25–35% in India.

Biotic Factors

Niger is self-sterile and requires bees for cross pollination. Although niger has no serious pests or diseases, the following fungi have been isolated from it: Alternaria porri (form a sp. dauci causes leafspot), Alternaria carthami, Alternaria tenuis (on seeds), Cercospora guizoticola, Cercospora guizotiae, Chaetomium guizotiae, Epicoccum nigrum (leafspot), Macrophomina phaseoli, Puccinia guizotiae (Ethiopia), Rhizoctonia bataticola, Rhizoctonia solani, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. A bacterial leaf spot is due to Xanthomonas sp.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw