Hyphaene thebaica - Doum palm Harvested by-products of the Doum palm The doum palm flourishes in hot dry regions where little else grows and the tree is appreciated for the shade it provides. All parts of the tree are useful, but probably the most important product is the leaves. The fibre and leaflets are used by people along the Niger and Nile Rivers to weave baskets, such as in the material culture of the Manasir. Other things made from the leaves are mats, coarse textiles, brooms, ropes, string and thatch.
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Photo by BGL. Hyphaene thebaica occurs in arid and semi-arid areas with an average annual rainfall of 50— — mm, from m below sea level up to m altitude. It is found in river valleys, around oasis, in moist places in grassland and woodland and on floodplains, but also in drier locations. It usually grows on light soils and prefers a pH of 6. Hyphaene thebaica withstands fire and tolerates mild frost and moderate salinity, but does not tolerate stagnant water.
The presence of the tree is considered an indicator of good soil with a high groundwater table. Hyphaene thebaica is often planted. It was already cultivated in ancient Egypt, where it was considered sacred. Bole fairly smooth but clearly showing the scars of the fallen leaves.
Bark dark grey. Leaves x cm, fan shaped, in tufts at the ends of branches with the blade divided into segments about 60 cm long. Male and female flowers on separate trees. The inflorescence is similar in both sexes, up to 1. Male flowers shortly stalked, solitary in pits of the spadix, spathe-bracts encircling the spadix, pointed.
Branches of female spadices stouter, in the fruiting stage marked by densely tomentose cushions after the fall of the fruit. Fruits x cm, smooth, shiny brown when ripe. Detailed Scientific Description Dioecious tree up to 20 m tall, with dichotomous branching; trunk solitary, up to 40 cm in diameter, soon dividing into 2 branches, which may divide again to give 8 —16 crowns, most of the trunk covered with leaf bases breaking up into fibres near the base of the trunk.
Leaves spirally arranged into dense crowns, with 8—20 leaves per crown, fan-shaped, up to 1. Flowers unisexual, 3-merous; male flowers with minute green bracts, calyx with tubular base and 3 acute, hooded lobes, corolla with a basal stalk and 3 overlapping, obovate and hooded lobes, stamens 6, on the base of the corolla lobes; female flowers much larger than male ones, pedicel short and wide, sepals 3, free, triangular, acute and leathery, petals 3, rounded, somewhat smaller than sepals, scarious, staminodes 6, ovary globose, 3-locular, but only 1 locule fertile, stigmas 3, sessile.
Although more than 40 Hyphaene species have been recorded, the genus probably comprises only about 10 species, occurring in the drier parts of tropical and subtropical Africa, with a few species extending into the Middle East and the western coast of India.
Its taxonomy is much confused and often misunderstood. It has been revised for East Africa, but a further revision for the other parts of Africa is badly needed. Records of Hyphaene thebaica in East Africa usually refer to Hyphaene compressa.
The seed weight is 20—50 kg. Direct sowing instead of sowing in nurseries is recommended, as the radicle and plumule are buried deep before germination. Germination may start 1 month after sowing, but can also take up to a year. After sowing, the soil must be kept moist for 2—3 months, but after that seedlings are able to withstand as much as 10 months drought.
In germination trials in Niger freshly collected seeds germinated much better than month-old seeds. Furthermore, untreated seeds had much lower germination than seeds with the pericarp removed and bare nuts pericarp and endocarp removed. Fresh or months-old seeds that had been soaked in water before sowing had higher germination than unsoaked seeds.
The highest germination for freshly-collected seeds was obtained with mechanically-scarified seeds soaked in water for 3 days. On germination, the cotyledon stalk buries the radicle and plumule to a depth of 60 cm.
The first leaf is strip-shaped; fan-shaped leaves are produced from 2—3 years after germination onwards. The stem forms after 18—20 years. Flowering is usually in the second half of the rainy season. Pollination is by wind. The first fruits are produced after 6—8 years. The fruit ripens in 8—12 months. Elephants and baboons eat the fruits and disperse the seeds.
Hyphaene spp. Stems cut for tapping palm wine die, but the tree coppices from the root. The tree may produce suckers. The palm can be coppiced and lopped.