Piliostigma reticulatum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Piliostigma reticulatum (DC.) Hochst.

Protologue: Flora 29: 599 (1846).
Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 28


  • Bauhinia reticulata DC. (1825).

Vernacular names

  • Camel’s foot (En).
  • Pied de chameau, semellier (Fr).
  • Musacanca (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Piliostigma reticulatum occurs in the Sahelo-Sudanian region from Senegal and Mauritania eastward to Sudan. It has been introduced into Mozambique.


The fibrous bark is used for tying. In Burkina Faso and Niger, for instance, the bark is used for tying roof rafters of granaries, huts or houses, and it is used in the production of articles such as baskets, chairs, mats, arrows and masks. In Senegal Serer fishermen make nets from the bark. In northern Benin farmers use the bark to tie firewood gathered in the bush or to tie up sheep and pigs to houses during the rainy season. In Sudan it is made into cloth. The bark and resin from the bark are used for fastening the metal parts of tools and weapons to the handles. The leaves are used to wrap foods. The stems are used as toothbrushes.

The tree provides poles and the wood is used for making tool handles, household utensils, stools, masks and other small articles. It is also used as tinder, as fuelwood and for making charcoal. The use of the bark for house building and as fuel is reported in south-western Niger.

In Burkina Faso the young leaves, fruits and roots are cooked and eaten. The boiled leaves are added to cereal porridge to make it more acid and keep it edible for several days. The young fruits are eaten as a vegetable, and the seeds as a condiment or as food in times of scarcity. The pounded and boiled fruits are made into drinks. The leaves, branches, pods and seeds are eaten by cattle, sheep, goats and camels.

The roots yield a red dye, the fruits and seeds a blue one. The bark is used for tanning hides and chewed to stain the teeth red. Young leaves are used for coagulating rubber. In Burkina Faso a leaf decoction is used for making the skins of drums supple. The fruits are burnt for smoking beehives to make these attractive to bees. In Nigeria the fruits are burnt as fuel or used for strengthening uncured clay pots. A perfume is made from the seeds. In Nigeria the seeds are sometimes chewed as a substitute of kola nuts or to stain the lips red. In central Burkina Faso, the plant is considered to contribute to soil improvement and farmers use the leaves for mulching. In addition Piliostigma reticulatum provides shade during agricultural activities, e.g. in nurseries.

The species is extensively used in traditional medicine. The roots are used for the treatment of gonorrhoea, hookworm, ascites and dropsy. Root infusions are taken against diarrhoea and uterine pain. Root decoctions are used in preparations against liver and gall complaints, and are drunk as an antidote for plant poison. Root decoctions or macerations are taken or used in vapour baths against cough, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach-ache and muscular pain. The sap of ground roots is applied on swellings in dislocations, and taken against painful pregnancy and nausea.

The bark is widely used on wounds, cuts, ulcers and sores as an astringent, haemostatic, antiseptic and cicatrisant. Bark decoctions are used for washing wounds and as a mouthwash, and for the treatment of fever, colds, stomach-ache, indigestion and diarrhoea. A decoction of the bark boiled in milk or bouillon is drunk against gonorrhoea. Bark infusions are taken against toothache and vomiting. The bark is chewed against cough, or a bark maceration is drunk. A maceration of the inner bark is used as a wash against ringworm. The fresh bark is attached to body parts that are swollen due to inflammation. In Gabon the bark is used to immobilise fractures. In Niger the aerial parts are used as a tonic for women who have given birth and they form part of preparations against fever in children. Boiled young shoots are chewed by children with toothache.

The leaves are used against fever and as a tranquillizer, and for the treatment of a range of ailments including colds, bronchitis, headache, rheumatism, ophthalmia, toothache, mumps, syphilis, vertigo and epilepsy. Leaf preparations are often applied on wounds, ulcers and sores; they are considered haemostatic, antiseptic and cicatrisant. Ground fresh leaves are applied in case of inflammation. Young leaves are eaten raw against nausea. Boiled leaves are rubbed in against lumbago. In northern Senegal a decoction of the leaves in a vapour-bath is used against conjunctivitis. Leaf decoctions are taken by women in labour to ease delivery, and are used in draught and in baths as a sedative and against epilepsy and possession. Leaf decoctions are also taken against dysentery, haemorrhoids, malaria and hernia. In Nigeria leaf decoctions are used to foment fractures and to get rid of guinea worm. A leaf decoction is rubbed into scarifications for the treatment of leg pain. Leaf infusions are used in drinks or baths as a sedative and anti-rachitic for new-born children, and to stimulate their appetite. Macerations of young leaves and flower buds are given against rickets in babies, kwashiorkor and anorexia.

The fruit is used as a laxative and for the treatment of wounds, sores, ringworm, headache, encephalitis, bronchitis, cough, liver problems and indigestion. In Burkina Faso crushed or powdered fruits are applied on the skin for the treatment of wounds and skin problems, and burnt and crushed fruits against cough. In Senegal the powdered fruit in water is taken by draught or used topically in case of snake bites.

In traditional veterinary medicine the powdered root is put into drinking-water for the treatment of diarrhoea in cattle. In Nigeria powdered seeds are added to brewery waste and given to animals against trypanosomiasis.

Production and international trade

Piliostigma reticulatum yields many products of local importance. However, no statistics are available on their production and trade. In Burkina Faso small rolls of the bark are sold on local markets as tying material.


The fibre is recorded to be strong. The wood is reddish, darkening to brown. It is heavy, hard, strong and tough. It works well, but the usually small size limits its usefulness. The wood is liable to attacks by termites and borers. It is good fuelwood, because it does not burn fast. The wood fibres in samples from Nigeria were 0.7–1.2 mm long, with a cell wall thickness of c. 5.8 μm.

The bark contains up to 20% tannin. Alkaloids and saponins have been reported present in the roots and bark, and phenolics, triterpenes and phlobatinins in the bark. Fresh leaves contain per 100 g edible portion: water 78.3 g, energy 268 kJ (64 kcal), protein 4.8 g, fat 0.1 g, carbohydrate 14.4 g, fibre 6.8 g, Ca 435 mg, P 80 mg, ascorbic acid 68 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968). The leaves have an acidic taste. One kg of fruits contains 55–67 g digestible crude protein. Seeds from Nigeria contained 30.3% crude protein and 27.9% oil. The leaves and the fruits are rich in l-tartaric acid; d-tartaric acid has been isolated as well.

Methanolic root extracts have shown in-vivo anti-diarrhoeal and anti-ulcerogenic properties in rats. Aqueous extracts of the bark showed in-vivo anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in mice and rats. Ethanolic and aqueous bark extracts showed antibacterial activity. Leaf extracts showed anti-inflammatory activity in the carrageenan-induced rat paw oedema model and antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram positive bacteria. Piliostigmol and various flavonoids isolated from the leaf also showed anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity. Methanol extracts from leaves have proved to be trypanocidal against Trypanosoma brucei brucei and Trypanosoma congolense. Leaf decoctions showed in-vivo anticonvulsant and sedative activity in mice. Butanol and ethyl acetate fractions of the leaf extract exhibited strong antioxidant activity. Quercetin and quercetin glycosides isolated from the ethyl acetate fraction also showed antioxidant activity.

Leaves of Piliostigma reticulatum exhibited fast decomposition rate and in the Sahel the plant is considered one of the most promising species to provide organic manure to crops. However, in experiments in Senegal soils amended with leaf residues immobilized nitrogen during the first 62 days, and addition of stems even prolonged the immobilisation period.

Adulterations and substitutes

Traditionally, people use Piliostigma reticulatum and Piliostigma thonningii (Schum.) Milne-Redh. in the same way.


Dioecious shrub or small tree up to 10(–15) m tall; bole short, rarely straight, up to 30 cm in diameter; outer bark deeply fissured to cracked, grey to brown, inner bark pink to red; crown rounded and dense; branches grey, waxy and glabrous. Leaves alternate, conspicuously bi-lobed; petiole 1–3.5 cm long, swollen at both ends; blade 5–12 cm × 4–18 cm, cordate or rounded at base, lobes rounded or more or less cuneate, coriaceous, glabrous, greyish-green, palmately veined with 8–11 basal veins. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal panicle, 5–15 cm long, shortly pubescent. Flowers unisexual, c. 2.5 cm in diameter; calyx 5-toothed, 15–20 mm long; petals 5, obovate, white with pink stripes; male flowers with 10 stamens, anthers brown. Fruit an oblong pod 15–30 cm × 2.5–5 cm, straight, undulate or twisted, woody, hard, glabrous or sparsely pubescent, brown, flat, pruinose, sometimes twisted and cracked, indehiscent and persisting, many-seeded. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Piliostigma comprises 3 species in tropical Africa, Asia and Australia. Piliostigma reticulatum is frequently confused with Piliostigma thonningii due to similarity in appearance, but the latter has larger leaves with hairs on the lower surface, and usually occurs in less dry areas.

Growth and development

The growth of Piliostigma reticulatum is recorded to be slow. Flowering is in the dry season. In Benin flowering and fruiting occur in October. In drier areas Piliostigma reticulatum is semi-deciduous, losing most of its leaves at the end of the dry season, but in more humid zones the leaves are often persistent. The plant resprouts after the stem has been cut. Animals eating the fruits contribute to dispersal of the seeds.


Piliostigma reticulatum occurs from sea level up to 2000 m altitude in areas with an annual rainfall of (200–)400–1000 mm, mainly on heavy and poorly drained soils, but also on sandy soils. It is a pioneer species in woodland, wooded scrubland, wooded grassland, valleys and disturbed habitats such as cultivated fields, fallows and roadsides. The species is common and locally abundant.

Propagation and planting

Piliostigma reticulatum can be propagated by seed. One kg contains 11,000–14,500 seeds. Germination is poor, but can be improved by soaking the seed successively in 90% H2SO4 for 30 minutes and in water for 24 hours, or by soaking them in hot water overnight or in 98% HCl for 90 minutes. Due to the fast growth of the root system, seedlings can be planted out already at 5–7 weeks after sowing.


The tree is spared during land preparation and maintained in agroforestry systems. The density of the species in parklands is very variable.

Diseases and pests

Piliostigma reticulatum is a host of Caryedon serratus, a major pest of stored groundnuts. Eggs are laid on the surface of ripe Piliostigma reticulatum fruits, after which larvae bore through the husk and into the seed, where larval development takes place, resulting in damaged seeds.


The bark is harvested by cutting the branches. It is hard to remove the bark when the stem is dry. For this reason it is recommended to harvest the bark as soon as the stem is cut. The bast is stripped off, dried and used as rope. Mature fruits and young leaves are directly harvested from the plant for various uses.

Handling after harvest

Piliostigma reticulatum is not exploited for industrial fibre production. The bark is directly collected from cut branches in the field. Sometimes, collectors take the whole stem to their houses before removing the bark. The remaining wood is later used as fuel.

Genetic resources

As Piliostigma reticulatum has a wide distribution and is common and locally abundant in its distribution area, it is not threatened by genetic erosion.


Piliostigma reticulatum is a valuable multipurpose plant, yielding a wide range of useful products. In Burkina Faso, for instance, it is becoming more and more important, because of the decline of other traditional agroforestry species. Integration of Piliostigma reticulatum in the traditional agroforestry systems in semi-arid and arid countries is important for sustainable use of the species. Further research on the domestication potential of the species is worthwhile. The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties warrant further research for pharmaceutical uses.

Major references

  • Aderogba, M.A., Okoh, E.K., Okeke, I.N., Olajide, A.O. & Ogundaini, A.O., 2006. Antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects of Piliostigma reticulatum leaf extract. International Journal of Pharmacology 2(1): 70–74.
  • Arbonnier, M., 2004. Trees, shrubs and lianas of West African dry zones. CIRAD, Margraf Publishers Gmbh, MNHN, Paris, France. 573 pp.
  • Babajide, O.J., Babajide, O.O., Daramola, A.O. & Mabusela, W.T., 2008. Flavonols and an oxychromonol from Piliostigma reticulatum. Phytochemistry 69(11): 2245–2250.
  • Baumer, M., 1983. Notes on trees and shrubs in arid and semi-arid regions. Ecological management of arid and semi-arid rangelands in Africa and the Near and Middle East (EMASAR) - Phase 2. FAO, Rome, Italy. 270 pp.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Salawu, O.A., Tijani, A.Y., Obidike, I.C., Rafindadi, H.A. & Emeje, M., 2009. Anti-ulcerogenic properties of methanolic root extract of Piliostigma reticulatum (DC) Hoechst (syn. Bauhinia reticulata DC) - Leguminosae in rats. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 3(5): 252 258.
  • 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.
  • Yélémou, B., Yaméogo, G., Millogo Rasolodimby, J. & Hien, V., 2007a. Germination sexuée et dynamique de développement de Piliostigma reticulatum (D.C.) Hochst, une espèce agroforestière du Burkina Faso. Sécheresse, vol. 18(3): 185–192.

Other references

  • Aderogba, M.A., Okoh, E.K., Adelanwa, T.A. & Obuotor, E.M., 2004. Antioxidant properties of the Nigerian Piliostigma species. Journal of Biological Sciences 4(4): 501–503.
  • Aderogba, M.A., Okoh, E.K. & Idowu, T.O., 2005. Evaluation of the antioxidant activity of the secondary metabolites from Piliostigma reticulatum (DC.) Hochst. Journal of Biological Sciences 5(2): 239–242.
  • Akin-Osanaiye, B.C., Agbaji, A.S, Agbaji, E.B. & Abdulkadir, O.M., 2009. Proximate composition and the functional properties of defatted seed and protein isolates of kargo (Piliostigma reticulatum) seed. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development 6: 1365–1377.
  • Atawodi, S.E., Bulus, T., Ibrahim, S., Ameh, D.A., Nok, A.J., Mamman, M. & Galadima, M., 2003. In vitro trypanocidal effect of methanolic extract of some Nigerian savannah plants. African Journal of Biotechnology 2(9): 317–312.
  • Aubréville, A., 1970. Légumineuses - Césalpinioidées (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae). Flore du Cameroun. Volume 9. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 339 pp.
  • Awe, S. & Omojasola, P.F., 2009. A comparative study of the antibacterial activity of Piliostigma reticulatum bark extract with some antibiotics. Ethnobotanical Leaflets 13: 1197–1204.
  • Ayantunde, A.A., Hiernaux, P., Briejer, M., Udo, H. & Tabo, R., 2009. Uses of local plant species by agropastoralists in south-western Niger. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 7: 53–66.
  • Diack, M., Sene, M., Badiane, A.N., Diatta, M. & Dick, R.P., 2000. Decomposition of a native shrub, Piliostigma reticulatum, litter in soils of semiarid Senegal. Arid Land Research and Management 14(3): 205–218.
  • d’Oliveira Feijão, R., 1961. Elucidário fitológico. Plantas vulgares de Portugal continental, insular e ultramarino. Classificão, nomes vernáculos e aplicações. Volume 2, I-O. Instituto Botânico de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal. 462 pp.
  • Dossa, E.L., Khouma, M., Diedhiou, I., Sene, M., Kizito, F., Badiane, A.N., Samba, S.A.N. & Dick, R.P., 2009. Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization potential of semiarid Sahelian soils amended with native shrub residues. Geoderma 148(3–4): 251–260.
  • Fortin, D., Lô, M. & Maynart, G., 1990. Plantes médicinales du Sahel. ENDA, Dakar, Senegal & CECI, Montréal, Canada. 280 pp.
  • Geerling, C., 1982. Guide de terrain des ligneux Sahéliens et Soudano-Guinéens. Mededelingen Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen 82–3. Wageningen, Netherlands. 340 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.
  • Khan, M.R., 2001. Antibacterial activity of some Tanzanian medicinal plants. Pharmaceutical Biology 39(3): 206–212.
  • Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
  • Ngo Bum, E., Taiwe, G.S., Nkainsa, L.A., Moto, F.C.O., Seke Etet, P.F., Hiana, I.R., Bailabar, T., Rouyatou, Papa Seyni, Rakotonirina, A. & Rakotonirina, S.V., 2009. Validation of anticonvulsant and sedative activity of six medicinal plants. Epilepsy & Behavior 14(3): 454–458.
  • Sembène, M. & Delobel, A., 1998. Genetic differentiation of groundnut seed-beetle populations in Senegal. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 87(2): 171–180.
  • Toutain, B., 1980. The role of browse plants in animal production in the Sudanian zone of West Africa. In: Le Houérou, H.N. (Editor). Browse in Africa: the current state of knowledge. Papers presented at the International Symposium on Browse in Africa, Addis Ababa, April 8–12, 1980, and other submissions. International Livestock Centre for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. pp. 103–108.
  • Yélémou, B., Bationo, B.A., Yaméogo, G. & Millogo-Rasolodimby, J., 2007b. Gestion traditionnelle et usages de Piliostigma reticulatum sur le Plateau central du Burkina Faso. Bois et Forêts des Tropiques 291(1): 55–66.
  • Youmbie, D.D.B., 2008. Effets analgésiques et anti-inflammatoires de l’extrait aqueux de Piliostigma reticulatum (D.C) Hochst (Caesalpiniaceae) chez les souris et les rats albinos. Mémoire de DEA, Département de Biologie Animale, Faculté des Sciences, Université de Yaoundé I, Yaoundé, Cameroun. 54 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Andrews, F.W., 1952. The flowering plants of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Volume 2. Buncle, Arbroath, United Kingdom. 485 pp.


  • F.G. Vodouhê, Laboratory of Applied Ecology, Faculty of Agronomic Sciences, University of Abomey Calavi, 02 BP 8033, Cotonou, Benin
  • S. N’danikou, Plant Sciences Laboratory, Faculty of Agronomic Sciences, University of Abomey Calavi, BP 526, Cotonou, Benin
  • E.G. Achigan Dako, PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya

Correct citation of this article

Vodouhê, F.G., N’danikou, S. & Achigan-Dako, E.G., 2010. Piliostigma reticulatum (DC.) Hochst. [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 5 March 2020.