Raphia sudanica (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
Introduction
List of species


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Raphia sudanica A.Chev.


Protologue: Bull. Soc. Bot. France 55, Mém. 8: 83 (1908).
Family: Arecaceae (Palmae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 28

Synonyms

  • Raphia humilis A.Chev. (1932).

Vernacular names

  • Northern raphia, king bamboo palm, raffia (En).
  • Palmier raphia, raphia (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Raphia sudanica is distributed from Senegal and Gambia eastwards to northern Nigeria. Plantations have been established in Nigeria.

Uses

The leaves are used for thatching. The petiole and rachis are used for house construction, furniture, ladders, paddles and canoe poles, and as fuel. They are split for making mats, baskets and arrow shafts. The leaflets are woven into mats, bags, baskets and fish traps. The upper epidermis of the leaflets (raffia fibre) is used for twine and wickerwork.

The stem is used for structural woodwork. The apical bud is tapped for sap to be fermented into palm wine. The fruit and seed are eaten, and the yellow oil expressed from the pulp is used in cooking and as a hair-dressing. The fruit pulp is used as a fish poison. Plant ash is used to blacken masks.

In Senegal a bark infusion is used for washing circumcision wounds, and a bark decoction as an abortifacient. The fruit oil is considered emetic and it is used internally and externally for the treatment of leprosy.

Production and international trade

Raphia sudanica is an important source of palm wine in Guinea and Nigeria.

Properties

The major fatty acids in the mesocarp oil and the seed lipids of Raphia sudanica are palmitic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid. The mesocarp oil resembles that from oil palm in colour, taste, odour and chemical composition, except that it contains more linoleic acid, giving it a higher unsaturated acid content.

Botany

Monoecious tree, often clustering; trunk 2–3(–10) m tall, stout, with irregular rings and covered with persistent leaf bases. Leaves pinnate, erect, up to 12 m long, sheathing at the base, glaucous-green; petiole relatively short, unarmed; rachis stout, unarmed, orange-yellow, later grey; leaflets linear-lanceolate, 50–75 cm long, stiff, single-fold, acuminate at the apex, lower surface waxy, margins and back of the midvein armed with straight, black spines c. 5 mm long. Inflorescence axillary, up to 2.5 m long, dense, branched to 2 orders; first order branches c. 20 cm long, with large, papery bracts holding flowering branchlets 3–4 cm long. Flowers unisexual; male flowers with calyx tubular and 3-lobed, petals long and narrow, sharply pointed, not thickened near the tip, stamens 10–12(–18), inserted on the corolla, filaments fused for half their length; female flowers with thin outer bracteole enclosing the calyx and corolla, and inner bracteole about half as long as calyx, calyx 3-lobed, slightly fimbriate, corolla cup-shaped for half its length, with 3 lobes, staminodes 9(–18), in a short ring, ovary superior. Fruit obovoid, 5–8 cm × c. 4.5 cm, with a blunt beak 4–8 mm long, covered with scales in (8–)9–10(–11) longitudinal rows; scales reddish or yellowish, with brown margins; mesocarp yellow. Seed ovoid, testa wrinkled and warty.

Raphia species have monocarpic stems, i.e. they flower and fruit only once, followed by death.

Raphia comprises c. 20 species, mostly African, predominantly found in swampy areas. One species, Raphia taedigera (Mart.) Mart., is found in tropical America. Raphia sudanica is sometimes included in Raphia mambillensis Otedoh, a stemless or almost stemless palm with large leaves rising up to 7 m high, distributed in Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Sudan; it is sometimes cultivated. The leaves of Raphia mambillensis are used for thatching, and the petiole and rachis are used as poles in house construction. The palm is tapped for palm wine, the seed is chewed like kola nuts, and the fruit is used as a fish poison. Raphia africana Otedoh is a usually 2–4-stemmed palm up to 10 m tall, distributed in Nigeria and Cameroon; it is sometimes cultivated. It yields piassava fibre, raphia fibre and palm wine. The midribs of the leaves are used for house construction, beds, benches and stools. Edible larvae are collected from dead trunks.

Ecology

Raphia sudanica occurs in freshwater swamps and riverine forest in the savanna zone. It tolerates drier conditions than other Raphia spp. It is always gregarious and locally abundant, forming dense thickets.

Management

Raphia palms are generally propagated by seed, but Raphia sudanica can also be propagated by suckers. Fruit rot, caused by Thielaviopsis paradoxa (synonym: Chalara paradoxa) affects Raphia sudanica in Nigeria, causing dark brown rot of the mesocarp. It is a weak pathogen entering fruit via wounds, sometimes killing the embryo, and leading to loss of planting material. In Senegal raffia fibre is obtained by retting of the leaflets.

Genetic resources

In view of its wide distribution and local abundance Raphia sudanica seems not threatened with genetic erosion, although it is locally under pressure.

Prospects

Like various other Raphia species, Raphia sudanica is a very useful local source of a range of products, including construction material, palm wine, oil and traditional medicines. As it occurs in drier climatic zones than other Raphia species, it has a unique position within the genus, and it is unlikely to lose importance.

Major references

  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
  • Arbonnier, M., 2004. Trees, shrubs and lianas of West African dry zones. CIRAD, Margraf Publishers Gmbh, MNHN, Paris, France. 573 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • Russell, T.A., 1965. The Raphia palms of West Africa. Kew Bulletin 19(2): 173–196.
  • Vanden Berghen, C., 1988. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Monocotylédones et Ptéridophytes. Volume 9. Monocotylédones: Agavacées à Orchidacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 522 pp.

Other references

  • Geerling, C., 1985. The status of the woody species of the Sudan and Sahel zones of West Africa. Forest Ecology and Management 13: 247–255.
  • IPK, undated. Mansfeld’s world encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops. [Internet] Leibnitz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), Gatersleben, Germany. http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/ pls/htmldb_pgrc/ f?p=185:3:8208035903155. January 2011.
  • Ndon, B.A., 1985. Some morphological and chemical characteristics of developing fruits of Raphia hookeri. Journal of Experimental Botany 36(172): 1817–1830.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Opute, F.I., 1978. Mesocarp, seed and pollen lipids of Raphia palms. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 29: 115–120.
  • Oruade-Dimaro, E.A., 1987. The occurrence of brown fruit rot of Raphia species in Nigeria. Nigerian Journal of Palms and Oil Seeds 8(1): 41–49.
  • Otedoh, M.O., 1974. Raphia oil: its extraction, properties and utilization. Journal of the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research 5(19): 45–49.
  • Purseglove, J.W., 1972. Tropical crops. Monocotyledons. Volume 2. Longman, London, United Kingdom. 273 pp.
  • Russell, T.A., 1968. Palmae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 3, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 159–169.
  • Uhl, N.W. & Dransfield, J., 1987. Genera palmarum - a classification of palms based on the work of Harold E. Moore Jr. The L.H. Bailey Hortorium and the International Palm Society. Allen Press, Lawrence KS, United States. 610 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.

Author(s)

  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2011. Raphia sudanica A.Chev. [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 8 March 2020.