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Elaeis guineensis - Jacq.

Common Name African Oil Palm
Family Arecaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats More or less open forest in moist, sandy soils that are often poorly drained[ 297 ]. Often found along the edges of rivers[ 303 ].
Range Tropical west and central Africa - Sierra Leone to Uganda and Kenya, south to Angola and Mozambique.
Edibility Rating    (5 of 5)
Other Uses    (5 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Full sun
Elaeis guineensis African Oil Palm

Elaeis guineensis African Oil Palm


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Elaeis guineensis or commonly known as African Oil Palm is native to west and southwest Africa. It is single-stemmed that grows up to 20 - 30 m in height and up to 75 cm in trunk diameter. The leaves are pinnate and dark green. The small flowers form into dense clusters. Palm fruit is reddish and grows in large bunches. The plant has a wide range of traditional medicinal uses. Palm heart is used in the treatment of gonorrhoea, menorrhagia, and perinatal abdominal pain. The leaf sap is used for skin conditions while the roots are analgesic. African oil palm produces two types of oil - palm oil and kernel oil. It is the primary source of palm oil, which is obtained from the fruit. Palm oil has a wide range of uses - as cooking oil and for making margarine, vegetable ghee bakery fats, and ice cream. Kernel oil, on the other hand, is obtained from the seed. It is a non-drying oil and can be used as an alternative to coconut oil.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Elaeis guineensis is an evergreen Tree growing to 15 m (49ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Insects. The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Elaeis melanococcana Gaertn.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Apical bud  Oil  Sap  Seed
Edible Uses: Drink  Oil

Edible portion: Seeds, Cabbage, Fruit, Palm heart, Sap, Vegetable, Seeds - oil. Oil - two types of oil are obtained from the plant. Palm oil is obtained from the fruit whilst palm kernel oil is obtained from the seed[ 297 ]. They are obtained in a volume ratio of approximately 9 : 1[ 299 ]. Palm oil has a wide range of uses, including making margarine, vegetable ghee, bakery fats, ice cream and as a cooking oil[ 297 ]. Palm oil is popular in West Africa and Malaysia for cooking and is now imported by India to meet local shortages in edible oil, being cheaper than many other vegetable oils[ 303 ]. In West Africa, the unrefine red palm oil is an essential part of the diet and is often added directly to bring richness to soups and sauces[ 303 ]. Addition of oil to cereal preparations greatly increases their calorific density, which is particularly advantageous for young children[ 303 ]. Palm oil is also used as frying oil in the preparation of snacks such as bean cakes and fried plantain[ 303 ]. Its 10% linoleic acid content makes it an excellent source of carotene. This is important in reducing incidence of vitamin A deficiency and the occurrence of nutritional blindness[ 303 ]. Palm kernel oil is similar in composition and properties to coconut oil. It also has a wide range of uses, including making margarine, ice cream, confectioneries and as a cooking oil, where it is sometimes combined with coconut oil[ 297 , 299 ]. The boiled and pounded nuts yield palm nut butter, a thick red liquid popular in Ghana and Liberia for making palm butter soup and other dishes[ 299 , 301 ]. The plant also provides heart-of-palm, where the soft portion of the apical bud is eaten as a vegetable[ 299 , 303 ]. Since the tree is single-stemmed, and palm trees are generally unable to produce side branches, harvesting this bud leads to the death of the tree[ K ]. Palm wine is commonly produced in West Africa by tapping the unopened male inflorescences, or the stem just below the apex of felled oil palms, and fermenting the sap[ 299 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Analgesic  Antiemetic  Detergent  Diuretic  Emollient  Laxative  Skin

Traditional medicinal uses in Africa are numerous[ 299 ]. Preparations made from the palm heart are used to treat gonorrhoea, menorrhagia, and perinatal abdominal pain, and are considered laxative, anti-emetic and diuretic[ 299 ]. The leaf sap is used in preparations used to treat skin affections[ 299 ]. The roots as analgesic[ 299 ]. The oil from the pulp is emollient and is used as an excipient for herbal ointments[ 299 , 739 ]. It is used to treat suppurations, whitlows and swellings of the legs caused by erysipelas and infestations by Filaria[ 739 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Basketry  Beads  Broom  Cosmetic  Fencing  Fertilizer  Fibre  Fuel  Hair  Oil  Paper  Preservative  Resin  Soap  String  Thatching

Agroforestry Uses: Oil palm is a good crop for rehabilitating degraded areas. In Sumatra it has successfully been established on abandoned farmlands taken over by Imperata cylindrica[ 303 ]. Other Uses: Two types of oil are obtained from the plant:- Palm oil is obtained from the fruit[ 46 , 297 ]. About 10% of all palm oil, the inferior grades in particular and also refining residues, is used to manufacture soaps, detergents, candles, resins, lubricating greases, cosmetics, glycerol and fatty acids. Palm oil is employed in the steel industry (for sheet-steel manufacturing and tin plating, where it protects the iron before the tin is applied) and epoxidized palm oil is a plasticizer and stabilizer in PVC plastics[ 46 , 299 ]. Palm kernel oil, obtained from the seed, is a non-drying oil. It is used as an alternative to coconut oil in making high quality soaps, as a lubricant etc[ 46 , 297 , 299 ]. It is a source of short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids. These acids are chemical intermediates in the production of fatty alcohols, esters, amines, amides and more sophisticated chemicals, which are components of many products such as surface-active agents, plastics, lubricants and cosmetics[ 299 ]. Both oils also have a wide range of other uses, including making detergents, shampoos, cosmetics, lubricating oil additives and fluxes[ 297 ]. It is technically possible to produce from palm oil either carbohydrates for conversion to alcohol or a methanolizable oil as a diesel substitute[ 303 ]. In Togo, the pressed fruits are dried and fashioned into cakes for cooking fuel[ 303 ]. The empty bunches, fibre and also the effluent (0.5 t sludge for each t of milled fruit bunches) from the oil mills can be converted into products such as organic fertilizers[ 299 ]. Palm fronds are useful for thatch[ 303 , 320 ]. The entire palm fronds of this species are less suitable for thatching than those of the coconut palm, because of irregular leaflet insertion. However, the leaflets are often woven into baskets and mats; the leaflet midribs are made into brooms and the rachises used for fencing[ 299 ]. Young leaflets produce a fine strong fibre, used for making fishing lines, snares and strainers[ 299 ]. The seed shells are polished and carved into ornamental rings and beads[ 299 ]. Palm trunks, available at replanting, provide excellent material for paper and board production, but this has not yet attracted much commercial interest[ 299 ]. The seed shells are much appreciated by local blacksmiths as a high calorific fuel for furnaces[ 299 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Global Crop  Industrial Crop: Fiber  Management: Standard  Other Systems: Multistrata  Other Systems: Parkland  Staple Crop: Oil

A major cash crop but also significant as a food by farmers in many areas. Plants succeed in moist to very wet tropical climates up to elevations of 1,300m. Commercial cultivation is below 700m and preferably lower than 300 m[ 303 ]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 20 - 35°c, but can tolerate 12 - 38°c[ 418 ]. The plant is quite tolerant, though, and succeeds in southern China where there are light frosts and mean daily temperatures can drop below 10°c for weeks on end[ 303 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,500 - 3,000mm, but tolerates 1,000 - 8,000mm[ 418 ]. Optimally, there should be at least 150 mm of rain each month of the year, ideally falling mostly at night[ 303 ]. Plants grow well in full sun, even when small[ 297 ]. Grows and thrives on wide range of tropical soils, provided they have adequate water supply[ 303 ]. Requires a humus-rich soil[ 297 ]. Waterlogged, highly lateritic, extremely sandy, stony or peaty soils should be avoided[ 303 ]. Tolerant of temporary flooding, provided the water is not stagnant[ 303 ]. Prefers a pH range 4.5 - 6, tolerating 3.2 - 8[ 418 ]. The root system is adventitious, forming a dense mat with a radius of 3 - 5m in the upper 40 - 60cm of the soil. Some primary roots are directly below the base of the trunk descending for anchorage for more than 1.5m; the roots produce pneumatodes under very moist conditions[ 299 ]. It is a succession species favoured by slash and burn, and its gene pool has expanded as farmers clear land and create more open habitat for the germination of its seeds[ 303 ]. Plants can commence bearing 3 years after the seed has germinated[ 297 ]. The plant produces both male and female flowers, but not usually at the same time. An individual inflorescence will be all male or all female flowers; after a series of inflorescences of one sex the plant will then produce a series of inflorescences of the opposite sex[ 768 ]. Plants flower all year[ 335 ]. The fruit is produced in clusters approx 100 fruits[ 335 ]. The inflorescence is produced from about every second leaf axil. There are up to 1,500 deep violet fruits (ripening to orange-red) in each roundish dense cluster, weighing 30 kg or more[ 320 ]. Yields of 5 tonnes of oil per hectare have been obtained from mature plants[ 297 ]. Spacing: 15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m) 20-30ft. (6-9m) .

Carbon Farming

  • Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world. The annual value of each is more than $1 billion US Examples include coconuts, almonds, and bananas.
  • Industrial Crop: Fiber  Clothing, rugs, sheets, blankets etc. Currently, almost none of our fiber are produced from perennial crops but could be!
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Other Systems: Multistrata  Multistrata agroforests feature multiple layers of trees often with herbaceous perennials, annual crops, and livestock.
  • Other Systems: Parkland  Africa - Trees scattered throughout cropland. An Irregular intercropping system.
  • Staple Crop: Oil  (0-15 percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Some of these are consumed whole while others are exclusively pressed for oil. Annuals include canola, poppyseed, maize, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut. Perennials include high-oil fruits, seeds, and nuts, such as olive, coconut, avocado, oil palm, shea, pecan, and macadamia. Some perennial oil crops are consumed whole as fruits and nuts, while others are exclusively pressed for oil (and some are used fresh and for oil).

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - pre-soak 24 hours in warm water and sow in containers. Germination takes place in 2 - 5 months[ 297 ]. Commercially, the seeds are placed in intact 500-gauge polythene bags arranged on wooden boxes in a germinator at 39-40 deg. C for 75-80 days. They are then soaked in cold water for 3 days, changing water every 24 hours. The seeds are drained and dried under shade and kept at room temperature. They are examined every 2 weeks for germination and drying. Drying seeds are sprayed with water; germinated seeds are picked for potting. This treatment gives an 80% germination rate[ 303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Abura yashi, Atchichi, Balia, Bemintchi, Caiauke, Dendes, Earra, Kanjindo, Kepala sawit, Lara, Libala, Loombo, Macaw-fat, Mchikichi, Mintchame, Mjenga, Mubira, Munazi, N'queme, Oil palm, Palma africana, Palmeir de oleo, Palmeira de azeite, Palmeira dendem, Palmera, Palmier-a-huile, Quem, Ribe, Tem-em-eih, Tem-o, Tsingilo, Tugueih, You zong, african oil palm, afrikanische ölpalme, azeite-de-dendê, dendezeiro, dendê, elaeis guineensis, eyin, fractionated palm kernel oil, irile, kelapa sawit, kuaku, kwakwa, m'te, macaw-fat, mawese (palm oil), mchikichi, medium-chain triglycerides, nkwu, oil palm, oljepalm, ope, orien, palm kernel oil, palm kernel oil (unhydrogenated), palm oil, palm oil (unhydrogenated), palma africana, palmeira-andim, palmeira-do-azeite, palmeira-do-dendê, palmier a huile, palmier à huile, palmier à huile d'afrique, palmtree, triglycerida saturata media, triglycerides, medium-chain, udin, zukunnu, ölpalme.

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Madagascar; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Kenya, Africa, Andamans, Angola, Asia, Australia, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Central America, Chad, China, Colombia, Congo DR, Congo R, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, East Africa, East Timor, Ecuador, Gambia, Ghana, Guiana, Guinea, Guinée, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pacific, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Peru, Philippines, SE Asia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Southern Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela, West Africa, Zambia,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Least Concern

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Elaeis oleiferaAmerican Oil PalmTree4.0 10-12 SLMHNM305

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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