Bauhinia rufescens

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Local names:
Arabic (kulkul,kharoub), Fula (nammare), Hausa (matsagi,jirga,jiga), Wolof (randa)

Bauhinia rufescens is a shrub or small tree usually 1-3 m high, sometimes reaching 8 m; bark ash-grey, smooth, very fibrous and scaly when old; slash pink; twigs arranged in 1 plane like a fishbone, with thornlike, lignified, lateral shoots, 10 cm long.

Leaves very small, bilobate almost to the base, with semi-circular lobes, glabrous, with long petioles, greyish-green, less than 3 cm long.

Flowers greenish-yellow to white and pale pink, in few-flowered racemes; petals 5, spathulate, 15-20 mm long; stamens 10, filaments hairy at the base.

Fruits aggregated, long, narrow pods, twisted, up to 10 cm long, glabrous, obliquely constricted, shining dark red-brown, with 4-10 seeds each. Pods remain on the shrub for a long time.

The generic name commemorates Swiss botanists Jean (1541-1613) and Gaspard (1560-1624) Bauhin. The 2 lobes of the leaf exemplify the 2 brothers; ‘rufescens’ means ‘becoming reddish’.


B. rufescens is deciduous in drier areas and is an evergreen in wetter areas. It is often found in dry savannah, especially near stream banks. It is found in the entire Sahel and adjacent Sudan zone, from Senegal and Mauritania across North Ghana and Niger to central Sudan and Ethiopia.

Native range
Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda

Tree management

Seedlings are fairly hardy but need to be protected from browsing animals for at least 1 season. Growth is fairly slow, with a height of 1 m expected after 2 years where annual rainfall is 500 mm. If the tree is to be established in clay soils, some form of micro-catchment is recommended. There is not much experience in managing this species as yet, but it should be researched regarding production of forage. Bauhinia regenerates quickly and abundantly after browsing.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; no loss in viability during 1 year in hermetic storage at 4 deg. C. There are approximately 9000-10 000 seeds/kg.

B. rufescens is deciduous in drier areas and is an evergreen in wetter areas. It is often found in dry savannah, especially near stream banks. It is found in the entire Sahel and adjacent Sudan zone, from Senegal and Mauritania across North Ghana and Niger to central Sudan and Ethiopia.

The species is scarcely propagated and grows mainly in the wild. Seeds require pretreatment before planting in the nursery. The recommended treatment involves boiling seeds for several minutes and allowing them to cool. This gives a germination percentage of about 40%. The length of time required in the nursery is 4-6 months.

Good rooting has been observed on cuttings, with 85% producing roots in 2 weeks. The cuttings rooted better in a sand or a sand-gravel mixture, and upper nodes rooted better than basal nodes.

Erosion control:  Planting B. rufescens in dunes can help stabilize and control them.

  In Ghana, farmers, hunters and field workers eat the wild fruits.

The green and dried fruit and the leaves and shoots are valuable forage, favoured by many species of wild and domestic animals, which may cause the extinction of B. rufescens in regions overstocked with livestock. In Sudan, the pods are said to be the most valuable forage for camels. The nutritive value of the pods is characterized by crude protein 13.5% dry matter (DM), net energy 5.4 mJ/kg of DM, digestible protein/FU 0.19, and digestible DM (leaves) 51%.

The wood makes acceptable firewood and good charcoal.

Fibre: The crude bark is used for binding. The bast fibre serves as a plaiting and binding material, and in Sudan the fibre is extracted for cordage.

Timber:  The light-brown, fine-grained wood can be used for carpentry, joinery and wood-carving if sizes sufficiently large are available; otherwise it is used as stakes and fence poles.

Tannin or dyestuff:  The bark contains tannin and is locally used for tanning hides.

Medicine:  An extract of the root is used as an astringent or antipyretic in local medicine. Leaves and fruit are applied for the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery and ophthalmic diseases. The bark of the roots and trunk is used to cure chest complaints, syphilis and other venereal diseases, leprosy, diarrhoea and dysentery and to reduce fever.

Ornamental:  The tree is sometimes planted as an ornamental. It is suitable for roadsides, and it may easily be grown indoors provided the conditions are warm and brightly lit.

B. rufescens provides a good, impenetrable, browse-resistant live fence; useful for protecting gardens, fields and compounds.