Detarium microcarpum (PROTA)

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Detarium microcarpum Guill. & Perr.

Protologue: Fl. Seneg. tent. 1: 271, tab. 59 (1832).
Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 22


  • Detarium senegalense auct. non J.F.Gmel.

Vernacular names

  • Sweet dattock (En).
  • Dankh, petit détar (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Detarium microcarpum occurs naturally in the drier regions of West and Central Africa, from Senegal and Gambia east to Sudan.


The bark, leaves and roots of Detarium microcarpum are widely used throughout its distribution area because of their diuretic and astringent properties. They are prepared as infusions or decoctions to treat rheumatism, venereal diseases, urogenital infections, haemorrhoids, caries, biliousness, stomach-ache, intestinal worms and diarrhoea including dysentery. They are also used against malaria, leprosy and impotence. A decoction of the powdered bark is widely taken to alleviate pain, e.g. headache, sore throat, back pain and painful menstruation. The fresh bark or leaves are applied to wounds, to prevent and cure infections.

In Mali the bark is also used to treat measles, nocturia, hypertension, itch and tiredness, while a decoction of the leaves or roots is taken against paralysis, meningitis, tiredness, cramps and difficult delivery. The powdered seeds are applied to skin infections and inflammations, whereas the fruit is eaten to cure meningitis and malaria. In Burkina Faso the fruit pulp is used for treating skin infections. A preparation of the fruits is taken against dizziness in Niger and Togo. In Senegal a mixture of the leaves of Detarium microcarpum, Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) Hochst. and Acacia macrostachya Rchb. ex DC. pounded in milk is considered very efficient for snakebites. In Benin a decoction of the leaves is taken to treat fainting and convulsions. In West Africa the roots are part of a medico-magical treatment for mental conditions, and for protection against bad spirits. In veterinary medicine the leaves and roots are used to treat diarrhoea in cattle in southern Mali, and in Benin to treat constipation. In Niger cattle are made to inhale the smoke of the leaves to treat fever.

The fruit is sweet and commonly eaten fresh, while the pulp is used in the preparation of cakes and couscous. The pulp is used as a substitute for sugar. The seeds are used as frankincense and to make necklaces for women. The seeds and leaves are eaten as a condiment and vegetable. The wood is hard and tough, with a regular grain, and is easy to work. It is used for carpentry, fence poles and joinery. It is durable and long-lasting even under water. The wood is well appreciated as firewood, as it lights quickly even if wet. Detarium microcarpum is well integrated in the traditional agroforestry systems of the Sahel, and it can be coppiced well. The leaves and flowers are used as fodder, and the seeds as pig feed. In southern Mali the leaves are used as roofing material, and as organic fertilizer. In Burkina Faso the leaves are used to make masks. The heated roots are sweet scented and are used as a perfume by Dinka women in Sudan, and as a mosquito-repellent in Chad.

Production and international trade

Statistics on production and trade of Detarium microcarpum are scarce, despite the fact that the leaves and roots are commonly sold on markets throughout West Africa. In 2005 1 kg of fruits sold for about US$ 0.04 during harvest time in Mali and about US$ 0.70 at the market in Dakar, Senegal. The seeds were sold in 2004 in francophone West Africa for € 8.50/kg.


The ethanol extract of the bark showed antimicrobial action against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Citrobacter freundii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes and Listeria monocytogenes. The extract showed moderate antitumour activity against breast cancer cells. The flavanes present in a methanol extract of Detarium microcarpum showed strong inhibitory effects on HIV-1 or HIV-2 infection. A bark extract showed significant molluscicidal activity against Lymnaea natalensis. It has been found to contain 2 tetranorditerpenes, the clerodane diterpenes catechine and cis-2-oxokolavenic acid (0.5%), the diterpene copalic acid (1.7%) and coumarin (1%). A methanol extract of the leaves exhibited strong feeding deterrent activity against the termite Reticulitermes speratus. Four clerodane diterpenes were isolated as active components, which possessed strong antifeedant activity at 1%.

The seeds yield 7.5% oil, with linoleic acid being the predominant fatty acid. The gum content (water-soluble polysaccharides) is high. The hulled seed flour contains per 100 g: water 3.5–6.5 g, crude fibre 3 g, crude fat 13–15 g, crude protein 13.5–27 g, carbohydrate 39 g, Ca 500 mg, Mg 500 mg, Fe 100 mg. The major alcohol-soluble sugar in the hulled seed flour is sucrose. The seed flour is used as a traditional emulsifying, flavouring and thickening agent. Roasting the seeds increases crude fat content, crude protein content, ash content, the water absorption capacity, oil absorption capacity and gelation temperature, but decreases carbohydrate content, crude fibre content, the emulsion capacity and the swelling index. Soaking the seeds increased moisture content, carbohydrate content, crude protein content, ash content, the water absorption capacity, oil absorption capacity, gelation temperature and the swelling index, but decreased crude fat content, crude fibre content and the emulsion capacity.

The seed gum contains D-galactose as a major monosaccharide, as well as D-mannose and D-glucose. Incorporation of 0.5% gum in wheat flour increased the water absorption and the mixing tolerance index of the dough significantly. Oil-water emulsions stabilised by the seed flour or gum tolerate freezing and thawing better than commercial salad dressing, egg powder and gum tragacanth emulsions. Addition of the seed polysaccharide to fruit products (mango, orange, pineapple, tomato) improved their stability in storage (at 26°C) for at least 2 months and was well acceptable to consumers. The fruit pulp contains 90% dry matter, of which 4–6 g/100g protein and 3 mg/100 g ascorbic acid.

The wood of Detarium microcarpum is dark brown, rough and moderately heavy.

Adulterations and substitutes

The fruits of Detarium senegalense J.F.Gmel. are eaten as substitute for those of Detarium microcarpum, although the fruits of certain populations are toxic.


Small tree up to 10 m tall; root system horizontal; bole usually straight, cylindrical, 30 cm in diameter; bark scaling on older branches, grey, brown or reddish; crown irregular. Leaves alternate, paripinnately compound 14–20 cm long, with 3–4(–6) pairs of leaflets, short hairy when young, glabrescent; stipules linear, 4–6 mm long, caducous; petiole 1–3 cm long; petiolule 0.5–1 cm long; leaflets alternate to subopposite, ovate, oblong to elliptical, 7–11 cm × 3.5–5 cm, base rounded, apex usually emarginate, thickly leathery, with numerous translucid gland-dots. Inflorescence a compact axillary panicle, 5–15(–25) cm long, 1-several together, 3– 60-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, sessile, fragrant; sepals 4, elliptical, white or cream, densely pubescent outside; petals absent; stamens (8–)10, free; ovary superior, sessile, 1-celled, style slender, stigma terminal, head-shaped. Fruit an ovoid or rounded, indehiscent drupe-like pod, 2.5–4.5 cm in diameter, more or less flattened, glabrous, yellowish when ripe, with c. 1 cm of greenish mealy pulp, fibrous and sweet, 1-seeded. Seed orbicular, 15–20 mm × 6.5–8.5 mm. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Detarium belongs to the tribe Detarieae and is related to Copaifera. It is confined to Africa and comprises 3 species: Detarium microcarpum, Detarium senegalense J.F.Gmel. and Detarium macrocarpum Harms, which are morphologically very similar, but ecologically differentiated. Detarium microcarpum is typically a species of the dry savanna, Detarium senegalense is more riparian and also occurs in dry forest, and Detarium macrocarpum occurs in humid forest.

Growth and development

Detarium microcarpum regenerates well from shoots produced by the trunk or roots. Shoots from the trunk are much more vigorous than seedlings and can reach a height of 1.5–2 m in 1–2 years. In Cameroon the average seedling height after 3 years is 0.6 m, and the seedling may reach 1.5 m in 4 years. Detarium microcarpum flowers during the rainy season, from July–September(–November), and bears fruit from September–January (–May). It sheds its leaves in November and produces new ones in March. The main flowering period of a tree is up to 8 days only, and flowers are pollinated by insects, especially in the mornings. Trees often produce seedless fruits.


Detarium microcarpum grows on dry soil in wooded savanna and open woodland, and is locally very common. It is most common in regions with an annual rainfall of 600–1000 mm. It is mainly found on shallow, stony and lateritic soils, and on hills.

Propagation and planting

The seeds can be stored at ambient temperature (26°C) for 5 years. To break dormancy, they are soaked in sulphuric acid for 30 minutes, followed by thorough washing and soaking in water for 24 hours. Scarification with sand and additional fungicide treatment also improves germination. The dormancy can also be broken by boiling the seeds for 7 minutes followed by soaking in lukewarm water for 24 hours. The weight of 100 seeds is 150–200 g.

In a nursery germination started 8–10 days after sowing. After 47 days, 71–100% of the seeds sown in polythene bags had germinated. Natural germination is hampered by bush fires and dry spells. Direct-sown plantations have not been successful because of the slow early growth. Detarium microcarpum can also be multiplied by grafting adult twigs or shoots.

Protocols for micropropagation of Detarium microcarpum using axillary explants or cotyledons have been developed. Using 6-benzyl-aminopurine instead of kinetin enhanced shoot formation.


The density of Detarium microcarpum in natural stands can be up to 270 trees/ha. Young trees are regularly cut down on agricultural land because of the horizontal rooting system. The trees are pruned to stimulate fruit production on young branches. The trees are either cut at soil level or at 10–60 cm height; suckers formed on high stumps survive bush fires better than root suckers.


The plant parts used are harvested according to need and availability. Fruits are harvested from March to May, leaves from April to November, while roots and bark are harvested throughout the year.


In Mali a tree can produce 675 fruits on average, i.e. about 7 kg.

Handling after harvest

The fruits of Detarium microcarpum can be kept for 1–3 years in jute bags. The leaves and bark are used fresh or dried for future use.

Genetic resources

Detarium microcarpum is not genetically endangered, but in regions where population pressure is high it is overexploited for wood and is also frequently cut down on agricultural land. This can lead to its local disappearance.

Germplasm collections are held at the Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER) in Mali and at the Centre National des Semences Forestières (CNSF) in Burkina Faso.


A morphological and biochemical characterization of different populations of Detarium microcarpum in southern Mali was made as the first step in a study of the genetic structure of the species. The farmers’ criteria for distinguishing types of Detarium microcarpum relate especially to bark colour, leaf size and fruit quality.


Detarium microcarpum is considered a valuable species because of its medicinal properties, edible fruit and hard wood. To prevent overexploitation, it should be protected from cutting and bushfires. The species is worth domesticating. Despite the numerous medicinal uses, phytochemical analyses are scarce and deserve more attention. The seed flour has good nutritional quality and the functional properties confirmed their suitability for use in various food preparations. There are several opportunities for increased use of this multipurpose species.

Major references

  • Abreu, P.M., Rosa, V.S., Araujo, E.M., Canda, A.B., Kayser, O., Bindseil, K.-U., Siems, K. & Seemann, A., 1998. Phytochemical analysis and antimicrobial evaluation of Detarium microcarpum bark extracts. Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Letters 8(3): 107–109.
  • Abreu, P.M., Martins, E.S., Kayser, O., Bindseil, K.-U., Siems, K., Seemann, A. & Frevert, J., 1999. Antimicrobial, antitumor and antileishmania screening of medicinal plants from Guinea-Bissau. Phytomedicine 6(3): 187–195.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
  • Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2002. Detarium microcarpum. [Internet]. Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium prelude/view_plant?pi=04690 August 2004.
  • 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.
  • Dione, F.G.B., 2001. Etude des facteurs de la germination et de la multiplication végétative chez Detarium senegalense Gmel. et Detarium microcarpum Guill. et Perr. Mémoire de DEA, Biologie végétale. Université Cheickh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal. 63 pp.
  • Keay, R.W.J., Hoyle, A.C. & Duvigneaud, P., 1958. Caesalpiniaceae. 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. 439–484.
  • Kerharo, J. & Adam, J.G., 1974. La pharmacopée sénégalaise traditionnelle. Plantes médicinales et toxiques. Vigot & Frères, Paris, France. 1011 pp.
  • Kouyaté, A.M., 2005. Aspects ethnobotaniques et étude de la variabilité morphologique, biochimique et phénologique de Detarium microcarpum Guill. & Perr. Au Mali. PhD thesis. Faculty of Agriculture and Applied Biological Sciences, University of Gent, Gent, Belgium. 207 pp.
  • Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.

Other references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Dan Dicko, L., Daouda, H., Delmas, M., de Souza, S., Garba, M., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., N'Golo, D., Raynal, J. & Saadou, M., 1985. Médecine traditionnelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Niger. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 250 pp.
  • Akpata, M.I. & Miachi, O.E., 2001. Proximate composition and selected functional properties of Detarium microcarpum. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 56(4): 297–302.
  • Bationo, B.A., Ouedraogo, S.J. & Guinko, S., 2001. Stratégies de régéneration naturelle de Detarium microcarpum Guill. et Perr. dans la forêt classée de Nazinon (Burkina Faso). Fruits 56(4): 271–285.
  • Baumer, M., 1995. Arbres, arbustes et arbrisseaux nourriciers en Afrique occidentale. ENDA & CTA, Dakar, Sénégal. 260 pp.
  • Couteron, P. & Bergeret, A., 1995. Quel avenir pour un territoire pastoral au Nord-Yatenga (Burkina Faso)? Modalités de régulation possibles des systèmes soudano-sahéliens perturbés. Programme Environnement du CNRS. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
  • Hugé, J., 2002. Inventaire des agents pollinisateurs des fleurs et étude de la diversité génétique chez Detarium microcarpum Guill. et Perr. au Mali. Mémoire de DEA. University of Gent, Gent, Belgium. 112 pp.
  • Idu, M., Ijomah, J.U. & Omonhinmin, A.C., 2002. Histomorphology of the tracheary elements of some Fabaceae hardwood. Discovery and Innovation 14(1–2): 46–50.
  • Kouyaté, A.M., Meyer, A. & van Damme, P., 2002. Perceptions paysannes de Detarium microcarpum Guill. et Perr. dans le sud du Mali. Fruits 57(5–6). 14 pp.
  • Lajide, L., Escoubas, P. & Mizutani, J., 1995. Termite antifeedant activity in Detarium microcarpum. Phytochemistry 40: 1101–1104.
  • Mahmood, N., Pizza, C., Aquino, R., de Tommasi, N., Piacente, S., Colman, S., Burke, A., Hay, A.J. & de Tommasi, N., 1993. Inhibition of HIV infection by flavanoids. Antiviral Research 22(2–3): 189–199.
  • Meyer, A., 2001. Rôle socio-économique et écologique de Detarium microcarpum au sud du Mali. Rapport de fin de cycle d'ingénieur. EPFZ, Zürich, Switserland & IER, Sikasso, Mali. 49 pp.
  • Moustapha, A., Mahaman, L., Zeinabou, H., Attikou, A., Bagnou, M. & Daouda, S., 2003. Rapport d'activités 2001–2002. Projet Régional AIEA CT RAF/05/48. Lutte contre la désertification dans le Sahel. Niamey, Niger. 30 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
  • Njoku, O.U., Obioma, U. & Frank, E.U., 1999. Investigation on some nutritional and toxicological properties of Afzelia africana and Detarium microcarpum seed oil. Bollettino Chimico Farmaceutico 138(4): 165–168.
  • Okorie, S.U. & Amaechi, E.C., 2003. Effects of roasting and soaking on the proximate composition and functional properties of selected tropical legumes. Global Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences 9(2): 177–182.
  • Onweluzo, J.C., Leelavathi, K. & Rao, P.H., 1999. Effect of Detarium microcarpum (dm) and Mucuna flagellipes (mf) gums on the quality of white bread. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 54(2): 173–182.
  • Onweluzo, J.C., Vijayalakshmi, M.R., Vijayanand, P. & Eipeson, W.E., 1999. Detarium microcarpum polysaccharide as a stabilizer in processed fruit products. Lebensmittel Wissenschaft und Technologie 32(8): 521–526.
  • Sanogo, A.K. & Sanogo, S., 2000. Techniques de récolte des semences forestières. Fiche technique. IER, Sikasso, Mali. 10 pp.
  • Van den Eynden, V., Van Damme, P. & de Wolf, J., 1994. Inventaire et modelage de la gestion du couvert végétal pérenne dans une zone forestière du sud du Sénégal. Rapport final, Partie C: Etude ethnobotanique. University of Gent, Gent, Belgium. 111 pp.
  • Wittig, R. & Guinko, S., 1998. Plantes médicinales et leurs usages chez les Mossis de Sampodogo et Ouéguédo. Etudes flore et végétation. Burkina Faso 4. Verlag Natur & Wissenschaft, Solingen, Germany. 44 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Berhaut, J., 1975. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 4. Ficoidées à Légumineuses. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 625 pp.
  • Aubréville, A., 1968. Légumineuses - Caesalpinioidées (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae). Flore du Gabon. Volume 15. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 362 pp.


  • A.M. Kouyaté, Institut d'Economie Rurale, B.P. 16, Sikasso, Mali
  • P. van Damme, Laboratory of Tropical and Subtropical Agronomy and Ethnobotany, University of Gent, Faculty of Agriculture and Applied Biological Sciences, Coupure Links 653, 9000 Gent, Belgium

Correct citation of this article

Kouyaté, A.M. & van Damme, P., 2006. Detarium microcarpum Guill. & Perr. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 8 July 2021.