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Prosopis chilensis (Molina) Stuntz

Cupesi, White algarobo

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 unpublished.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


White algarobo used for shade, timber, fuel, and concentrated forage or food (sweet, pulpy fruits). Pods eaten as sweets "patay" or drunk as "aloja". A staple food for cattle in arid regions. Sometimes cultivated in Argentina and Chile; promising reforestation species (Burkart, 1976). South Africans believe the ripe pod makes excellent fodder but the green pod is bitter and valueless. Reddish mesquite gum may be used as a substitute for gum arabic as an adhesive and in the manufacture of gumdrops (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Wood is said to have good acoustical properties (Allen and Allen, 1981).

Folk Medicine

A ten percent infusion of the leaves shows some antibiotic activity.


Like P. alba this species contains apigenin 8-glucoside, apigenin 6-glucoside, quercitin 3-glucoside, quercitin 3-rhamnoside, quercitin 3-rutinoside, and traces of myricetin 3-rhamnoside, luteolin, kaempferol-3-OMe quercetin, and quercitin 3-OMe (Simpson, 1977). Pipecolic and 4-hydroxy pipecolic acid also occur in both, but varying concentrations of pipecolic acid and proline are interpreted as reflecting a plastic response to changing environmental conditions. The consistent patterns of flavonoid distributions in several species groups, on the other hand, apparently reflects genetic fixation independent of known environmental factors (Simpson, 1977). Patay (ground beans filtered to remove the endocarp, and made into flour for breadstuffs) contains 10–12% water, 4–6% fiber, 0.8–4.3% protein, and 55–65% carbohydrates (44% sugar, 11% starch, plus cellulose) and is relatively high in calcium. Fresh pods, but not dry pods, are said to be harmful to horses. Seeds contain small quantities of saponins. Bark and root contain tannin. Young leaves contain 1.8% alkaloids, intermediate leaves, 1.7%, and mature leaves, 0.9% (Simpson, 1977).

As % of dry matter
Fresh young leaves, USA 23.5 24.7 4.7 2.9 44.2 0.86 0.25
Pods, Chile 91.5 11.0 11.9 7.3 2.2 67.6 0.44 0.16
Pods, Sudan 94.4 11.5 26.9 5.4 2.2 54.0
Dried pod meal, Hawaii 89.2 9.5 23.2 7.9 1.5 57.9
Seeds, Hawaii 35.2 9.1 5.1 5.2 45.4
Pod husks, Hawaii 5.6 27.3 3.8 0.2 63.1
Digestibility (%)
Pod meal Cattle 70.0 54.0 75.0 70.0 2.30
Source: Gohl, B. 1981.


Tree, becoming large in age, with short trunk, 3–10 m tall, treetop rounded; branchlets flexuous, knotty, partly spinous; spines on strong shoots, axillary, geminate, uninodal, hard, conic-subulate, up to 6 cm long. Leaves deciduous, glabrous, uni- to bi- or trijugate, elongate, but giving only slight shade, mostly fascicled; petiole (rachis when extant included) 1.5–12 cm long; pinnae 8–24.5 cm long; leaflets 10 to 29 pairs per pinna, long-linear and distant on the rachis (4–12 mm apart), glabrous throughout or with some cilias on the margins at base, 1.1–5.4 cm long x 1.1–3 mm broad, pale green, nearly enervate or only the costa prominent, but not of a different color. Racemes spiciform, densiflorous, ca 7–12 cm long; flowers greenish-white to yellowish, ca 250 per raceme; calyx 1 mm; petals 3 mm long, villous within; stamens 5–6 mm long; ovary pubescent. Legume linear, compressed, with parallel margens, strawyellow, stipitate and acuminate, nearly straight, thick; mesocarp sugary, edible; endocarp segments transverse-rectangular, broader than long, subcoriaceous, easy to open numbering 20 to 32; seeds ovoid, compressed, brown, 6–7 mm long (Burkart, 1976).


Reported from the South American Center of Diversity, cupesi, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate drought. Simpson (1977) reports self–incompatibility. (2n = 28, 56).


Extending from Peru and Bolivia to central Chile and northwestern Argentina. In southern Peru it is found at elevations of up to 2900 m (Burkart, 1976).


Our computer entries for Prosopis spp. are unreliable, partly due to past taxonomic confusion. I estimate this species ranges from Tropical Thorn to Moist through Subtropical Thorn to Moist Forest Life Zones. At the Bolson de Pipanaco, elevation ca 1072 m, annual precipitation ca 3 dm, annual temperature ca 18.6°C, Prosopis chilensis often forms dense stands along the broad washes. Associated species are mentioned in Simpson (1977). In Argentina, the species leafs out in spring (September) with mean temperature ca 16°C staying in leaf until fall (April). Blooms in October in Andalgala for about two weeks.


Felker et al. (1981) reported water requirements of 535.3 cm3 per g of dry matter making this one of the more water efficient species of Prosopis.


Commonly cut for fuel as needed.

Yields and Economics

According to Simpson (1977) a mature tree produces ca 10,000 inflorescenses per year, each with about 279 flowers, but setting only 1.65 fruits per inflorescence. Each inflorescence is estimated to produce 12.89 mg sugar or ca 13 g from all 10,000; and 26.50 mg pollen (26 g in all per tree). At Riverside, #0009 P. chilensis average measured (not projected from regression equations) oven dry biomass corresponded to a 41 MT/ha 3-season yield or a 13.7 MT/ha/yr. This yield was obtained with total irrigation plus rainfall of 1,390 mm or a seasonal average of 460 mm. Others showed an average annual production of 14.5 MT/ha in the Imperial Valley, but the total DM production for all 55 accessions tested averaged an annual increment of 8.2 MT/ha. Under similar conditions, Felker et al. (1981) report:

UCR biomass tree (kg) Imp. vall. biomass/
tree (kg)
Pods (g) Pods/
Coppice (%) Salinity Na/hr?
P. alba (0039) 6.8 10.6 48 52 100
P. alba (0132) 4.3 15.9 100 0.18
P. alba (0166) 29.0 34 75
P. articulata (0016) 7.8 18.5 41 68 25 1.8 0.63
P. chilensis (0009) 9.2 18.3 0.0 0.0 75 1.2 0.71
P. glandulosa glandulosa (0028) 1.7 139 0.12
P. glandulosa torreyana (000 ) 4.9 8.1 134 0.7 50 1.2 0.60
P. juliflora 0.0 10.4 0.0 0.7 25
P. kuntaii (0130) 0.4 0.0 0.23
P. laevigata (0114) 3.2 0.0
P. nigra (0038) 4.8 2.5 75 0.60
P. pallida (0041) 0.0 5.0 0.0 0.25 0 1.8 1.05
P. pubescens (0245) 2.6 86 25
P. ruscifolia (0131) 1.0 0.0 0.18
P. tamarugo (0042) 1.7 0.0 0.13
P. tamarugo (0317) 0.2 100 1.8
P. velutina (0020) 3.0 3.7 464 35 75 0.6
Cercidium floridium 2.4 0 0.0
Leucaena leucocephala 15.5 75
Olneya tesota 0.3 75 0.33
Parkinsonia aculeata 13.0 100 No


Felker et al (1981) report that small plots with 1.5 x 1.5 m spacing yielded 11.7 MT/ha the first year, 16.9 MT/ha the second year.

Biotic Factors

Some specialists (Brachyphatnus sp. and Noctuid sp.) and some generalists (Melipotis bisinuata, Oiketicus geyeri, Semiothisa sp.) are reported to "graze" the species in Argentina. The major Prosopis bee visitors are Bicolletes sp., Centris brethesi, Collates spp., Eremapis pravula, Exomalopsis sp., Liopoeum argentina, Megachile spp., Oediscelis, Svastrides zebra, and Xylocopa splendidula (Simpson, 1977). Among bruchids, Rhipibruchus picturatus, R. prosopis, and Scutobruchus ceratioborus are reported. Bruchids may destroy 90% of the seed. Phoradendron hieronymi, P. liga, P. pruinosum, Prosopanche americana, Psittacanthus cuneifolius, and Tapinanthus sp., possibly even Ximenia americana are hemiparasitic or parasitic flowering plants on the algarrobo. The desert cavy eats leaves and pods and may strip bark from small tender branches. Many other Prosopis eaters are listed and discussed in Simpson (1977). Golden (p.c. 1984) lists the nematode Rotylenchus reniformis. Felker et al (1981) review the pest infestations of their Prosopis plantings with suggestions for their control.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update January 8, 1998 by aw