Lawsonia inermis

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fruits and foliage
© Trade winds fruit

Local names:
Amharic (hina), Arabic (yoranna,hinná,hena,henna), Bengali (mendi,mehedi), Burmese (dan), Creole (flè jalouzi,ene), English (mignonette tree,henna tree,camphire,Egyptian privet,Zanzibar bark), Filipino (cinamomo), French (jalousie,fleurs,henné,réséda de

Lawsonia inermis is a much-branched glabrous shrub or small tree 2-6 m in height, which may be spiny. Bark greyish-brown, unarmed when young, older plants with spine-tipped branchlets. Young branches quadrangular, green but turn red with age.

Leaves opposite, entire, subsessile, elliptic to broadly lanceolate, 1.5-5 x 0.5-2 cm, glabrous, acuminate; veins on the upper surface depressed.

Flowers small, white, numerous; in large pyramidal terminal cymes, fragrant, 1 cm across, 4 petals crumpled in the bud. Calyx with 2-mm tube and 3-mm spread lobes; petals orbicular to obovate, white or red; stamens 8, inserted in pairs on the rim of the calyx tube; ovary 4 celled, style up to 5 mm long, erect. Fruits small, brown, globose capsules 4-8 mm in diameter, many-seeded, opening irregularly, split into 4 sections, with a persistent style. Seeds 3 mm across, angular, with thick seed coat.

The specific epithet means unarmed or without spines.


L. inermis is widely distributed throughout the Sahel and into Central Africa; it also occurs in the Middle East. It grows mainly along watercourses and in semi-arid regions and is adapted to a wide range of conditions. It can withstand low air humidity and drought. Henna requires high temperatures for germination, growth and development.

Native range
Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Western Sahara, Yemen, Republic of

Tree management

Young plants must be protected from browsing animals and can be watered to increase growth rate. Fields are hoed once or twice in a year and weeded when required. Trees should be spaced at 15 cm within a row, with distance between the rows varying according to the production area; a dense spacing that gives up to 200 000 plants/ha can be employed. Under intensive commercial production, as in North Africa, the crop is irrigated during the dry season and heavily fertilized. In India, it is grown on a larger scale but less intensively, often without irrigation, and rarely fertilized.

The first harvest is taken 12 months after field planting by cutting the plant about 10-15 cm above ground level. Subsequently, 2 harvests are taken a year under rainfed conditions and 3 harvests may be possible with irrigation. Under rainfed conditions, dried-leaf yield in the 1st year may be about 200 kg/ha, while over the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years, yields normally range from 1000 to 1500 kg/ha. With irrigation, heavy fertilizer treatment and 3 croppings a year, peak yields in excess of 2000 kg/ha can be obtained. Maximum yields occur during the 1st 4-8 years after planting, but plants are often left in the field for 12-25 (max. 40) years. 

Henna removes a large quantity of nutrients from the soil: a yield of 1000 kg dry leaves removes 180-190 kg nitrogen, 100-150 kg potassium and 10-30 kg phosphates. 

For rainfed cultivation, the rainfall should be well distributed but with 2 dry periods a year to facilitate postharvest leaf drying. Leaves are dried in the shade to retain the green colour.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; long-term storage is feasible. On average, there are about 700 000 seeds/kg.

L. inermis is widely distributed throughout the Sahel and into Central Africa; it also occurs in the Middle East. It grows mainly along watercourses and in semi-arid regions and is adapted to a wide range of conditions. It can withstand low air humidity and drought. Henna requires high temperatures for germination, growth and development.

L. inermis is easy to propagate from cuttings; regeneration from seed is also possible but seeds are not always viable. Seeds are pretreated by steeping in water for 3-7 days with daily changing of the water; they are then placed in small heaps and kept moist and warm for a few days. The swollen, well-drained seeds, with a soft seed coat, are mixed with sand and a pinch of the mixture is put on top of the area to be planted. Germination takes place after 2-3 weeks, at a rate of 70%. Seedlings require 4-5 months in the nursery, at which time they will be about 40 cm tall; they are lifted, cut back to about 15 cm and transplanted into the field. Henna seedlings are hardy and can survive with little watering, but the planting site should be well prepared by ploughing, and manure or compost incorporated.

Erosion control: Trees are employed in soil conservation.

Fodder: Leaves of L. inermis are browsed by livestock.

Henna is a suitable source of firewood.

Fibre: In Turkana, Kenya, the stems are used for making fishing baskets.

Timber: The wood of henna is fine grained, hard, and is used to make tent pegs and tool handles in India.

Shade or shelter: L. inermis can be grown as a live fence.

Tannin or dyestuff: An orange-red dye is made by crushing the leaves and younger shoots to a grey-green powder. The powder is soaked in a mixture of strong tea and lemon juice and is used in Sudan, Middle Eastern countries and many Muslim communities in Africa for decorating hands, nails and feet with patterns. Henna is also used as a hair dye and conditioner as well as a colouring agent for leather and cloth. It may also be used to stain wood.

Medicine: Roots are regarded as a potent medicine for gonorrhoea and to enhance fertility in women; a decoction of them is considered to be diuretic or for treating blenorrhoea and pectoral for bronchitis. A reported constituent of the leaves is an oxynaphthoquinone called lawsone, which has antibiotic properties. Flower oil contains alpha- and beta-ionone, the latter being the main component. Leaf and flower infusions are applied externally for ulcers and rheumatism or are taken orally for tetanus, epilepsy and stomach pains; leaves are used in treatment of leprosy, jaundice and scurvy. Astringent roots are ground and rubbed on the heads of children to treat boils and eye diseases. In Malaysia, fresh bruised leaves are used as poultices to relieve a burning sensation of the feet; to treat beriberi, skin diseases, boils, circumcision wounds and distension of the stomach; a decoction can also be gargled to treat gum boils, or prescribed to relieve abdominal pains after childbirth. It is an emmenagogue and an abortifacient. In Indonesia, a paste of the leaves is applied for diseases of the fingernails and for herpes infection; tea made from the leaves is said to be taken to prevent obesity, and an ointment made from very young fruits treats itches. In the Philippines, flowers are reported to be soporific.

Ornamental: An attractive small tree that can be successfully grown in gardens.