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Dacryodes edulis - (G.Don) H.J.Lam.

Common Name Bush Butter Tree, Butterfruit, African Plum, bush pear, bush plum, safou
Family Burseraceae
USDA hardiness 11-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Swamp forest[ 308 ]. Evergreen forest[ 332 ]. A shade-loving species of non-flooded forests in the humid tropical zone[ 303 ]. Where there is a well-marked season, it is found only in gallery forest and on swampy ground[ 303 ].
Range Southern and western Tropical Africa - Ghana to the Congo.
Edibility Rating    (5 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Dacryodes edulis Bush Butter Tree, Butterfruit, African Plum, bush pear, bush plum, safou

Dacryodes edulis Bush Butter Tree, Butterfruit, African Plum, bush pear, bush plum, safou


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Dacryodes edulis, commonly known as Bush Butter Tree, Safou or Atanga, is a fruit tree native to Africa. It is evergreen and usually grows about 18-40 m in height, with a short trunk and a deep, dense crown. The compound leaves are glossy. The bark is pale grey. The flowers are yellow and arranged in a large inflorescence. The fruit is an ellipsoidal drupe and can be eaten raw, cooked, or roasted. Bush butter tree has long been used in traditional medicine to treat wounds, skin ailments, fever, ear trouble, tonsillitis, and dysentery among other conditions. Bark resin is used in perfumery, as an adhesive, as a waterproofing, etc. The tree is sometimes used as an ornamental. The wood of bush butter tree is used for tool handles, mortars, and carpentry.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Dacryodes edulis is an evergreen Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 20 m (65ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Bees, Insects. The plant is not self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils 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 can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Canarium edule Hook.f. Canarium mansfeldianum Engl. Canarium saphu Engl. Pachylobus albiflorus Guill

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Oil
Edible Uses: Oil

Fruit - raw or cooked[ 301 ]. A pleasant, subacid flavour[ 335 ]. The leathery shelled stone is surrounded by a pulpy, butyraceous pericarp about 5 mm thick which is the portion eaten, either raw, or cooked to form a sort of 'butter'[ 332 ]. When placed in hot water it softens and swells and all the flesh then slides easily off the seed[ 301 ]. The fruit flesh is softened by cell-wall-degrading enzymes. At temperatures of 60 - 85c this is accomplished in a matter of minutes; at room temperature, it takes 7 - 10 days, with bruising and microbes reducing this period to 3 days[ 299 ]. Boiling inactivates the enzymes so that the pulp hardens[ 299 ]. The fruit is usually salted and tastes like a warmed ripe avocado with a slightly sour flavour[ 301 ]. It has a mild smell of turpentine and is oily with palmitic acid 36.5%, oleic acid 33.9 %, linoleic acid 24.0% and stearic acid 5.5%[ 332 ]. The fruit contains 7% protein, which is very high for a fruit[ 301 ]. The fruit is up to 70mm long and 30mm wide[ 332 ]. The seed kernel is also rich in oil of the same fatty acids and approximately in similar amounts[ 332 ]. Carbon Farming - Staple Crop: protein-oil.

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Antiemetic  Dysentery  Emmenagogue  Mouthwash

The resin from the bark is used to treat parasitic skin diseases, jiggers etc[ 46 , 332 ]. A bark-decoction is taken powdered with maleguetta pepper as an anti-dysenteric, and for anaemia, spitting blood and as an emmenagogue[ 303 ]. The decoction is also used for making gargles and mouth-washes, for treating tonsillitis[ 332 ]. The pulped-up bark is used as a wound cicatrizant[ 332 ]. Combined with palm-oil, it is applied topically to relieve general pains and stiffness and to treat cutaneous conditions[ 332 ]. The leaves are eaten raw with kola nut as an antiemetic[ 332 ]. The leaf-sap is instilled into the ear for ear-trouble[ 332 ]. A leaf-decoction is prepared as a vapour-bath for treating feverish stiffness with headache[ 332 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Adhesive  Biomass  Cosmetic  Dye  Essential  Fuel  Lighting  Oil  Resin  Soil conditioner  Waterproofing  Wood

Agroforestry Uses: The leaves and the remains of the fruits can provide considerable quantities of biomass to improve soil fertility. Research carried out in the forest humid lowland of south Cameroon, showed that the peasant farmers use the tree as a good indicator of soils fertility[ 303 ]. The plant's canopy can allow its integration into the traditional farming systems involving food crops, mainly shade tolerant species such as Xanthosoma saggittifolium, Colocosia esculenta etc[ 303 ]. Other Uses: The bark is aromatic and on injury yields a resin[ 46 , 332 ]. This is used in various ways - in perfumery; as an adhesive for mending broken earthenware; as a waterproofing the inner surface of calabashes; it can also be burnt as a primitive lamp-oil or bush-candle[ 332 ]. The resin, under steam distillation, has been reported to yield a peppery essential oil rich in sabinene, _-phellandrene and limonene, and a non-volatile fraction of crystalline canaric acid, a keto acid and the corresponding hydroxy acid[ 332 ]. The fruit contains about 1.5% essential oil. Its main constituents are: myrcene (45%), alpha-pinene (9%), alpha-terpineol (8%) and germacrene-D (4%); minor compounds include: E-alpha-cadinol, sigma-cadinol and _beta-udesmol[ 299 ]. The wood contains an oil that on petrol-ether extraction has been found to be composed of fatty acids and their esters[ 303 ]. The fresh pulp is rich in lipids (35-65%) with a considerable amount of palmitic and linoleic acid. The tree can produce 7 - 8 t/ha of oil[ 303 ]. The leaves are the source of a dye[ 332 ]. The heartwood is greyish white to pinkish; it is not clearly demarcated from the sapwood. The wood is moderately heavy and elastic, the texture moderately coarse[ 299 , 303 , 332 ]. It is somewhat difficult to work due to the presence of silica, rapidly blunting tools during sawing; planing may be problematic due to the interlocked grain; staining, polishing and gluing properties are good, it can be peeled satisfactorily. It is used for axe-handles, occasionally for mortars, and is suitable for carpentry, etc[ 299 , 332 ]. The wood is used mainly for fuel[ 299 ]. Other Systems: homegarden, multistrata.

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Management: Standard  Other Systems: Homegarden  Other Systems: Multistrata  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Protein-oil

A plant of the relatively dry tropical savannah, where it is found at elevations up to 1,000 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 18 - 28c but can tolerate 14 - 35c[ 418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,200 - 3,000mm, but tolerates 1,000 - 5,000mm[ 418 ]. The plant can be cultivated in a wide range of areas, since it adapts well to differences in day length, temperature, rainfall, soils and altitude[ 303 ]. Seedlings can thrive in quite dense shade, but older trees grow well in partial shade or full sun[ 418 ]. Grows in a wide range of soils, even succeeding in leached, infertile ferrallitic soils and swampy soils[ 299 , 303 , 418 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5 - 6.5, tolerating 4 - 8[ 418 ]. Seedling plants can commence fruiting when about 5 - 6 years old[ 335 ]. Flowering time and duration depend on latitude and genotype. Some trees flower early, while others flower late and may produce blossoms continuously for several months[ 303 ]. Yields of 20 - 50 kilos of fruit can be expected from each tree, with reports of 110 kilos from 20 year old trees[ 299 ]. The flowers open in the morning and pollen is shed within 1 - 2 hours, so pollination has to be effected quickly[ 299 ]. Trees can be male, female, or hermaphrodite[ 303 ]. Male trees may produce a limited number of female flowers, and thus some fruit[ 303 ]. Blooms all year. Blooms repeatedly. Carbon Farming - Cultivation: regional crop. Management: standard.

Carbon Farming

  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Other Systems: Homegarden  Tropical multistrata agroforestry (multi-story combinations of trees, crops, domestic animals in the homestead).
  • Other Systems: Multistrata  Multistrata agroforests feature multiple layers of trees often with herbaceous perennials, annual crops, and livestock.
  • 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: Protein-oil  (16+ percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Annuals include soybeans, peanuts, sunflower seeds. Perennials include seeds, beans, nuts, and fruits such as almond, Brazil nut, pistachio, walnut, hazel, and safou.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - it has a short viability, its germination rate drops sharply unless its water content (42% of fresh weight) can be maintained. Unless sown within a week, germination and vigour are greatly reduced[ 299 ]. Sow the seed in light shade in a nursery seedbed or in individual containers. Germination starts about 2 weeks after sowing and is epigeal. Early growth is vigorous - the seedlings growing rhythmically, extending by flushes. During a flush, the leaf form changes abruptly from cataphylls (0 - 3 per flush) to normal leaves (with 11 - 19 leaflets). The flush is usually brought to an end by the sudden transition from normal leaves to severely reduced leaves in which only one or two basal pairs of leaflets are extended[ 299 ]. Cuttings have proved difficult[ 299 ]. Air layering. Up to 80% success has been reported. It takes 4 - 6 months before the layer is ready to remove from the parent, and this should be done when the plant is not in active growth[ 299 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Native pear, Bush Butter Tree, Butterfruit, African plum, African pear, African palm;, bush pear, bush plum, Ajong, Elemi, Ube mbu, Safou, Safu. French: safoutier, prunier, atang.

Africa, Angola, Asia, Australia, Benin, Cameroon, Central Africa, Central African Republic, CAR, Congo DR, Congo R, Côte d'Ivoire, East Africa, Equatorial-Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinée, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Southern Africa, Togo, 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

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.


Expert comment


(G.Don) H.J.Lam.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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