Prota 7(2): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 2
Syst. nat. 2(1): 700 (1791).
Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Detarium heudelotianum Baill. (1866).
Tallow tree, dattock, detah (En). Grand détar (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Detarium senegalense occurs from Senegal and Gambia east to Sudan, and south to northern DR Congo. It is planted as fruit tree and as ornamental shade tree within its area of distribution and has been planted in the Caribbean region.
The wood is used in house construction for planks, posts, poles and piles, and for furniture, fences, mortars, tool handles, boat-ribs and canoes. It is suitable for flooring, joinery, interior trim and framework, mine props, vehicle bodies, boxes, crates, veneer and plywood. It is also used as firewood.
The greenish and sweet-acidulous fruit pulp is edible, and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is also used to prepare sweetmeat or as an ingredient of ice-cream. However, it may also be toxic, and caution is needed. The seed is oily and edible, and pounded seed is used as cattle feed. In Nigeria the seed flour is used traditionally as a thickening agent in foods. The gum from the bark is used to fumigate clothing and houses. Roots have been used to prepare bird-lime and root sap as coating in brass casting.
Detarium senegalense is an important medicinal plant. Several plant parts are used in traditional medicine. Bark decoctions or macerations are taken in case of heavy loss of blood, to treat digestive disorders, bronchitis, pneumonia and stomach-ache, and to expel the placenta after childbirth. Bark powder is applied to wounds, burns and skin complaints, and bark pulp is eaten against tuberculosis and as a tonic. The bark is also used as arrow poison and soap substitute, and is added to palm wine to accelerate fermentation and to make it more bitter. Root decoctions are administered as anodyne and to treat intestinal complaints, marasmus, debility and anaemia. Leaf and shoot decoctions are used to treat fever, trypanosomiasis, dysentery, anaemia, conjunctivitis, arthritis, inflammations, fractures, boils and skin complaints. Fruit pulp is applied for the treatment of kidney pain, spinal tuberculosis, syphilis, cough, rheumatism and leprosy, and in mixtures with other fruits as a stimulant. Seeds are taken as antidote against arrow poison and as emetic, and the smoke of burnt seeds as mosquito repellent. Detarium senegalense is planted as an ornamental shade tree.
Production and international trade
In the past there has been some export of the wood from West Africa to the United Kingdom and the United States. In Gambia Detarium senegalense belongs to the most important timber trees. The wood is sold on local markets in Sudan. The fruits are commonly sold on local markets in West Africa. However, statistics are not available, neither for the wood nor for the fruits.
The heartwood is pale yellow, becoming reddish brown towards the centre of the bole, and distinctly demarcated from the paler, thick sapwood. The grain is straight to interlocked, texture medium to fine. The wood is lustrous and has a pleasant odour.
The wood is moderately heavy, with a density of (600–)710–850(–900) kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It should be air dried carefully because it has a tendency to surface checking and splitting. The rates of shrinkage are moderate, from green to oven dry 3.7–6.2% radial and 5.7–8.4% tangential. Once dry, the wood is only moderately stable in service. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 84–148 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 11, 380–15,290 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 38–54(–63) N/mm², cleavage 11–19 N/mm, Janka side hardness 8220 N, Janka end hardness 9340 N and Chalais-Meudon side hardness 1.7–3.3.
The wood is rather difficult to saw and work, but with care it can be finished well. It is sometimes difficult to plane due to the presence of interlocked grain. It nails satisfactorily without splitting, and it glues well. It is durable, being resistant to termites and moderately resistant to pinhole borers and marine borers. The sapwood is susceptible to Lyctus attack.
The fruits are edible, but those of some trees are toxic. The poisonous fruits can be recognized in the forest because they are left beneath the mother tree by animals, while the edible ones are soon eaten or taken. A toxic, bitter compound has been isolated from the fruit, as well as an acid-tasting compound called detaric acid.
The composition of the fruit pulp per 100 g edible portion is: water 67 g, energy 485 kJ (116 kcal), protein 1.9 g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrate 29.6 g, fibre 2.3 g, Ca 27 mg, P 48 mg, thiamine 0.14 mg and riboflavin 0.05 mg. The fruit pulp is rich in ascorbic acid, 1000–2000 mg per 100 g.
An anthocyanidin alkaloid has been isolated from the bark. This compound showed antibacterial activity against a panel of pathogenic bacteria. Leaf extracts showed antiviral activity against a panel of human and animal viruses. Flour prepared from the seeds contains significant amounts of water-soluble non-starch polysaccharides. In tests the flour reduced postprandial blood glucose and insulin concentrations in humans. The main polysaccharide is a xyloglucan.
Adulterations and substitutes
The bark, roots , leaves and fruits of Detarium microcarpum Guill. & Perr. are used for similar medicinal purposes as those of Detarium senegalense and the fruits are also eaten. The wood is similar, but Detarium microcarpum is usually a smaller tree and therefore its major use is as medicinal plant. The wood of Copaifera spp. may be confused with that of Detarium senegalense.
Medium-sized to fairly large tree up to 35(–40) m tall; bole branchless up to 12(–15) m, straight or irregular, cylindrical, up to 60(–100) cm in diameter, without buttresses but sometimes swollen at base; bark surface finely fissured, becoming scaly, greyish to blackish, with large, round lenticels, inner bark thick, fibrous, red-brown, with some sticky gum; crown large, dark green, with spreading branches; twigs slightly hairy to glabrous. Leaves alternate, paripinnately or imparipinnately compound with (6–)8–12 leaflets; stipules minute, early caducous; petiole and rachis together 10–23 cm long, swollen at base; petiolules 3–6 mm long; leaflets alternate, ovate to elliptical, 3–8 cm × 2–4 cm, slightly unequal at base, rounded to slightly notched at apex, papery, with translucent dots, minutely hairy beneath, pinnately veined with many lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary, lax panicle up to 10(–15) cm long, short-hairy. Flowers bisexual, slightly zygomorphic, nearly sessile; sepals 4, ovate, 3.5–4 mm long, 1 slightly broader than other 3, whitish, sparsely hairy to glabrous outside, hairy inside; petals absent; stamens 10, free, 4–5 mm long; ovary superior, ellipsoid, c. 2 mm long, densely hairy, 1-celled, style 3–4 mm long, curved. Fruit a drupe-like, globose to ovoid pod 4–6(–7) cm in diameter, slightly flattened, indehiscent, smooth and greenish, eventually blackish, pulp greenish and very fibrous, stone up to 4.5 cm in diameter, 1-seeded. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 2–6.5 cm long, epicotyl 8–15 cm long; cotyledons thick and fleshy, spoon-shaped; first leaves alternate, with 8–10 leaflets.
Other botanical information
Detarium comprises 3 species and is confined to Africa. It is related to Copaifera. The 3 species are morphologically quite similar, but ecologically different. Detarium microcarpum Guill. & Perr. is typically for dry savanna areas and differs from Detarium senegalense in its smaller tree size, usually fewer, larger and more leathery leaflets, more compact inflorescences, sepals hairy outside and slightly smaller fruits.
Detarium macrocarpum Harms occurs in humid forest.
Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):
Growth rings: 1: growth ring boundaries distinct. Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; 23: shape of alternate pits polygonal; 26: intervessel pits medium (7–10 μm); 27: intervessel pits large (≥ 10 μm); 29: vestured pits; 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; 43: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina ≥ 200 μm; 46: ≤ 5 vessels per square millimetre; 47: 5–20 vessels per square millimetre. Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled. Axial parenchyma: 79: axial parenchyma vasicentric; 80: axial parenchyma aliform; 81: axial parenchyma lozenge-aliform; (83: axial parenchyma confluent); 85: axial parenchyma bands more than three cells wide; 86: axial parenchyma in narrow bands or lines up to three cells wide; 91: two cells per parenchyma strand; 92: four (3–4) cells per parenchyma strand. Rays: (97: ray width 1–3 cells); 98: larger rays commonly 4- to 10-seriate; 104: all ray cells procumbent; (106: body ray cells procumbent with one row of upright and/or square marginal cells); 115: 4–12 rays per mm. Secretory elements and cambial variants: 127: axial canals in long tangential lines. Mineral inclusions: 136: prismatic crystals present; 142: prismatic crystals in chambered axial parenchyma cells.
(R. Shanda, A.A. Oteng-Amoako & P.E. Gasson)
Growth and development
Trees are usually leafless for about 3 weeks, and flowering occurs when young leaves have developed, often towards the end of the dry season. In Côte d’Ivoire trees flower in February–May and in Sudan in February–August. Fruits take about 6 months after flowering to mature. They are eaten by elephants, which disperse the stones. Chimpanzees also eat the fruit pulp, and in some regions they crack the fruit stone by using stones and eat the seed. Trees sucker abundantly.
Detarium senegalense occurs in lowland dry forest and gallery forest in savanna areas. It is often found along watercourses. The tree has some resistance to fire.
Propagation and planting
Detarium senegalense is usually propagated by stones. There are about 40 stones per kg. They germinate after 6–10 weeks, but the germination rate is low. Grafting is possible. In tests in Senegal, apical grafts (cleft graft and splice graft) gave the best results. For grafting, the end of the dry season is the best time.
Locally Detarium senegalense is very common, but in other regions it occurs only scattered or is even rare. In Sierra Leone the average density of Detarium senegalense trees of over 60 cm bole diameter has been recorded as only 0.025–0.15 per ha.
In Senegal Detarium senegalense is used together with Neocarya macrophylla (Sabine) Prance in agroforestry programmes, which are important for local human populations. The average density in these agroforestry systems is 17 boles per ha. The fruits are considered valuable and this makes it worthwhile for local populations to harvest in a sustainable way.
In agroforestry systems in Senegal, the average fruit production is 3.1 t per ha.
Detarium senegalense is quite widespread and locally common and thus does not seem to be in direct danger of genetic erosion. However, in several regions within its distribution area it is uncommon or even rare and has been over-exploited or subject to regular forest fires. Detarium senegalense is valued in agroforestry systems in Senegal and is as such protected.
A domestication programme has been carried out in Senegal, aiming at selecting and cloning trees of a superior phenotype before introducing them to local populations.
Detarium senegalense is a multipurpose species with several opportunities for increased use. It is useful as a timber tree, but also produces edible fruits and good-quality seed flour, and is considered a valuable medicinal plant. It is worth domesticating at a larger scale. The selection of superior trees for different purposes, e.g. good bole shape and size for timber production and optimal fruit quality, should be stimulated, and more research is needed on proper methods of vegetative propagation and on optimization of growth rates. Phytochemical analyses are needed to support the uses in traditional medicine and to be able to judge the risk of toxic compounds in the fruits.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article:
El-Kamali, H.H., 2011. Detarium senegalense J.F.Gmel. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Louppe, D. & Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editors). Prota 7(2): Timbers/Bois d’œuvre 2. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering twig; 2, sepals; 3, flower with sepals removed; 4, fruit.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin
wood in transverse section
wood in tangential section
wood in radial section