Dichrostachys cinerea (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Dichrostachys cinerea (L.) Wight & Arn.


distribution in Africa (wild and naturalized)
1, tree habit; 2, part of flowering branch; 3, bisexual flower; 4, sterile flower; 5, fruits. Redrawn and adapted by J.M. de Vries
Protologue: Prodr. fl. Ind. orient. : 271 (1834).
Family: Mimosaceae (Leguminosae - Mimosoideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 28

Synonyms

  • Dichrostachys nyassana Taub. (1895),
  • Dichrostachys glomerata (Forssk.) Chiov. (1915).

Vernacular names

  • Bell mimosa, Chinese lantern, Kalahari Christmas tree, sickle bush, sickle pod, marabou thorn (En).
  • Mimosa clochette (Fr).
  • Mkulagembe, mkingiri, msigino, mvunja shoka (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Dichrostachys cinerea is extremely widely distributed from tropical Asia and Australia to the Caribbean and Africa. In Africa it occurs in all regions except the rain forest belt, from Cape Verde eastward to Somalia and southward to Namibia and northern South Africa. It has been introduced and naturalized in the Indian Ocean islands and in the Caribbean region, where it has become locally an aggressive weed, e.g. in La Réunion and Cuba.

Uses

Dichrostachys cinerea is one of the most widely used medicinal plants of the tropics. It is particularly important in tropical Africa and India, and all plant parts except the inflorescences are used. A survey in Zambia revealed that it is more widely used in traditional medicine than any other plant. In Zimbabwe it ranked amongst the 6 most frequently used plants against sexually transmitted diseases.

Crushed or pulped roots are taken in milk as a diuretic, mild purgative and anthelmintic in West Africa. Powdered roots are used in East and southern Africa to treat nose bleeding, hernia and kwashiorkor. In many parts of Africa, root decoctions or infusions are applied externally to skin abscesses, as mouth-wash and anodyne, and to treat syphilis and leprosy sores, oedema and rheumatism. They are taken in the treatment of abdominal disorders, diarrhoea, malaria, liver disorders, catarrh, coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, oedema, blennorrhoea, orchitis, venereal diseases, epilepsy, snake bites, scorpion stings, pains, anaemia, gynaecological disorders and infertility, and they are administered to women in childbirth. In India root juice is used to treat paralysis and root extracts are applied against renal troubles including kidney stones, diseases of vagina and uterus, and painful joints.

In tropical Africa pounded or powdered bark is used in the treatment of elephantiasis, infantile complaints and snake bites, and to induce abortion. Bark decoctions or infusions are used externally against sores, wounds and gingivitis, and are taken to treat dysentery, stomach-ache, venereal diseases, coughs, chest complaints, urethral discharge and as anthelmintic.

Leaves are applied as a poultice for treating abscesses, boils, burns, toothache, headache and oedema. Powdered leaves are used to treat wounds and as anodyne. Leaf juice is applied externally to wounds, sores, skin complaints, sore eyes and scorpion stings, and to treat abdominal pain. It is taken against blennorrhoea and as diuretic. Leaf decoctions or infusions are taken to treat malaria, stomach complaints, indigestion, diarrhoea, catarrh, pneumonia, asthma, rheumatism, arthritis, venereal diseases, snakebites and infertility. In India bruised tender shoots are applied to the eyes to treat ophthalmia.

Powdered fruits are applied to sore eyes, sores, snake bites and scorpion stings, whereas fruit decoctions are taken to treat malaria and otitis. Powdered seeds are administered in the treatment of scabies.

The wood is used for implements, tool handles, walking sticks and bows, and occasionally in house building and for fence posts. It is also used as firewood and for charcoal production. The bark of stems and roots is used for basketry, mats and ropes. The foliage is browsed by livestock, but is of doubtful quality and mainly browsed in the dry season when little else is available. The fruits and seeds are eaten by cattle. The seeds have been reported to be edible. The flowers are commonly visited by honey bees and in Tanzania. Dichrostachys cinerea is considered an important bee plant. It is occasionally planted in hedges and live fences, as ornamental and for soil improvement and stabilization. It is sometimes kept as a bonsai.

Properties

Phytochemical analysis of methanol extracts of the aerial plant parts revealed the presence of flavonoids, tannins, sterols, triterpenes and polyphenols. The flavan-3-ols (–)-mesquitol, oritin, (–)-festidinol and (–)-epicatechin have been isolated from the extracts; the first 3 compounds were found to be advanced glycation end-products inhibitors. It has been suggested that (–)-mesquitol may serve as an important natural organic lead compound for future development of antiglycating agents with potent anti-oxidant activity. Bark and root methanol extracts showed antibacterial activity, as well as synergistic effect with antibiotics against multidrug-resistant bacteria. Root extracts were demonstrated to be active against Staphylococcus aureus, Shigella boydii, Shigella flexneri, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, with tannins as active compounds. Dose-dependent relaxation was demonstrated on trachea preparations of guinea-pigs.

Numerous meroterpene derivatives, called dichrostachines, have been isolated from the bark; several of these compounds inhibit the enzyme protein farnesyl transferase. Root extracts showed depressant activity on the central nervous system in mice, and marked protection against cisplatin-induced renal damage as well as significant reduction of urinary stones in rats. Root, bark and leaf extracts had antidiarrhoeal activity in tests on mice with castor oil-induced diarrhoea. This supports the use in traditional medicine as a remedy against diarrhoea. Tannin was suggested to be responsible for the effect. Leaf extracts were found to have in-vitro antibacterial activity, as well as analgesic activity in tests with mice.

Fruits contain 10–20% protein, seeds about 19%. In tests in Zimbabwe, female goats which were given 200 g/day of Dichrostachys cinerea fruits showed increased milk production, as well as increased growth and reduced mortality of their offspring.

The heartwood is dark brown to nearly black and distinctly demarcated from the pale brown to yellowish sapwood. The grain is straight or slightly interlocked, texture fine and even. The wood is heavy, hard, tough and durable, being resistant to termite attacks. The wood burns a long time and steadily with an intense heat, and is therefore a highly valued firewood.

Description

  • Deciduous shrub or small tree up to 6(–12) m tall; bole often irregular and low-branching, up to 25 cm in diameter; bark surface nearly smooth to rough or deeply fissured, dark grey to greyish brown, peeling off in strips, inner bark thick, fibrous, yellowish white; crown open, with spreading branches; lateral twigs with sharp spines at apex, short-hairy.
  • Leaves alternate, bipinnately compound with (2–)5–19(–21) pairs of pinnae; stipules small; petiole and rachis together up to 20 cm long, with a stalked gland between pairs of pinnae; leaflets in 9–41 pairs per pinna, sessile, oblong to linear, up to 1 cm × 0.5 cm, glabrous to slightly hairy.
  • Inflorescence an axillary long-stalked spike 1–12 cm long, pendent, slightly hairy.
  • Flowers sterile and pinkish in lower part of inflorescence, bisexual and yellow in upper part of inflorescence, regular, 5-merous; calyx 0.5–1 mm long, with slightly hairy tube and short lobes; corolla lobes 1.5–3 mm long, slightly fused at base, glabrous; stamens 10, 3–5 mm long, with gland on top of anthers, much longer but without anthers in sterile flowers; ovary superior, ellipsoid, c. 1 mm long, slightly hairy, 1-celled, style slender.
  • Fruit a narrowly oblong flattened pod, 2–10 cm × 0.5–2.5 cm, becoming contorted or spiral, leathery, glabrous, dark brown, indehiscent or irregularly opening, c. 5-seeded.
  • Seeds flattened ellipsoid, 4–6 mm × 3–4.5 mm, glossy brown.

Other botanical information

Dichrostachys comprises about 15 species, most of them restricted to Madagascar. It is closely related to Alantsilodendron and Gagnebina. Dichrostachys cinerea is extremely variable. Numerous subspecies and varieties have been distinguished for Africa, some of them geographically distinct, others ecologically.

Dichrostachys tenuifolia

Another Dichrostachys species from Madagascar has medicinal uses. The dried and powdered leaves of Dichrostachys tenuifolia Benth., an invasive shrub in dry to humid forest, are used with water as toothpaste and as a rub to strengthen the gums. The powder is sold in local markets for this purpose. The leaves are browsed by goats.

Growth and development

Dichrostachys cinerea spreads by root suckers to form dense spiny thickets, especially in overgrazed areas. It is considered a bush encroachment species, and may behave as a difficult to eradicate weed. In southern Africa it flowers in October–February, in Kenya in November–December. In West Africa it flowers during the second half of the dry season, before or together with the development of new foliage. Fruits mature about 6 months later. As the pods usually do not open, they rot on the ground to release the seeds. They have a strong scent, which might attract animals to feed on the pods. Root nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria are present.

Ecology

Dichrostachys cinerea occurs in an extremely wide variety of habitats, from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude, and in regions with an annual rainfall of 200–1400 mm. It is found in wooded grassland, deciduous woodland and disturbed land, but also in evergreen bushland near the coast and even in more open swamp forest and rainforest. It is often found on heavy clayey soils, but also occurs on more dry sandy soils. Dichrostachys cinerea is quite drought and fire resistant and can withstand light frost. It does not tolerate waterlogging.

Propagation and planting

A mature plant may produce 1 million of seeds per year, most of which are viable. Fruits should be collected from the shrub or tree as soon as they are mature, after which the seeds should be extracted. There are 39,000–67,000 seeds per kg. The seeds can be stored for more than 10 years if they are kept dry and insect free. They can be sown directly into the field. Immersion of the seed in water for 24 hours improves the germination rate, as well as scarification. Pre-treatment with concentrated sulphuric acid for 25 minutes gives optimum results, with more than 75% germination of fresh seeds in 3–7 days. Propagation by root suckers and cuttings is easy.

When planted for fuelwood and soil stabilization, spacing should be 3 m × 5 m, in silvopastural land 8 m × 8 m.

Management

Dichrostachys cinerea can be coppiced, pruned and pollarded.

Diseases and pests

In southern Africa larvae of the butterfly satyr emperor (Charaxes ethalion) feed on the foliage.

Harvesting

For maximum fuel biomass, plants should be harvested 10 years after planting. For fodder, trees can be coppiced every alternate year after they have reached a height of 5–6 m.

Yield

In the 6th year, an average yield of 3.4 t of fodder and 23 t of firewood may be expected per ha.

Handling after harvest

For medicinal purposes, roots, bark and leaves are usually used fresh after collection.

Genetic resources

Dichrostachys cinerea is extremely widespread and common or even abundant in many regions, and is therefore not threatened by genetic erosion. Its genetic variability needs more attention.

Prospects

Tests on Dichrostachys cinerea revealed interesting medicinal properties including antibacterial, analgesic and antidiarrhoeal activities, confirming the extensive use of the plant in traditional medicine and meriting further research. Although the plant is very attractive when flowering, its value as ornamental is limited because of the presence of sharp spines. Moreover, its tendency to spread rapidly by root suckers may cause trouble after planting. Dichrostachys cinerea has potential for land reclamation projects, as it can be planted in highly degraded land and in ravines.

Major references

  • Arbonnier, M., 2004. Trees, shrubs and lianas of West African dry zones. CIRAD, Margraf Publishers Gmbh, MNHN, Paris, France. 573 pp.
  • Aworet-Samseny, R.R., Souza, A., Khape, F., Konate, K. & Datte, J.Y., 2011. Dichrostachys cinerea (L.) Wight et Arn. (Mimosaceae) hydro-alcoholic extract action on the contractility of tracheal smooth muscle isolated from guinea-pig. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 11: 23.
  • Bekele-Tesemma, A., 2007. Useful trees and shrubs for Ethiopia: identification, propagation and management for 17 agroclimatic zones. Technical Manual No 6. RELMA in ICRAF Project, Nairobi, Kenya. 552 pp.
  • 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.
  • Fankam, A.G., Kuete, V., Voukeng, I.K., Kuiate, J.R. & Pages, J.M., 2011. Antibacterial activities of selected Cameroonian spices and their synergistic effects with antibiotics against multidrug-resistant phenotypes. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 11: 104.
  • Kambizi, L. & Afolayan, A.J., 2001. An ethnobotanical study of plants used for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (njovhera) in Guruve District, Zimbabwe. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 77: 5–9.
  • Long, C., Marcourt, L., Raux, R., David, B., Gau, C., Menendez, C., Gao, M., Laroche, M.F., Schambel, P., Delaude, C., Ausseil, F., Lavaud, C. & Massiot, G., 2009. Meroterpenes from Dichrostachys cinerea inhibit protein farnesyl transferase activity. Journal of Natural Products 72(10): 1804-1815.
  • Maundu, P. & Tengnäs, B. (Editors), 2005. Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre - East and Central Africa Regional Programme (ICRAF-ECA), Technical Handbook 35, Nairobi, Kenya. 484 pp.
  • Suresh, G., Tiwari, A.K., Radha Krishna Murthy, M., Anand Kumar, D., Rajendra Prasad, K., Ranga Rao, R., Zehra Ali, A. & Suresh Babu, K., 2012. New advanced glycation end-products inhibitors from Dichrostachys cinerea Wight & Arn. Journal of Natural Medicine 66(1): 213–216.
  • World Agroforestry Centre, undated. Agroforestree Database. [Internet] World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya. http://www.worldagroforestry.org/ resources/databases/ agroforestree. Accessed September 2012.

Other references

  • Adikay, S., Koganti, B. & Prasad, K.V.S.R.G., 2009. Effect of alcoholic extract of roots of Dichrostachys cinerea Wight & Arn. against cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity in rats. Natural Product Radiance 8(1): 12–18.
  • Banso, A. & Adeyemo, S.O., 2007. Evaluation of antibacterial properties of tannins isolated from Dichrostachys cinerea. African Journal of Biotechnology 6(15): 1785–1787.
  • Brenan, J.P.M., 1959. Leguminosae subfamily Mimosoideae. In: Hubbard, C.E. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 173 pp.
  • CAB International, 2010. Forestry Compendium. Dichrostachys cinerea. [Internet] http://www.cabi.org/ fc/. Accessed September 2012.
  • Chhabra, S.C., Mahunnah, R.L.A. & Mshiu, E.N., 1990. Plants used in traditional medicine in eastern Tanzania. 4. Angiosperms (Mimosaceae to Papilionaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 29: 295–323.
  • du Puy, D.J., Labat, J.N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J., 2002. The Leguminosae of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 750 pp.
  • Fowler, D.G., 2007. Zambian plants: their vernacular names and uses. Kew Publishing, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 298 pp.
  • Gelfand, M., Mavi, S., Drummond, R.B. & Ndemera, B., 1985. The traditional medical practitioner in Zimbabwe: his principles of practice and pharmacopoeia. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe. 411 pp.
  • Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.
  • Jayakumari, S., Srinivasa Rao, G.H., Anbu, J. & Ravichandiran, V., 2011. Antidiarrhoeal activity of Dichrostachys cinerea. International Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences 3, suppl. 3: 61–63.
  • Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1995. Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 10. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 710 pp.
  • Maphosa, V., Sikosana, J.L. & Muchenje, V., 2009. Effect of doe milking and supplementation using Dichrostachys cinerea pods on kid and doe performance in grazing goats during the dry season. Tropical Animal Health & Production 41(4): 535–541.
  • Mishra, U.S., Behera, S.R., Murthy, P.N., Kumar, M. & Kumar, D., 2009. Antibacterial and analgesic effects of the leaves of Dichrostachys cinerea. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 1(2). 5 pp.
  • Morris, B., 1996. Chewa medical botany. A study of herbalism in southern Malawi. Monographs from the International African Institute. LIT Verlag/Transaction, London, United Kingdom. 557 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N., 1972–1974. Trees of southern Africa, covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. 3 volumes. Balkema, Cape Town, South Africa. 2235 pp.
  • Rabearivelo, J.P., 1986. Approche des plantes médicinales en odontostomatologies dans la région de Toamasina. Thèse pour le diplôme d’état de Docteur en chirurgie dentaire, Université de Mahajanga, Institut d’Odontostomatologie tropicale de Madagascar, Mahajanga, Madagascar. 76 pp.
  • Ramya Kuber, B. & SanthRani, T., 2009. Evaluation of neuropharmacological effects of Dichrostachys cinerea root. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences & Nanotechnology 1(4): 367–374.
  • von Maydell, H.-J., 1986. Trees and shrubs of the Sahel: their characteristics and uses. Schriftenreihe der GTZ No 196. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, Eschborn, Germany. 525 pp.
  • Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.

Afriref references

Sources of illustration

  • Brenan, J.P.M., 1959. Leguminosae subfamily Mimosoideae. In: Hubbard, C.E. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 173 pp.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N., 1972–1974. Trees of southern Africa, covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. 3 volumes. Balkema, Cape Town, South Africa. 2235 pp.

Author(s)

  • D.G. Fowler, Flat 4 Abbotsrood, 1 Milnethorpe Road, Eastbourne BN20 7NR, Sussex, United Kingdom
  • G. Lewis, Legume Team, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond TW9 3AB, United Kingdom

Correct citation of this article

Fowler, D.G. & Lewis, G., 2013. Dichrostachys cinerea (L.) Wight & Arn. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 8 July 2021.