Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Choix Pl. t. 58 (1808).
2n = 26
Poivrea aculeata DC. (1828).
Origin and geographic distribution
Combretum aculeatum is distributed in the Sahelian and Sudano-Sahelian zones from Mauritania and Senegal eastward to Eritrea and from there southward to Uganda and Tanzania. It also occurs in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The twigs are used to make donkey panniers and baskets for winnowing or fishing. In Kenya the tough and flexible branches are sought after for making laths in hut building, whereas thicker stems are made into walking sticks. In Chad the twigs are also incorporated in mud walls, and they are used as whips.
Fresh and fallen leaves, fruits and seeds are important as fodder, much appreciated by ruminants. In the Sudanian zone Combretum aculeatum is one of the most important sources of browse for small ruminants, which has given the plant the name ‘goat’s groundnut’ in some areas. The wood is a good fuel and source of charcoal; its embers produce heat for a long time without tending. Fulsé people of Burkina Faso limit the use of the wood to roasting sacrificial meat. The leaves and seeds are occasionally eaten, mainly as famine food. Combretum aculeatum is sometimes grown as live fence. The flowers are visited by bees.
Various plant parts are used in African traditional medicine. The roots are used as purgative and vermifuge, and for the treatment of wounds, stomach-ache, colic, gonorrhoea, loss of appetite and leprosy. The Soce of Senegal use a root-decoction in the treatment of catarrh. The Serer of Senegal use sap from the centre of the stem to treat eye-troubles. The stem bark is used to heal wounds. In Sudan an extract of the bark, leaves or seed is taken to treat tuberculosis of the skin, or root preparation are applied as a poultice. In Senegal a decoction of the leaves is taken to promote urination in cases of venereal disease and obstruction of the urethra. In Ethiopia the leaves are used as anthelmintic. Branches are used to facilitate teething in children and to treat eye problems. Branches with leaves are applied against dysentery, the leaves also against gonorrhoea. The seed stops hiccup and relieves constipation.
Many medico-magical (against sterility in women and mental problems) and magic or religious (attraction of fish) uses of Combretum aculeatum have been reported.
Production and international trade
Combretum aculeatum is locally traded.
In an analysis in Burkina Faso, the feed composition of Combretum aculeatum browse per 100 g dried green leaves (dry matter content 90.7%) was: organic matter 91.0 g, crude protein 16.1 g, neutral detergent fibre 28.5 g, acid detergent fibre 21.7 g, lignin 3.8 g, tannin 6.8 g. An analysis in Niger indicated per 100 g dry matter: crude protein 9.5 g, neutral detergent fibre 33 g, acid detergent fibre 27 g, ash 6 g. In Niger sheep allowed to browse for 1–2 hours per day on Combretum aculeatum in addition to standard rations showed reduced feed intake, poorer digestion and reduced live weight gain in comparison with control animals. However, in an experiment in Burkina Faso, sheep and goats fed on sorghum stover responded positively to addition of Combretum aculeatum browse. The body weight gain in sheep was nearly double that in goats.
Climbing shrub up to 8 m tall or, in the absence of support, a compact or rambling shrub up to 4.5 m tall; young branches grey to rufous pubescent, older shoots with yellow-brown to dark red bark; inner bark greenish or pale yellow. Leaves alternate or subopposite; petiole up to 1.5 cm long, usually persistent and forming recurved spines up to 17(–30) mm long; blade broadly elliptical to obovate, up to 7(–8.5) cm × 5 cm, base cuneate, apex retuse to shortly acuminate, lightly to densely pubescent on both surfaces, lateral veins in 4–6 pairs, rather prominent below. Inflorescence of short axillary racemes c. 2 cm long. Flowers bisexual, 5-merous, fragrant; lower receptacle 4–8 mm long, constricted above and below the ovary, tomentose; upper receptacle urceolate-campanulate, (3–)4–6 mm × 3–4 mm, pubescent; sepals deltate, sometimes attenuate, greenish or red; petals oblanceolate to obovate, 4–8 mm × 1–2 mm, white, lightly pubescent outside; stamens 10, in 2 circles, filaments 4–10 mm long, anthers c. 7 mm long; ovary inferior, style c. 8 mm long. Fruit indehiscent, 5-winged, obovate in outline, up to 27 mm × 23 mm, apex emarginate; body shortly pubescent; wings papery, c. 5 mm wide, purplish and somewhat shiny when young, yellow-brown when ripe; stipe 6–12 mm long. Seed c. 1 cm long, beige-brownish.
Other botanical information
Combretum is a very large genus, comprising about 250 species distributed worldwide in the tropics and subtropics. About 140 species occur in tropical Africa. Combretum aculeatum is sometimes confused with Combretum acutum Laws because of its white flowers, but the latter has violet young branches.
Growth and development
Unlike many other Combretum species, Combretum aculeatum reproduces readily from seed. Soil moisture has a strong influence on growth and development. Flowering starts at the end of the dry season or the beginning of the rainy season. Water availability and the time and duration of flowering are closely related, and flowering has been recorded to last 40–110 days. Plants may bear flowers and mature fruits simultaneously. The appearance of new leaves seems less closely controlled by the availability of water in the soil.
Combretum aculeatum occurs from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude in areas with an annual rainfall of 250–800 mm, on stony, sandy or clayey soils, sometimes on termite mounds. It occurs in bushland, thickets, wooded grassland with Acacia and Commiphora, sometimes on slopes or along rivers. It is reported to withstand flooding, but in seasonally flooded areas of Sudan, it is restricted to termite mounds, which are normally above the flood level. Combretum aculeatum is browsed by many herbivores but avoided by elephants. The above-ground parts of the plants are susceptible to fire; as a result plants often have annual branches only.
Propagation and planting
Propagation from seed in a nursery is possible. Fruits are harvested by shaking fruit bearing branches. Seeds are normally left within the fruit at least until sowing. De-winged fruits are easy to handle and are often used. Seeds are orthodox and store well, although some reports indicate that fresh seeds should be used for planting. The 1000-seed weight is about 60 g. The seeds germinate well, with a germination rate of 60–80%. Seedlings are ready for transplanting after about 3 months. Early growth is vigorous, provided plants are protected from browsing. Vegetative propagation is possible with suckers and rootstock division.
Combretum aculeatum is generally harvested from natural stands. In Mali it is protected in fields and planted around homesteads as live fence and source of forage. It responds well to coppicing.
Handling after harvest
Leaves and fruits are sometimes dried in the sun and stocked for use in the dry season.
Combretum aculeatum is widespread and common. There are no indications that it is affected by genetic erosion, although it is locally overgrazed to an extent that regeneration is impaired.
In many sub-Saharan countries Combretum aculeatum is a high-priority species for management and conservation actions. To increase its numbers and productivity, its management in land-use systems deserves more attention. Its easy multiplication makes this species a favourable candidate for planting, for instance in browse hedges in the Sahel and Soudano-Sahel zones. In this respect, forms with rapid growth and high palatability are to be selected.
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Sources of illustration
• Schnell, R., 1953. Combretum aculeatum Ventenat: Combretaceae. Icones Plantarum Africanarum 1, No 4. 4 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Konsala, S. & Todou, G., 2010. Combretum aculeatum Vent. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering branch; 2, flower; 3, older, spiny branch; 4, fruit.
obtained from Worldbotanical
obtained from Worldbotanical