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close this bookTraditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)
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View the documentZiziphus mauritiana Lam.
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Ziziphus mauritiana Lam.


Borana: quaqura, kurkuurah Chonyi: mukunazi, kunazi (fruit) Daasanach: gabite, gaba English: Indian plum, jujube, Chinese date Giriama: mukunazi Ilchamus: lmampaai, lmampaan Kambe: mukunazi, kunazi (fruit) Maa: oloilalei Marakwet: tilomwo, tilam (plural) Pokot: tlomwo, tilomwo, tilam (plural) Rendille: gab Sabaot: katagi Samburu: ilerendei, lderendei Sanya: kunazi (fruit), mukunazi Somali: gup, gob, qup Swahili: mkunazi, mukhalita Teso: esilang Tugen: tilomwo Turkana: ekalale, ng'akalalio (fruits)

Description: A spiny shrub, thick bush or tree to about 9 m, often with multiple stems. Trunk to 45 cm in diameter. Branches drooping. BARK: Fissured, dark brown. Branchlets light grey to cream, zigzag in shape, armed with brown paired spines. LEAVES: Ovate, hairless above, usually softly hairy beneath, almost white or brown. FLOWERS: Cream, scented, clustered in leaf axils. FRUITS: 1.5-2.5 cm in diameter. Unripe fruits light green, turning cream, yellow to shiny reddish brown as they ripen. Seed a large stone surrounded by a dry cream pulp.

Ecology: Occurs from Ethiopia and Somalia to North Africa and west to Senegal, south to the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and Tanzania. Also in the Middle East, east to India and the Far East. Widely cultivated and often an escape in tropical parts of the world. Introduced further south in Africa in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique where it is cultivated for its fruit. Widespread in the coastal and northern arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya, in riverine vegetation in dry areas, flood plains, dry bushland, roadsides and disturbed areas, 0-1,600 m. Grows in open areas. Soils: Sandy to black cotton. Well-drained sandy loams and alluvial soils most favoured. Zones III-VII. In the more arid areas it is mainly found along river valleys where it may attain tree size.

Uses: FOOD: The fruit is a very important food in the arid zones (+++). It has a sweet dry cream pulp surrounding a large stone with two seeds. In most cases only the pulp is eaten, but among the Turkana and the Pokot large amounts of fruit may be gathered, dried, pounded in a mortar (kono, Pokot) and winnowed to remove particles of crushed seeds. The fine flour may be mixed with figs in honey and stored in large containers (kosim) to be used in times of food scarcity (Pokot).

MEDICINAL: Root decoction taken as an abortifacient. Root infusion used as a treatment for dysentery (Swahili), tuberculosis (Pokot) and indigestion (Marakwet). The root is dried, powdered and rubbed on an incision on the chest for the treatment of pneumonia. Root decoction taken as a prophylactic against elephantiasis believed to be caused by menstruating women (Swahili). Bark decoction or ground bark put in cold water and used for diarrhoea and stomachache (Pokot).



OTHER: An important camel and goat fodder plant. Dead and living fence. Wood, very hard, durable and used in building (Pokot, Turkana), making furniture, walking sticks, stools and stirrers. Said to be termite-resistant. The bark yields fibre and dye (Swahili). This tree is also used as a shade plant and as a windbreak. Due to its bushy nature, the plant is excellent in soil-erosion control, especially on river banks. Branches are cut to make beds and to form the supports of the portable Somali house (gurgi).

COMMERCIAL: Fruits sold in most big market centres in northern Kenya and in the coastal region, especially Malindi, Kilifi, Mombasa, Lodwar and Nginyang.

Season: Flowers in January in Garissa, May in Mandera, Turkana and Marsabit, August in West Pokot, Turkana and Marsabit and November in Kwale. Fruits in September-October in Turkana, Marsabit and Lamu, and March-April in Kilifi and Mombasa.

Management: Normally propagated by seeds. Also root suckers and, reportedly, by cuttings. Seeds planted directly on site. Cracked ones germinate faster. A fast grower even in dry areas. The shape of the plant should be controlled to suit requirements. May turn into an impenetrable bush if uncontrolled.

Status: Common.

Remarks: A very versatile plant, quite at home from the arid zones in northern Kenya to the hot humid coastal regions. Cultivated as an ornamental in Nairobi and other town centres. The plant was probably introduced from northern Africa to northern Kenya by migrating Nilotic or Cushitic communities.