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Borassus aethiopum - Mart.

Common Name African Fan Palm, Palmyra Palm
Family Arecaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling
Habitats Riverine flats and coastal plains; open secondary forest; dense forest borders; savannah in drier areas where it is restricted to grassland with high ground water table, or along water courses, often forming dense stands in temporary flooded areas[ 325 ].
Range Tropical Africa - semi-arid and sub-humid zones of Senegal to Somalia, south to S. Africa.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Borassus aethiopum African Fan Palm, Palmyra Palm

Borassus aethiopum African Fan Palm, Palmyra Palm


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Borassus aethiopium, otherwise known as African Fan Palm, Borassus Palm, or African Palmyra Palm, is a bottle shaped and smooth palm that can reach up to 25 m high when fully matured. It is named as such due to its crown composed of cluster of fan-shaped leaves. It is a dioecious species. The leaves are reportedly aphrodisiac and roots are used as mouthwash and against stomach parasites, bronchitis, sore throats and asthma. The fruit is edible fresh, dried, or cooked. Fruit juice can be obtained from immature fruits. Moreover, young seedlings, the tuberous portion of the first juvenile leaves, and the apical bud and young leaves are all consumed as vegetable. Sap can also be obtained from the plant and made into palm wine or vinegar. The leaves are used in thatching and as materials in making baskets and mats. The tree is an excellent fire break and is drought-resistant.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Borassus aethiopum is an evergreen Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) 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.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid and very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Borassus deleb Becc. Borassus flabellifer aethiopum (Mart.) Warb. Borassus sambiranensis Jum. & H.Pe

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Leaves  Oil  Sap  Seed  Shoots
Edible Uses: Drink  Oil  Sweetener

Edible portion: Fruit, Cabbage, Sap, Seeds, Palm heart, Vegetable. Fruit - fresh or dried[ 335 ]. Slightly sweet, but with a mild turpentine-like flavour[ 398 ]. The fruits have a large, fibrous pulp, weighing around 500g each, that smells strongly of turpentine[ 418 ]. They are consumed raw or cooked, preferably with rice[ 418 ]. Eaten as a food supplement[ 325 ]. Rich in oil[ 301 ]. The ripe, fallen fruit are collected, peeled and the juicy pulp is squeezed in water to form a solution which is added to porridge during cooking in order to improve the flavour[ 398 ]. The fruit is 15cm in diameter and is produced in large clusters[ 335 ]. The immature seed contains a sweet juice which can be drunk like coconut water[ 301 , 335 ]. As it matures, it solidifies becoming jelly-like and eventually solid. It can be eaten at all stages, the flavour gradually becoming more nut-like[ 301 ]. Young seedlings - eaten as a vegetable like asparagus[ 317 ]. Highly esteemed[ 301 ]. The mature seeds can be buried in pits and allowed to germinate, and the shoots are said to be a delicacy[ 418 ]. The tuberous portion of the first juvenile leaves are rich in starch - they make a highly prized vegetable[ 774 ]. Apical bud and young leaves - raw or cooked[ 301 , 317 ]. Eaten in salads, or used as a vegetable[ 301 ]. Eating this bud leads to the eventual death of the plant since it is unable to produce side shoots[ K ]. The sap is extracted from the stem. Rich in sugars, it can be made into a refreshing beverage, fermented to make palm wine (toddy) or vinegar, or the sugars can be extracted[ 301 , 317 , 335 ]. The tip of the trunk is cut and excavated so that a bowl-shaped depression is made where sap accumulates. The sap is then collected and slightly fermented into a refreshing drink[ 398 ]. Destructive harvesting is sometimes employed, where the cut is renewed twice every day for 3 - 4 weeks until the tree is exhausted and dies[ 303 ]. Chemical composition: Protein (crude) = 2.8% (dry). Fat = 0.5% (dry). Ash (insoluble) = 3.5% (dry). Fibre (crude) = 16.8% (dry). Amino acids (g (16g N)-1): Aspartic acid = 9.3g. Threonine = 3.6g. Serine = 3.9g. Glutamic acid = 8.9g. Proline = 5.0g. Glycine = 5.0g. Alanine = 5.0g. Valine = 5.0g. Cysteine = 0.1g. Methionine = 1.2g. Isoleucine = 3.6g. Leucine = 6.1g. Tyrosine = 2.8g. Phenylalanine = 3.6g. Lysine = 3.9g. Histidine = 2.1g. Arginine = 2.4g. Minerals: Sulphur = 0.04% (dry). Potassium = 0.09% (dry). Magnesium = 0.10% (dry). Calcium = 0.08% (dry). Na = 0.01% (dry). Zinc = 4 mg/kg (dry). Iron = 488 mg/kg (dry). Manganese = 8 mg/kg (dry). Copper = 2 mg/kg (dry).

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Anthelmintic  Antiasthmatic  Aphrodisiac  Mouthwash

The roots serve for the treatment of stomach parasites, bronchitis, sore throats and asthma, as well as being used for a mouthwash[ 325 ]. The leaves are said to be an aphrodisiac[ 325 ]. The sap is reported to have many uses[ 325 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Basketry  Broom  Charcoal  Fencing  Fibre  Filter  Fire retardant  Fuel  Furniture  Oil  Potash  String  Thatching  Wood

Other uses rating: Medium (3/5). Agroforestry Uses: The tree is used to form an excellent firebreak, especially in the arid regions of West Africa, which are prone to wildfires[ 418 ]. Other Uses The leaves are used for various purposes including for shelter, thatch, making mats and baskets[ 314 , 398 , 774 ]. Young leaves, before unfolding, can be split into strips and woven into thin mats, baskets and other household objects[ 303 ]. Mature leaves are used for thatch[ 303 ]. A fibre obtained from the leaves is used for making nets[ 774 ]. The leaf petioles are used for making furniture, baskets, fences etc[ 774 ]. The fibre extracted from the base of the leaf stalk has valuable qualities of resistance to chemicals, termites and water[ 303 ]. The leafstalk endings can be soaked in water to provide fibres that are used as sponges or filters[ 303 ]. The leaf midribs are used to make brooms, fish traps and nets[ 303 ]. An oil is extracted from the fruit[ 418 ]. Ashes from the male flowers make a good potash[ 774 ]. The dark brown, coarsely fibrous wood is a highly prized timber locally. It is very solid, hard, heavy, very resistant to termites and fungi. It is difficult to saw, plane or sand; splits when nailed. Only the outer part of the stem, between the base and the first swelling, is suitable for use. This layer, which can be 7 - 10cm thick on male trees, but only 4 - 5cm on female trees, is used in carpentry, construction, for telegraph poles, piers, and also for household articles[ 325 , 774 ]. The wood is used for fuel and to make charcoal[ 303 , 418 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Management: Standard  Other Systems: Parkland  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Oil  Staple Crop: Sugar

A plant of hot, tropical climates with low to medium rainfall, usually at elevations below 400 metres, but up to 1,200 metres in east Africa[ 335 ]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 20 - 35c, but can tolerate 15 - 45c[ 418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 500 - 1,000mm, but tolerates 400 - 1,200mm[ 418 ]. Requires a well drained soil and a position in full sun[ 314 ]. It is usually found in sandy, well-drained soils, but prefers alluvial soils near watercourses[ 418 ]. Plants are able to extract nutrients, and thus grow, on very nutrient-poor soils[ 325 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 7, tolerating 5 - 7.5[ 418 ]. Established plants are drought tolerant[ 314 ]. A slow-growing but long lived tree to over 100 years old[ 325 ]. Three phases of growth are recognized. The first phase, taking around 6 - 8 years, involves leaf development, in which about 20 leaves grow in a wide crown around 3 metres by 3 metres. Very little upward growth takes place at this time. The second phase involves rapid growth of the trunk above the ground and takes place around the ages of 8 - 20 years. The bark of the tree is still rough at this stage and have many leaf stalks. The third phase, from about 20 years onwards, involves flowering and shedding of leafstalks. The trunk becomes smooth and swellings appear on it[ 303 ]. The plant usually flowers and produces fruit all year round[ 303 ]. The flowering stems are tapped for their sap, a process that starts when the tree is about 30 years old and can continue for another 30 years if managed carefully. Yields of 2 litres of sap per day can be achieved[ 774 ]. Plants are very tolerant of forest fires[ 418 ]. A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required. A female palm can produce 20-50 fruits per flower stalk. Green to orange round fruit 15 cm across. Each fruit contain 3 hard coated seeds weighing 100g each. The individual fruit is about 1 kg.

Carbon Farming

  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Other Systems: Parkland  Africa - Trees scattered throughout cropland. An Irregular intercropping system.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.
  • 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).
  • Staple Crop: Sugar  Perennial sugar crops include sugarcane and compare favorably to annuals.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - it has a short viability and should be sown as soon as it is removed from the fruit pulp[ 325 ]. The seed does not require pre-treatment and germinated in about 4 weeks. The plant produces a very long taproot, which can be 1 metre long when top growth is only 1cm tall, and so it is best sown in situ[325 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Borassus aethiopium, otherwise known as African Fan Palm, Borassus Palm, or African Palmyra Palm. Other Names: Bace, Bazlawar, Berembe, Buane, Buar, Cibe, Cibedje, Cibo, Daleib, Deleb palm, Delep, Difundi, Dube, Dzova, Edukanait, Edukudukut, Ekituugu, Euda, Goworo-ijhacoongo, Kambili, Katungo, Makoma, Mchapa, Mhama, Mkamu, Mtapa, Muhama, Mukae, Mupama, Mvuma, Mvumo, N'bene, Ncora, Ng'hama, Opane, Ope-okunkun, Palmier-ronier, Ron, Ronier, Thuwa, Tugo, Tugu, Umbena, Vumo, Zambaba, Zembaba.

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Found In

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

Found In: Africa, Australia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central Africa, Chad, Congo, C?te d'Ivoire, East Africa, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guine, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sahel, Senegal, South Africa, Southern Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, West Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

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.

None Known

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Borassus akeassiiAfrican Fan PalmTree10.0 10-12 SLMHNDM423
Borassus flabelliferPalmyra PalmTree20.0 10-12 MLMHNDM423

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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