We have recently published ‘Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions’: i.e. tropical and sub-tropical regions. We rely on regular donations to keep our free database going and help fund development of this and another book we are planning on food forest plants for Mediterranean climates. Please give what you can to keep PFAF properly funded. More >>>

Follow Us:


Dichrostachys cinerea - (L.) Wight & Arn.

Common Name Marabou Thorn, Sickle Bush
Family Fabaceae
USDA hardiness 8-12
Known Hazards Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling
Habitats Usually on poor, occasionally clayey soils, in brushwood, thickets, hedges, teak forest and grassland to elevations of 1,700 metres[ 200 , 303 ]. Often forms widespread thickets by means of root suckers[ 200 ].
Range Tropical Africa - Senegal to Somalia, south to Angola and Mozambique. E. Asia - India to Indonesia.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Half Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Dichrostachys cinerea Marabou Thorn, Sickle Bush

Dichrostachys cinerea Marabou Thorn, Sickle Bush


Translate this page:


Dichrostachys cinerea or Marabou Thorn is a legume characterized by its two-coloured inflorescence native to Africa but can now be found in India, the Caribbean, and parts of Southeast Asia. It is semi-deciduous or deciduous tree covered with spines or thorns and usually grows about 7 m in height. The stems are often twisted and twined together. The fruit is edible; it is a narrow, yellow or brown seedpod that contains 4 small black seeds. The plant also has a wide range of medicinal uses - the bark, roots, and leaves are used in the treatment of dysentery, headaches, toothaches, elephantiasis, snakebites and scorpion stings, leprosy, syphilis, coughs, epilepsy, gonorrhoea, boils, and sore eyes. It can also be used as a contraceptive for women, as laxative, and for massage of fractures. D. cinerea has a strong capacity for natural regeneration and used in soil conservation. The leaves are used as green manure. The bark produces strong fibre used as twine. Debarked roots are used for racks and baskets. The wood is medium heavy to very heavy, hard, and durable. It is used as walking sticks, handles, spears, and tool handles. Other common names are Sickle Bush, Princess Earrings, Bell Mimosa, Chinese Lantern Tree, and Kalahari Christmas Tree.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Dichrostachys cinerea is an evergreen Shrub growing to 8 m (26ft) by 8 m (26ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 9. The flowers are pollinated by Bats, Bees.
It can fix Nitrogen.
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, very alkaline and saline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Cailliea cinerea Macbride Cailliea dichrostachys Guill. & Perr. Cailliea nutans (Pers.) Skeels Dichr

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Seed  Seedpod
Edible Uses: Gum

Fruit[ 303 , 774 ]. The fruit is a narrow, yellow or brown seedpod containing about 4 small black seeds[ 774 ]. Seeds[ 303 , 774 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Anaesthetic  Anthelmintic  Astringent  Contraceptive  Diuretic  Dysentery  Epilepsy  Febrifuge  
Laxative  Leprosy  Odontalgic  Purgative  Stings  Vermifuge

The bark is astringent and vermifuge[ 303 ]. It is used in the treatment of dysentery, headaches, toothaches and elephantiasis[ 303 , 774 ]. The root is anthelmintic, purgative and strongly diuretic[ 303 ]. Infusions are taken for the treatment of snakebites, leprosy, syphilis and coughs[ 303 , 774 ]. A decoction of the root has been used as a contraceptive for women[ 775 ]. The pounded roots and leaves are used to treat epilepsy[ 303 ]. The roots or the leaves can be chewed and placed on the sites of snakebites and scorpion stings[ 303 ]. The leaves are diuretic and laxative[ 303 , 774 ]. Applied externally, they are believed to produce a local anaesthesia[ 303 ]. They are used in treating gonorrhoea, boils, sore eyes and toothaches[ 303 ]. A powder from the leaves is used in the massage of fractures[ 303 , 774 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

The Bookshop: Edible Plant Books

Our Latest books on Perennial Plants For Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens in paperback or digital formats.

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Tropical Plants

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Temperate Plants

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital media.
More Books

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital formats. Browse the shop for more information.

Shop Now

Other Uses

Basketry  Biomass  Fencing  Fibre  Fuel  Green manure  Gum  Hedge  Soil conditioner  Soil reclamation  Soil stabilization  String  Wood

Agroforestry Uses: The plant is widely used for sand dune stabilization and soil conservation[ 303 ]. In India, it is recommended for shallow soils, arid western and subhumid alluvial plains and highly degraded calcareous wastelands[ 303 ]. Owing to its strong capacity for natural regeneration, it has high potential for ravine reforestation and other soil conservation purposes on difficult sites[ 303 ]. The leaves, rich in nutrients, are frequently used as a green manure[ 303 ]. In the Sahel, particularly along riverbanks, it is said to improve soils[ 303 ] A very effective hedge or barrier[ 200 ]. Enclosures made with the plant prevent livestock and other animals from gaining entry to vegetable gardens, cash crops etc[ 303 ]. However, since it is difficult to control due to its aggressive weedy character, the use of this plant as a live fence is limited[ 303 ]. Plants can be an indicator of overgrazing in low rainfall areas[ 303 ]. Other Uses The bark yields a strong fibre that can be used for various applications such as twine[ 303 ]. The debarked roots are used for strong plaiting work such as for racks and baskets[ 303 , 774 ]. A gum obtained from the plant is of low quality[ 774 , 775 ]. The heartwood is red or dark purple with darker streaks; it is sharply differentiated from the sapwood, which is yellowish-brown with dark streaks. The grain is straight or slightly interlocked; the texture rather fine and even[ 303 ]. The wood is medium heavy to very heavy, hard, durable and presumably resistant to the attacks of termites[ 303 , 774 ]. Due to its generally small dimensions, its utilization is limited to making items such as walking sticks, handles, spears and tool handles[ 303 ]. Fencing posts can easily last for up to 50 years[ 303 ]. The wood is dense, burns slowly with few sparks and emits a non-toxic smoke, making it an excellent firewood[ 303 ]. Because the tree often grows many small trunks, it produces wood that is ideal in size for carrying in a headload[ 303 ]. This plant is fire-retardant Suitable for growing in containers.

Special Uses

Food Forest  Hedge  Nitrogen Fixer

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

A plant of low to medium elevations in the tropics, growing best in moist areas but able to succeed in arid areas as well[ 200 ]. It is found at elevations up to 2,000 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 15 - 40°c, but can tolerate 10 - 50°c[ 418 ]. Plants are usually not frost tolerant[ 303 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 300 - 500mm, but tolerates 200 - 600mm[ 418 ]. These rainfall figures seem much too low - the plant can grow right into the rainforest zone[ 774 , K ]. It occurs in areas with a strong seasonal climate[ 303 ]. Succeeds in a range of soils from clays, through loams to sandy soils[ 774 ]. Requires a well-drained soil[ 303 ]. Succeeds in poor soils[ 774 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5 - 8, tolerating 4.5 - 8.5[ 418 ]. Established plants are very drought resistant[ 200 , 303 ]. Seed production starts when plants are still very young. Each plant, as it grows larger, can produce a large number of seeds almost all year round - these can germinate freely and can also remain dormant in the soil for a long time[ 338 ].The plant can also spread very rapidly and aggressively by means of suckers. It can encroach rapidly on overgrazed, trampled ground and on old lands where the grass cover has been removed. It is difficult to eradicate as it shoots again from portions of root[ 303 , 774 ]. In certain situations, mechanical or chemical control measures are the only ways to control the potentially serious weed[ 303 ]. A moderately slow-growing tree[ 328 ]. The growth of the plants is very fast[ 338 ]. For fuel wood plantations, dune stabilization, ravine reforestation, or erosion control, the spacing should be 3 x 5 metres. Dense plantings help stabilize gully plugs and check-dams[ 303 ]. For soil conservation, the species should not be disturbed in any way. Its prolific root suckers will then provide natural spread for complete ground cover within a few years[ 303 ]. The plant has moderately vigorous coppicing ability and can also be pollarded and lopped[ 303 ]. A plant in the range of 7 - 8.5 cm collar diameter is suitable for coppicing, and the whole plant can be harvested 15cm above ground level[ 303 ]. The number of regenerated shoots varies between 5 and 9, of which 2 - 3 branches attain better growth in height, diameter and biomass[ 303 ]. To get maximum fuel biomass, the plants should be harvested at 10 years[ 303 ]. An average yield of 22.8 tonnes (11.1 tonnes when dried) of firewood may be expected on the 6th year from 1 hectare of wasteland[ 303 ]. Yields of about 1 kilo of seed pods per mature plant can be expected[ 303 ]. A fire-resistant species[ 303 ]. This species is very variable over its great range and has been subdivided into no less than 10 subspecies and many varieties[ 317 ]. A favourite plant to train as a bonsai[ 303 ]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[ 755 ]. Flowers mid summer.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees,Edible Shrubs, Woodland Gardening, and Temperate Food Forest Plants. Our new book is Food Forest Plants For Hotter Conditions (Tropical and Sub-Tropical).

Shop Now

Plant Propagation

Seed - A fraction of seeds exhibit polyembryony with usually 2, sometimes 3, or rarely more embryos; the extent of polyembryony seems to be positively correlated with the number of seed produced[ 303 ]. Natural regeneration is strongest by root suckers. Within a period of 10 years, an individual of this species can produce 130 new stems in a radius of 15 m by its root suckers. Artificial propagation by transplanting root suckers or by using root cuttings is likewise the easiest and usually most successful method of propagation. Orthodox seed storage behaviour; little loss in viability during 26 years of hermetic storage at room temperature. Add ash to stored seed to reduce insect damage. Can be stored for up to 10 years at room temperature if kept dry and free from insects Direct sowing of seed is also possible. The freshly collected ripe seeds take long to germinate (15-20 days), mainly due to a thick seed coat. Scarified seeds give better germination, and a pre-treatment of 25 minutes in concentrated sulphuric acid gives optimum germination of 3-7 days for freshly collected seeds. Three-year-old seeds require only a 15-minute pre-treatment for optimum germination. Under controlled conditions, more than 75% germination may be expected. As soon as the pods ripen on the tree, they should be collected and the seeds taken out, dried and stored. This way, a reasonable amount of seeds could be saved from insect attack. About 1 million seeds/year are expected from a plant and most of the seeds are viable.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Marabou Thorn, Sickle Bush, Princess Earrings, Kalahari Christmas Tree, Chinese latern tree, mazabu. Arzik, Bilatri, Bortuli, Chipangala, Evagia, Ithalala, Khairi, Kolai, Kunlai, Mkingiri, Moselesele, Muvilisya, Muwanika, N'talala, Odatare, Segum-kati, Sekelbos, Veltura, Vidattalai, Vurtuli, ami ogwu, dundu, kara, sickle bush, virtuli

TEMPERATE ASIA: Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen TROPICAL ASIA: India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia (Jawa, Lesser Sunda Islands) AUSTRALASIA: Australia (Northern Territory) AFRICA: Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Rwanda, Benin, Côte D‘Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, South Africa (Cape Province (north), KwaZulu-Natal, Transvaal)

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.

An undesirable weed and is particularly a problem in areas where there has been overgrazing. In the areas were it invades the species form very dense thickets making areas impenetrable. The species can regenerate from the smallest amount of root or through its root suckers. The seeds can survive for long periods of time in the soil as well as being able to withstand moderate frost. In Cuba, the use of mechanical control methods has been successful in reducing the area covered by D. cinerea, however, it is still a major problem in the country. As of yet there are no biocontrol agents being used although potential agents have been identified. [1d]

Conservation Status

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

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


(L.) Wight & Arn.

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.

Readers comment

Add a comment

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at [email protected]. If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

To leave a comment please Register or login here All comments need to be approved so will not appear immediately.

Subject : Dichrostachys cinerea  
© 2010, Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future is a charitable company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Charity No. 1057719, Company No. 3204567.