Dalbergia sissoo (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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distribution in Africa (planted)
1, flowering branch; 2 flower; 3, fruits. Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin
tree habit (EcoPort)
bark (EcoPort)
crown (University of Hawaii)
leafy branch (EcoPort)
fruiting branch (EcoPort)
fruits (EcoPort)
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section
transverse surface of wood

Dalbergia sissoo Roxb. ex DC.

Protologue: Prodr. 2: 416 (1825).
Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 20

Vernacular names

  • Sissoo (En).
  • Ebénier jaune (Fr).
  • Pau preto (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Dalbergia sissoo is native to the Himalayan foothills in northern India. It is planted in many areas in Asia and elsewhere in the subtropics and tropics, including Africa where it has been recorded for many countries. It is naturalized or subspontaneous in many areas in western and central Asia and occasionally elsewhere, also in tropical Africa.


The wood is suitable for house construction, e.g. for door and window shutters and frames, flooring and panelling, and also for cabinet making, vehicle bodies, boat building, handles, implements such as shoe lasts, turnery, carving, veneer and plywood. It is excellent for high-class bentwood furniture, walking-sticks, umbrella handles and other bentwood articles. It is highly valued as firewood and for charcoal production. Pulp from the wood is suitable for papermaking.

Dalbergia sissoo is used as a shade tree in agroforestry systems in India and Pakistan, for afforestation of eroded soils, and as a soil improver that fixes nitrogen and provides mulch. It is also planted as a windbreak and shelterbelt, and as an ornamental and roadside tree. The foliage and young pods are useful as fodder, although it has been reported that fresh leaves may cause digestive disorders in livestock during the dry season. A non-drying oil which is suitable as a lubricant for heavy machinery can be obtained from the heartwood.

Powdered wood, leaves and seed oil are used in traditional medicine in India, especially to treat skin diseases. In tropical Africa, leaves are reportedly used as a stimulant and to treat gonorrhoea and wounds.

Production and international trade

In India Dalbergia sissoo timber is valuable, with an average price about as high as that of teak. Sliced plywood is exported.


Good-quality Dalbergia sissoo wood resembles that of Dalbergia latifolia Roxb. and may also be called ‘Indian rosewood’. However, especially plantation wood of Dalbergia sissoo is often of a lower quality and less decorative. The heartwood is golden brown to dark brown, often with deep brown streaks, and distinctly demarcated from the whitish to pale brown sapwood. The grain is straight, sometimes interlocked, texture moderately coarse. The wood density is 750–800 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. Air drying should be done carefully and slowly because the wood easily splits at the ends during drying. Boards of 2.5 cm thick take 12–15 days to kiln dry from green to 12% moisture content. The rates of shrinkage from green to oven dry are 2.7–3.4% radial and 4.9–5.6% tangential. Once dry, the wood is very stable in service.

The wood is hard, strong and elastic. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 91–104 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 9300–11,500 N/mm² and compression parallel to grain 51–60 N/mm².

The wood is fairly easy to saw and work. It can be planed to a smooth surface and takes an excellent polish. Turning, screwing, polishing and gluing give good results, and the wood can be peeled or sliced to make decorative veneer and plywood. The heartwood is durable, but the sapwood is liable to damage by insects and fungi. The energy value of the wood is about 21,800 kJ/kg.

The crude protein content of leaves is 12.5–24% on a dry weight basis. Wood, roots and leaves showed insecticidal activity. Ethanolic leaf extracts showed significant anti-inflammatory activity in tests with rats, without side effects on gastric mucosa.


  • Deciduous medium-sized tree up to 30 m tall; bole often crooked and branchless for up to 8(–20) m, up to 80(–100) cm in diameter, without buttresses; bark surface grey to brownish grey, rough, longitudinally fissured and irregularly scaly; crown spreading, irregular.
  • Leaves arranged spirally, imparipinnately compound with 3–5 leaflets; stipules small, caducous; petiole and rachis finely hairy, zigzag; petiolules c. 0.5 cm long; leaflets alternate, broadly obovate to elliptical, 3.5–6(–9) cm × 3–4.5(–7) cm, abruptly acuminate at apex, thinly leathery, finely hairy below but glabrescent. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary panicle 3.5–10(–15) cm long, laxly branched, finely hairy, many-flowered.
  • Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous, 6–9 mm long, sessile; calyx campanulate, c. 4 mm long, lobes shorter than tube, lower lobe longest, upper lobes fused; corolla whitish to pale yellow, with obovate standard and clawed wings and keel; stamens 9–10, fused into a tube, but free in upper part; ovary superior, with distinct stipe at base, style short.
  • Fruit a flat, elliptical to oblong, papery pod 4.5–10 cm × 1–1.5 cm, with stipe up to 1 cm long, glabrous, reticulately veined, indehiscent, 1–3(–4)-seeded.
  • Seeds kidney-shaped, 8–10 mm long. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Dalbergia is a large pantropical genus comprising about 250 species. Tropical Asia and tropical America each have about 70 species, continental Africa about 50 and Madagascar slightly over 40. Dalbergia sissoo resembles Dalbergia latifolia, which can be distinguished by its leaflets which are rounded or notched at apex, and by its broader pods.


Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):

  • Growth rings: (1: growth ring boundaries distinct); (2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent).
  • Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; (23: shape of alternate pits polygonal); 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); (27: intervessel pits large ( 10 μm)); 29: vestured pits; 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; (42: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 100–200 μm); 43: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 200 μm; (45: vessels of two distinct diameter classes, wood not ring-porous); 46: 5 vessels per square millimetre; 47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre; 58: gums and other deposits in heartwood vessels.
  • Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; (69: fibres thin- to thick-walled); 70: fibres very thick-walled.
  • Axial parenchyma: 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 82: axial parenchyma winged-aliform; 83: axial parenchyma confluent; 91: two cells per parenchyma strand; (92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand).
  • Rays: 97: ray width 1–3 cells; 104: all ray cells procumbent; 115: 4–12 rays per mm; 116: 12 rays per mm.
  • Storied structure: 120: axial parenchyma and/or vessel elements storied; 122: rays and/or axial elements irregularly storied.
  • Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.
(E. Ebanyenle, A.A. Oteng-Amoako & P. Baas)

Growth and development

Seedlings and saplings of Dalbergia sissoo have a strong taproot with numerous fibrous lateral roots, some of which may later develop into large superficial roots. Young trees may grow fast; under exceptional conditions, they may reach 3.7 m in 1 year, 11 m in 5 years and 15 m in 10 years, but usually they reach 5 m in 5 years, 10 m in 10 years and 17 m (with a mean bole diameter of 25 cm) in 20 years. An annual volume increment of 22.5 m³/ha has been recorded for young plantations on favourable sites in Pakistan, although 10–17 m³/ha is more usual. Consequently, during the 1970s African foresters had high hopes of Dalbergia sissoo, but they were often disappointed because growth was lower than expected. In 8-year-old Dalbergia sissoo plantations in Burkina Faso, for instance, the annual volume increment was estimated at 6.5 m³/ha. In 8-year-old plantations in northern Côte d’Ivoire the survival rate was over 90%, the height 5–6 m and the stem diameter 6–10 cm. In experimental 6-year-old plantations in Tanzania young trees of the best provenance planted at a spacing of 2.5 m × 2.5 m had a survival rate of 96%, a mean height of 3.1 m and a mean stem diameter of 3.75 cm. In northern Cameroon the early survival and growth were satisfactory but after 18–20 years only a few trees survived. In dry West Africa the only cases of real success are ornamental plantations or isolated trees.

Dalbergia sissoo trees are often surrounded by numerous root suckers. It is a strong light demander and only vigorous trees attain larger sizes in dense stands, suppressing weaker trees. Trees may start flowering at an early age; in experimental plantations in Tanzania they started to flower 3 years after planting. In savanna regions in West and Central Africa, trees usually flower in the second half of the dry season, together with new flushes of leaves. The flowers are much visited by bees. The thin pods are dispersed by wind. Dalbergia sissoo nodulates with nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria.


In its native area of distribution in subtropical Asia, Dalbergia sissoo occurs in open deciduous forest, on alluvial soils which are periodically inundated and along rivers, up to 1500 m altitude. It colonizes localities disturbed by flooding or erosion. Older trees are very drought-resistant and can withstand up to 9 dry months and mean annual rainfall of only 400 mm. In Africa Dalbergia sissoo is often planted in regions with 600–900 mm annual rainfall, which is too dry for most other timber species. However, for optimal growth more than 1000 mm of annual rainfall is required. Dalbergia sissoo tolerates minimum temperatures of –4°C. It is not fire-resistant. It prefers porous, light-textured, acidic to neutral soils with adequate moisture. Growth is retarded on badly drained or stony soils.

Propagation and planting

Dalbergia sissoo can be propagated by seed. The 1000-seed weight is 18–25 g. When stored dry or in a cold store, seeds remain viable for up to 1.5 years. Usually seeds are not extracted from the pods, but the pods are broken into 1-seeded pieces. Seeds have no dormancy, and the germination rate may be almost 100% when fresh seed from mature trees is used. Pre-treatment of seeds is not necessary, but soaking in water for 12–24 hours accelerates germination. Germination of fresh seed takes 7–21 days. In Senegal shading is recommended during the hottest hours of the day during the germination period.

Stump planting is very successful, using stumps from 0.5–2-year-old seedlings with a root length of about 25 cm and a shoot length of about 7.5 cm. In India successful methods of tissue culture have been developed, and in-vitro mass multiplication of Dalbergia sissoo is carried out from callus of shoot tips and shoot segments. Root suckers and root and stem cuttings can also be used for propagation.

For timber production, Dalbergia sissoo is grown in pure stands, usually managed by clear felling followed by artificial regeneration; spacing varies from 1 m × 2 m to 3 m × 3 m. In agroforestry systems it is intercropped with annual crops and it is planted at a spacing of 4.5 m × 4.5 m or wider.


Regular weeding is necessary for several years. Pruning of young trees helps to produce clear boles. First thinning is recommended 5–6 years after planting, and subsequent thinning after 15 and 20 years to a final density of 200 stems/ha. In India and Pakistan rotations of 10–22 years are used for fuelwood production in irrigated plantations, and rotations of 40–60 years for good-quality timber.

Trees can be coppiced, although it has been observed that coppiced trees lose vigour after 2–3 rotations. Pollarding of ornamental trees is successful in northern Cameroon. Dalbergia sissoo is very invasive, showing pioneer characteristics, and can become a serious weed, as has been the case in Australia.

Diseases and pests

Fusarium solani and Fusarium oxysporum cause widespread damage to plantations in Asia, especially in localities with clayey soils and subject to regular waterlogging. The symptoms are inward rolling of young leaves, dieback and discoloration of other leaves, and formation of red streaks on outer layers of the sapwood. Ganoderma lucidum causes root rot, usually in older trees, and several other fungi attack the leaves, causing leaf spot, leaf blight and powdery mildew diseases. Leaf rust fungi (Uredo sissoo and Maravalia achroa) may be pathogenic in nurseries. Serious dieback due to diseases has been reported for Nepal.

The trees are attacked by various insects such as leaf miners, defoliators and stem-borers, but this causes no serious problems for trees grown under favourable conditions. Parasitic weeds (Tapinanthus spp.) affect Dalbergia sissoo in northern Cameroon. To control this parasite it is necessary to cut the branches that have been attacked.

Genetic resources

There are no indications that Dalbergia sissoo is subject to genetic erosion. In the wild it behaves as a pioneer species in dynamic habitats, and it is planted widely and regularly escapes from cultivation. Small germplasm collections exist in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ethiopia, with in total about 10 accessions.


Considerable variation in stem form and growth rates has been noticed, even in 1-year-old seedlings. This indicates ample possibilities for selection and breeding to obtain superior timber plantation trees adapted to specific climatic and soil conditions. In Nepal, India and Bangladesh tree improvement programmes for Dalbergia sissoo already exist.


Dalbergia sissoo is a multipurpose tree suitable for incorporation in agroforestry systems, not only to provide useful products as timber, firewood and forage, but also to improve the soil, control erosion and protect crops from adverse weather conditions. Moreover, it is suitable for semi-arid regions, it is easy to propagate and it shows rapid growth in comparison with other Dalbergia spp., and as such it certainly is of interest for larger-scale application in Africa. Its major drawbacks are the usually poor bole form and its susceptibility to fire and Tapinanthus. Tests in Tanzania showed that the choice of provenance is of major importance for the results of plantations in specific ecological and climatological conditions, emphasizing the desirability of large germplasm collections in Africa and the relevance of field testing of provenances before plantations are made.

Major references

  • Arbonnier, M., 2004. Trees, shrubs and lianas of West African dry zones. CIRAD, Margraf Publishers Gmbh, MNHN, Paris, France. 573 pp.
  • Bekele-Tesemma, A., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1993. Useful trees and shrubs for Ethiopia: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook No 5. Regional Soil Conservation Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 474 pp.
  • CTFT (Centre Technique Forestier Tropical), 1962. Dalbergia sissoo Roxburg: caractères sylvicoles et methodes de plantation. Bois et Forêts des Tropiques 84: 21-26.
  • Mbuya, L.P., Msanga, H.P., Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1994. Useful trees and shrubs for Tanzania: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 6. Regional Soil Conservation Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 542 pp.
  • Prawirohatmodjo, S., Suranto, J., Martawijaya, A., den Outer, R.W. & Sosef, M.S.M., 1993. Dalbergia L.f. In: Soerianegara, I. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(1). Timber trees: Major commercial timbers. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 155–161.
  • Ramesh Rao, K. & Purkayastha, S.K., 1972. Indian woods, their identification, properties and uses. Volume 3. Leguminosae to Combretaceae. Manager of Publications, Delhi, India. 262 pp.
  • Roussel, J., 1995. Pépinières et plantations forestières en Afrique tropicale sèche: manuel à l’usage des ingenieurs et techniciens du reboisement. ISRA/CIRAD, Dakar, Senegal. 435 pp.
  • Tewari, D.N., 1994. A monograph on Dalbergia sissoo Roxb. Dehra Dun, India. 316 pp.

Other references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
  • Gillett, J.B., Polhill, R.M., Verdcourt, B., Schubert, B.G., Milne-Redhead, E., & Brummitt, R.K., 1971. Leguminosae (Parts 3–4), subfamily Papilionoideae (1–2). In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 1108 pp.
  • Hajare, S.W., Chandra, S., Sharma, J., Tandan, S.K., Lal, J. & Telang, A.G., 2001. Anti inflammatory activity of Dalbergia sissoo leaves. Fitoterapia 72(2): 131–139.
  • Hautdidier, B. Ntoupka, M., Njiti C., Tapsou & Dawang, M., 2002. Un bilan des essais forestiers et agroforestiers du Nord-Cameroun. Cirad-IRAD, Montpellier, France. 125 pp.
  • Hepper, F.N., 1958. Papilionaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 505–587.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1989. Trees of Nigeria. A revised version of Nigerian trees (1960, 1964) by R.W.J. Keay, C.F.A. Onochie and D.P. Stanfield. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. 476 pp.
  • Louppe, D. & Ouattara, N., 1996. Station Kamonon Diabaté (Korhogo), resultants des mensurations de 1996. Institut des Forêts, Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire. 54 pp.
  • Masutha, T.H., Muofhe, M.L. & Dakora, F.D., 1997. Evaluation of N2 fixation and agroforestry potential in selected tree legumes for sustainable use in South Africa. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 29(5/6): 993–998.
  • Mndolwa, M.A., 2004. A further note on two provenances of Dalbergia sissoo at Kibaha, Tanzania. TAFORI Newsletter 4(1): 12–14.
  • National Academy of Sciences, 1979. Tropical legumes: resources for the future. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., United States. 331 pp.
  • Peltier, R., 1988. Résultats des essais forestiers au Nord-Cameroun. Tome 1. Institut de la recherche agronomique, Centre de Maroua, Cameroon. 80 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Berhaut, J., 1976. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 5. Légumineuses Papilionacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 658 pp.
  • Townsend, C.C., 1974. Leguminales. In: Townsend, C.C. & Guest, E. (Editors). Flora of Iraq. Vol. 3. Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Republic of Iraq. 662 pp.


  • R.H.M.J. Lemmens, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2008. Dalbergia sissoo Roxb. ex DC. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 12 November 2020.