PROTA homepage Prota 14: Vegetable oils/Olιagineux
Record display

Balanites maughamii Sprague

Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew 1913: 136, 138 (1913).
Balanitaceae (APG: Zygophyllaceae)
Balanites dawei Sprague (1913).
Vernacular names
Y-thorned torchwood, green thorn, manduro (En). Manduro, nulo (Po). Mkonga, mguguni (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Balanites maughamii occurs from south-eastern Kenya south to Swaziland and the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, with its centre of diversity in Mozambique.
Oil pressed from the seed kernel is used in Limpopo Province of South Africa as a dressing for hides and skins. The fruits and seed oil are edible; the oil is used in cooking, and as a massage oil. In some regions the oil or seeds are burnt as torches, hence the common name ‘torchwood’; the wood produces a good charcoal. The timber is useful for building poles, tool handles, grain mortars, stools and for carving and turnery; in Swaziland it is used to make wagons. In southern Malawi the fruits are used to make leg rattles.
Balanites maughamii is used in magic and traditional medicine. The roots and bark are widely used in purgative medicines. Although the fruit is edible to mammals, the fruit exudate is used in fish poison and is lethal to the freshwater snails that are vectors of bilharzia and Guinea-worm. Balanites maughamii may contribute to the control of these diseases when it occurs near water and it has been planted for this purpose in South Africa. It has occasionally been planted as an ornamental.
Much of the information referring to the use of Balanites maughamii refers with certainty only to subsp. maughamii and may not apply to subsp. acuta Sands.
The kernel contains a clear, yellow edible oil (about 60%) that is tasteless and odourless. The oil is flammable, and suitable for industrial use. The fruits have a pleasant sweet scent and taste, but later become bitter.
Balanites maughamii can yield large straight logs of a valuable hard timber. It is usually pale yellowish brown and finely textured, giving a smooth finish, which takes a high polish.
The roots have emetic properties. Extracts of the leaves and twigs have shown genotoxic effects in vitro, causing DNA damage. Stem bark extracts inhibit the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum (IC50 = 1.94 μg/ml) in vitro.
The use of Balanites maughamii for its molluscicidal properties was first proposed in the 1930s. Fruits that fell in infested water were observed to inhibit proliferation of bilharzia snail-vectors. It is postulated that yamogenin, the steroidal sapogenin to which molluscicidal activity is attributed in Balanites aegyptiaca (L.) Delile is present in higher concentrations in Balanites maughamii. The kernel and pulp of ripe fruit are toxic to snails at concentrations of 25 mg/ml, and molluscicidal activity is retained in powdered material for up to 122 days. The fruits are toxic to some frogs and fish.
Deciduous or semi-deciduous tree up to 20(–25) m tall, rarely a shrub; trunk straight, frequently fluted; bark smooth, yellowish brown, mottled or grey, becoming roughly fissured; crown rounded, spreading, sometimes with low branches remaining close to the trunk for some distance; branchlets usually yellow to greyish green; spines 3–6(–15) cm long, often on the upper bole and branches as well as the younger stems, frequently branched, often appearing forked. Leaves arranged spirally, 2-foliolate; stipules triangular, up to 3 mm long, sometimes corky, with brown hairs, persistent; petiole and petiolules usually densely pubescent; leaflets usually asymmetrical, elliptical to broadly ovate, rounded to obtuse, acute or shortly acuminate, leathery, glabrous or variously pubescent on both surfaces, eventually glabrescent. Inflorescence an axillary fascicle-like cyme, (1–)3–7-flowered, indumentum yellowish green to buff, sessile or with short peduncle. Flowers bisexual, 5-merous, often scented; pedicel 0.5–1 cm long; sepals ovate to obovate, c. 5 mm long, reflexed after anthesis, pubescent outside but with glabrous margins; petals oblong-lanceolate to oblanceolate, (5–)7–8(–9) mm long, reflexed after anthesis, green or greenish yellow, hairy inside; stamens 10, free; disk annular, succulent; ovary superior, densely and stiffly hairy, 5-celled, style terete or tapering. Fruit a 1-seeded drupe, oblong-ellipsoid, depressed at both ends, or ovoid, obtuse apically, 4–6(–8) cm long, ripening reddish brown, the skin firm but thin, eventually brittle, containing spongy and fibrous, dark and oily mesocarp; stone with thick endocarp. Seed ellipsoid to spindle-shaped, up to 2.5 cm long, grooved, cream-coloured.
Other botanical information
Balanites comprises 9 species, most of them in Africa, but 1 species each in India and Myanmar. The distribution of 2 African species extends into the Arabian Peninsula, Balanites aegyptiaca also occurring in Jordan. Balanites maughamii is closely related to Balanites wilsoniana Dawe & Sprague which occurs from Cτte d’Ivoire to Uganda, and differs in its caducous stipules, inflorescences borne above the leaf axils and silvery grey indumentum of the petiole and young growth. Within Balanites maughamii 2 subspecies are recognized: subsp. maughamii and subsp. acuta which are primarily distinguished by leaflet shape and pubescence. Leaflets on fertile shoots of subsp. maughamii are rounded or obtuse and pubescent, whereas those of subsp. acuta are acute to shortly acuminate and glabrous. Subsp. maughamii occurs throughout the southern part of the range, north to Lindi District, Tanzania, whilst subsp. acuta is concentrated in south-eastern Kenya and eastern Tanzania.
Growth and development
Growth of Balanites maughamii follows the growth model of Champagnat: a shoot lengthens due to the activity of an apical bud. Initial growth is upright, but soon the shoot becomes drooping or pendulous under its own weight. A lateral bud then resumes upright growth and the pattern of growth and curvature repeats itself. Subsp. maughamii flowers from September to November and fruits from November to March; subsp. acuta flowers from November to April with the first mature fruits appearing in February.
Balanites maughamii occurs from sea-level to 1000 m altitude; subsp. maughamii generally occurs in dry open woodland, frequently along rivers, near springs and around pans, sometimes on seasonally waterlogged floodplains, typically on sandy- or clay-loam. Subsp. acuta is found most commonly in mixed, usually coastal, evergreen forest or coastal thicket, up to 500 m altitude. It frequently occurs on more alkaline and less well-drained soils than subsp. maughamii.
Propagation and planting
Seed is orthodox and best germinated in the ground, as container-reared specimens tend to become chlorotic. Root suckers can be used for propagation.
Fruit of Balanites maughamii is only collected from the wild.
Genetic resources
No risks of genetic erosion have been reported.
Balanites maughamii has been considered poorly suited to commercial exploitation, due to the difficulty of removing the kernel from the pulp and thick, fibrous shell. Modern processing methods may, however, overcome these drawbacks. Given the similarities of its fruits to those of the related Balanites aegyptiaca, which yield several natural products, Balanites maughamii probably has similar commercial potential, warranting further investigation.
Major references
• Kloos, H. & McCullough, F.S., 1982. Plant molluscicides. Planta Medica 46: 195–209.
• Launert, E., 1963. Balanitaceae. In: Exell, A.W., Fernandes, A. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 2, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 221–224.
• Pretorius, S.J., Joubert, P.H. & Evans, A.C., 1988. A re-evaluation of the molluscicidal properties of the torchwood tree, Balanites maughamii Sprague. South African Journal of Science 84: 201–202.
• Prozesky, E.A., Meyer, J.J.M. & Louw, A.I., 2001. In vitro antiplasmodial activity and cytotoxicity of ethnobotanically selected South African plants. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 76: 239–245.
• Sands, M.J.S., 2001. The Desert Date and its relatives: a revision of the genus Balanites. Kew Bulletin 56(1): 1–128.
• Sands, M.J.S., 2003. Balanitaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. & Ghazanfar, S.A. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Lisse, Netherlands. 16 pp.
• Sprague, T.A., 1913. Manduro: a new oil-yielding tree from Portuguese East Africa. Kew Bulletin 4: 131–141.
• 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.
Other references
• Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
• Elgorashi, E.E., Taylor, J.L.S., Maes, A., de Kimpe, N., van Staden, J. & Verschaeve, L., 2002. The use of plants in traditional medicine: potential genotoxic risks. South African Journal of Botany 68(3): 408–410.
• Flynn, S., Turner, R.M. & Dickie, J.B., 2004. Seed Information Database. Release 6.0, October 2004. [Internet] data/sid. Accessed October 2005.
• Kellerman, M.J.S., 2004. Seed bank dynamics of selected vegetation types in Maputaland, South Africa. [Internet] MSc thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. thesis/available/etd-02012005-090837/unrestricted/ 00dissertation.pdf. Accessed January 2005.
• Mander, M., Mander, J., Crouch, N., McKean, S. & Nicholls, G., 1995. Catchment action: knowing and growing muthi plants. Share-Net, Howick; Institute of Natural Resources, Scottsville. p. 26.
• Mbuya, L.P., Msanga, H.P., Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnδs, B., 1994. Useful trees and shrubs for Tanzania: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 6. Regional Soil Conservation Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 542 pp.
• Parameswaran, N. & Conrad, H., 1982. Wood and bark anatomy of Balanites aegyptiaca in relation to ecology and taxonomy. IAWA Bulletin 3: 75–88.
• Sim, T.R., 1909. Forest flora and forest resources of Portuguese East Africa: 25. Taylor & Henderson, Aberdeen, Scotland.
• van Wyk, B.E., van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N., 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 304 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Sands, M.J.S., 2001. The Desert Date and its relatives: a revision of the genus Balanites. Kew Bulletin 56(1): 1–128.
• O.M. Grace
PROTA Country Office United Kingdom, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Centre for Economic Botany, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
• M.J.S. Sands
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom

• H.A.M. van der Vossen
Steenuil 18, 1606 CA Venhuizen, Netherlands
• G.S. Mkamilo
Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute, P.O. Box 509, Mtwara, Tanzania
General editors
• R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
• L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
• A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Grace, O.M. & Sands, M.J.S., 2007. Balanites maughamii Sprague In: van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Mkamilo, G.S. (Editors). PROTA 14: Vegetable oils/Olιagineux. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, sterile shoot; 2, sterile shoot with forked spines; 3, inflorescence; 4, fruit; 5, fruit in cross section.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin

leafy branch