Piliostigma thonningii (Schum.) Milne-Redh.




  • Bauhinia reticulata (non-DC) Broun and Massey.
  • Bauhinia thonningii Schum.
  • Bauhinia abyssinica Rich.
  • Bauhinia pyrrhocarpa Hochst.
Author: Le Houérou



Shrub or tree, to 6 m high, often of crooked growth, with dark brown to black fissured bark. Leaves digitately 11- to 12-nerved, the central nerve prolonged as a point into the notch between the lobes of the leaf. Leaves 7.5 to 15 cm long, leathery, very strongly reticulate. Flowers white, fragrant, drooping, about 2.5 cm long, in racemes alternately leaf-opposed and axillary along each branch and borne somewhat horizontally. Pod shortly pedicellate, oblong, 15 to 20 cm long 2.5 to 5 cm broad, at first densely red-brown, hairy, ultimately smooth (Andrews, 1952). This species is very similar to P. reticulatum, except that leaves are less deeply slit, slightly larger, having a ferrugineous pubescence underneath, which is absent in P. reticulatum, nerves are 13-15 unlike P. reticulatum where they number only 8-10, lobes are wide open while they are closed in P. reticulatum. Pods look similar except that in P. thonningii there is a compact dark ferrugineous pubescence on the epidermis which is absent in P. reticulatum.


Found in woodland, rain forest and forest galleries, tends to colonize clearings and fallows.


P. thonningii normally requires over 600 mm of MAR and is therefore rare in the Sahel and rectricted to well watered soils.


Occurs under a wide range of soil conditions.


Common throughout the Sudanian savannas from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and to East Africa. In Sahel the distribution of P. thonningii is rather Sudanian than Sahelian it extends to the border of the Guinean rain forest.


Produces numerous suckers, there are some 8,500 seeds in a kg.

Products & uses

Yields heavy crops of pods which are eaten by livestock, game, monkeys, and also by humans. The leaves are browsed by cattle during the dry season. Utilization is similar to Piliostigma reticulatum, including the medicinal uses.

Nutritional Quality and Animal Production

Pods collected in August in Zambia had a crude protein content of 5.1 percent. Young shoots and leaves collected in November contained 9.88 percent crude protein, 0.70 percent calcium and 2.45 percent potash (van Rensburg, 1968).


Aubréville 1950 ; Brenan 1957b ; Brenan 1958 ; Dalziel 1955 ; Catinot 1967 ; Giffard 1974a ; Kerharo & Adam 1974 ; Berhaut 1975 ; Weber et al. 1977 ; Le Houérou 1980a ; Le Houérou 1980c ; Le Houérou 1980d ; Baumer 1983 ; Geerling 1982/88 ; Von Maydell 1983/86 ; Burkill 1995.