Phoenix reclinata (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Carbohydrate / starch|
|Dye / tannin|
|Forage / feed|
Phoenix reclinata Jacq.
- Protologue: Fragm. Bot. 1: 27 (1801).
- Family: Arecaceae (Palmae)
- Chromosome number: n = 18
- Phoenix abyssinica Drude (1895),
- Phoenix comorensis Becc. (1906).
- Wild date palm, Senegal date palm, swamp date palm, false date palm (En).
- Dattier sauvage, dattier du Sénégal, dattier nain du Sénégal, dattier de marais, faux dattier (Fr).
- Palmeira da tara (Po).
- Mkindu (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Phoenix reclinata is distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal and Gambia eastwards to Somalia and southwards to South Africa and Madagascar. It also occurs in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Phoenix reclinata is widely planted as an ornamental in tropical and subtropical regions, also outside tropical Africa.
The leaflets or strips of the leaflets of young, unexpanded leaves are widely used for making mats, bags, baskets, hats, sieves, rope, string, fishing nets, traps, parasols and ornaments. Strips from mature leaves are used for weaving hats. The split petiole and rachis of mature leaves are used in coarse weaving, e.g. of baskets, mats and fish traps, and for tying. The whole rachis is used for making huts and fish kraals. The Maasai use the rachis for cleaning gourds. The leaves are used for thatching and as fans. Hand brooms are made from the stem by pounding its end until the fibres separate. Dried inflorescences are also used as brooms.
The trunk, although often bent, is much used in the construction of huts, houses, fences, bridges, landing-stages, traps and hives. In Ghana the wood is made into drums. The wood is also used as fuelwood and is suitable for charcoal production. The base of the stem is sometimes eaten. The palm is tapped for sap to be fermented into a palm wine. The apical bud is eaten as a vegetable (‘palm cabbage’); it is said to be slightly bitter. The ripe fruits are eaten, sometimes after having been immersed in boiling water for a moment. In Sierra Leone the kernels are parched and ground into flour for consumption. Roasted seeds are used as a coffee substitute. The roots yield an edible gum and contain tannins. In Kenya and Tanzania a brown dye is obtained from the root. Phoenix reclinata is widely planted as an ornamental and locally for shade and amenity. The leaves and petioles are used for dune fixation.
In traditional medicine in Senegal root macerations are considered astringent and taken for the treatment of stomach-ache and diarrhoea, a decoction of the apical bud is used in baths and draughts against tiredness, and preparations of the leaflets are externally applied for the treatment of eye diseases. In Côte d’Ivoire the fruit is used for the treatment of female sterility. In Uganda the pounded roots mixed with banana juice or beer are taken against gonorrhoea and impotence, and fresh leaves are chewed and swallowed against abdominal pain. In Tanzania a root decoction is drunk against epilepsy.
In various countries the leaves have ceremonial uses. In Senegal they are made into loin-cloths to be worn at circumcision ceremonies. In Ethiopia the leaves are used on Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church and as decorations for weddings. Between Palm Sunday and Easter children use the young soft leaflets for making finger rings.
Production and international trade
The leaves and woven products made from them are locally sold in markets.
Mats and baskets made from the leaflets of Phoenix reclinata are very durable. The wood is pale brown, and has an air-dry density of 590 kg/m³. It is durable and resistant to attacks by termites and fungi.
The fruit is smaller than and inferior to that of the true date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.). The fruit flesh contains per 100 g edible portion: moisture 36.1 g, energy 858 kJ (205 kcal), protein 3.2 g, fat 0.7 g, carbohydrates 46.3 g, crude fibre 9.8 g, ash 3.9 g, Ca 51 mg, Mg 79 mg, P 33 mg, Fe 182 mg, Zn 0.8 mg, thiamin 0.03 mg, riboflavin 0.02 mg and niacin 1.16 mg (Wehmeyer, 1986). The seed without seed coat contains per 100 g edible portion: moisture 42.6 g, energy 950 kJ (227 kcal), protein 1.8 g, fat 0.2 g, carbohydrates (including fibre) 53.8 g, fibre 2.9 g, ash 1.6 g, Ca 32 mg, P 56 mg and Fe 4.7 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968).
Palm wine (3.6% alcohol) contains per 100 g: moisture 98.3 g, energy 131 kJ (31 kcal), protein 0.2 g, carbohydrates 1.1 g, ash 0.4 g, Ca 0.45 mg, Mg 5.1 mg, P 1.74 mg, Fe 0.07 mg, Zn 0.02 mg, thiamin 0.01 mg, riboflavin 0.01 mg, niacin 0.50 mg and ascorbic acid 6.5 mg (Wehmeyer, 1986). Palm wine from Phoenix reclinata is less appreciated than that of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) in West Africa, and that of Hyphaene coriacea Gaertn. and Hyphaene petersiana Mart. in southern Africa.
Ethanolic extracts of the leaves have shown anti-cancer properties.
Adulterations and substitutes
Weaving material, construction material, palm wine and edible fruits are obtained from a range of other palm species.
Dioecious, usually clustering, rarely solitary tree up to 15 m tall, often forming dense thickets; trunk up to 10(–12) m tall, erect or oblique, unbranched, cylindrical, up to 25(–40) cm in diameter, dull brown, the upper part with persistent leaf sheaths, the lower part free of leaf sheaths but marked with leaf scars, exuding a clear yellowish gum when injured. Leaves clustered at the end of trunk, pinnate, up to 4 m long, sheathing at the base, arching; sheath splitting and persistent, reddish-brown, fibrous; true petiole c. 15 cm long, apparent petiole c. 50 cm long, with on each side 10–15 irregularly arranged acanthophylls 3–10 cm long; leaflets up to 130 on each side of the rachis, towards the top arranged singly and regularly, towards the base in groups of 2–5,sessile, linear-lanceolate, up to 50(–60) cm × 3.5 cm, single-fold, stiff, pointed, when old splitting along the midvein, bright green, often shiny, when young bearing white indumentum on the lower surface, margin finely spiny. Inflorescence unisexual, axillary, between the leaves, branched to 1 order; prophyll 20–70 cm × 5–10 cm, 2-keeled, often persistent and splitting longitudinally into 2 halves, orange-brown at anthesis, fading to dull grey-brown; male inflorescence erect, with peduncle not greatly elongating, sometimes scarcely emerging from the bract, peduncle 10–30 cm long, greatly compressed, rachis up to 30 cm long, rachillae up to 70, arranged in groups and partial spirals, up to 20 cm long; female inflorescence erect, but arching with fruits, 30–80 cm long, emerging from the bract and often greatly elongating after anthesis, with the fruiting rachillae pendulous, peduncle up to 60 cm long, rachillae up to 40(–60), spirally arranged, up to 55 cm long, with up to 50 flowers, flowers solitary or in small groups. Flowers unisexual; male flowers creamy white, rapidly turning brown, musty scented, calyx cup-shaped, c. 1 mm long, with 3 triangular lobes, corolla tubular at the base with 3 lobes 6–7 mm long, acute, somewhat dentate towards the apex, fleshy, stamens 6, epipetalous, shorter than petals; female flowers greenish, rounded, c. 2 mm in diameter, calyx cup-shaped, c. 1.5 mm long, with 3 triangular lobes, petals 3, free, rounded, up to 5 mm long, closely overlapping, staminodes 6, stigmas reflexed. Fruit an ovoid-ellipsoid or almost obovoid drupe 13–25 mm × 7–15 mm, pale yellow to orange or dull red, smooth, calyx and petals persistent, mesocarp 1–2 mm thick, dry or moist, 1-seeded. Seed obovoid, 10–15 mm × 5–9 mm, deeply grooved along 1 side.
Other botanical information
Phoenix comprises c. 13 species in the Old World tropics and subtropics from the Canary Islands eastward to Hong Kong. Phoenix reclinata hybridizes with the true date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) and other Phoenix species.
Growth and development
With adequate moisture supply Phoenix reclinata can reach a height of 5 m in 3–4 years. Phoenix reclinata forms suckers and is often found in clumps of a mother tree surrounded by smaller trees. In southern Africa flowering usually occurs in August–December, and fruits mature in February–May. Phoenix spp. are pleonanthic, i.e. the stems do not die after flowering. The seeds are dispersed by animals eating the fruits. These include birds, elephants, lemurs and monkeys.
Phoenix reclinata occurs from sea-level up to 3000 m altitude in a range of habitats, often seasonally inundated, such as on the edges of swamps, lakes and water courses in forest, woodland and wooded grassland, but also on open rocky hillsides. It sometimes forms groves. In Senegal it also occurs in thickets on the margins of salt soils. Phoenix reclinata prefers full sun but tolerates light shade. It also tolerates light frost. In the Okavango delta (Botswana) it is often associated with termite mounds.
Propagation and planting
Phoenix reclinata can be propagated by seed or by suckers. The seed is separated from the fruit pulp by soaking in cold water for 3 days and changing the water every 12 hours. The 1000-seed weight is 200–1100 g. The seeds can be stored, but fresh seeds germinate best. Germination usually starts within 10 days, but may take as long as 90 days.
Removal of all leaves from the palm should be avoided as the tree may die. When trees are tapped for palm wine, the stem usually dies after tapping, but the clump survives. In South Africa a coppice shoot is estimated to need 6–8 years of growth before it can be tapped.
Diseases and pests
Phoenix reclinata is slightly susceptible to lethal yellowing disease, caused by a phytoplasma.
Palm wine may be obtained from felled or standing trees. In Côte d’Ivoire the tree is cut down, all leaves are removed and the terminal bud is cut. A cavity is made in which a brand is put in order to activate the sap flow. Collection of the sap starts 3–4 days later through a gutter linked to a calabash. Collection is done twice a day, and each time the terminal bud is further cut. Collection lasts 1–2 months. In southern Africa standing trees are tapped. A clump is first burned to remove undergrowth and leaf spines, after which selected stems are trimmed with a sharp knife to initiate sap flow. Then the stem and the bases of young leaves are cut a slight angle to guide sap into a gutter and a container. During the 5–7 weeks of tapping, the leaf bases are trimmed 2–3 times per day, until they are entirely removed.
Handling after harvest
For the production of baskets in Tanzania, the individual leaflets are woven to make strips about 3–5 cm wide, which are sewn together side by side to make a mat, or coiled to make a basket.
After being tapped, palm wine is usually left to ferment for about 36 hours before it is consumed.
As Phoenix reclinata is widely distributed, occurs in a range of habitats, and readily forms suckers, the species is not threatened.
There appears to be some variability in the fruit quality, with reports ranging from soft and savoury to unpalatable, so there may be scope for selection work.
Phoenix reclinata is an important local source of a wide range of products, including fibre, construction material, food, fodder, palm wine, tannin and traditional medicine, and it will undoubtedly remain so in the future. Research on properties and management practices may be worthwhile, and investigations on the infraspecific variation in the quality of the fruits and other products may show prospects for selection work.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article
Segu, K., 2011. Phoenix reclinata Jacq. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.
Accessed 17 July 2021.
- See the Prota4U database.