Ziziphus abyssinica

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Local names:
Bemba (kangwa,kalanangwa), English (jujube), Lozi (mukalu,muchaluwe), Lunda (mukwata), Nyanja (mlashawantu,kankande), Tigrigna (gaba-agdi), Tongan (mwichechete)

Ziziphus abyssinica is a semi-evergreen spiny shrub, scrambler or small tree up to 12 m tall with a straight, occasionally crooked, single bole; spreading, drooping branches forming a heavy, rounded and untidy crown. Fresh bark creamy, becoming greyish brown, longitudinally fissured and rough in older specimens.

Leaves ovate to broadly ovate, alternate along the stems, up to 8 x 4.7 cm, conspicuously 3-veined from the base, dark green above with veins depressed, leathery, paler green below due to the dense rusty yellow to grey furry hairs; apex broadly tapering, frequently ending in a hairlike tip; base lobed, markedly asymmetric; margin finely toothed; petiole up to 1.2 cm long, with dense soft hairs; stipules spinescent, short, hairy stalk.

Flowers small, star-shaped, creamy to yellowish-green, with an unpleasant, sharp smell, in dense, light clusters in the axils of the leaves; inconspicuous except when produced in profusion; stalk 1-2 cm long, beside leaves.

Fruit almost spherical, 2-3 cm in diameter, shiny red or reddish-brown when mature, smooth, containing 1 or 2 light brown glossy seeds inside the inner stone.

The name ‘Ziziphus’ is often erroneously written as Zizyphus. The generic name is derived from the latinized version of the Arabic vernacular name ‘zizouf’ for Z. jujuba. The specific name means ‘from Ethiopia’.

Ecology

Z. abyssinica is found growing in arid or dry tropical and subtropical regions, with severe heat and slight frost. It occurs at medium to low altitudes, in open woodland, open grassland and along riverbanks; it reaches its southernmost limit along the southern escarpment of the Zambezi Valley. The tree grows throughout Zambia except for 5 districts in the northwest corner and is widespread outside Zambia from Senegal and Ethiopia south to Angola and Mozambique. It is locally frequent in the chipya, Kalahari and munga woodlands and in munga scrub and occurs occasionally in other woodland types and on termite mounds. It grows throughout East Africa; in Uganda, it occurs in dry savannah in eastern, northeastern and northern regions as well as in Luwero and Moyo Districts.

Native range
Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia

Tree management

Pruning is a suitable practice.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; the seeds should be stored at low temperature. There are about 1700 seeds/kg.

Z. abyssinica is found growing in arid or dry tropical and subtropical regions, with severe heat and slight frost. It occurs at medium to low altitudes, in open woodland, open grassland and along riverbanks; it reaches its southernmost limit along the southern escarpment of the Zambezi Valley. The tree grows throughout Zambia except for 5 districts in the northwest corner and is widespread outside Zambia from Senegal and Ethiopia south to Angola and Mozambique. It is locally frequent in the chipya, Kalahari and munga woodlands and in munga scrub and occurs occasionally in other woodland types and on termite mounds. It grows throughout East Africa; in Uganda, it occurs in dry savannah in eastern, northeastern and northern regions as well as in Luwero and Moyo Districts.

Propagation is done using seedlings, and the seeds are sown in pots, or they can be sown directly at the planting site. Both prechilling and prolonged hot water treatments have been used to enhance germination. Seeds are pretreated by cracking the hard seed cover carefully or soaking in cold water for 24 hours before sowing. Growth regulators do not enhance germination of Z. abyssinica seeds.

  The sweet fruits are edible, and the leaves may be cooked as a vegetable.

Jujube is browsed by livestock in spite of its thorns, and in Democratic Republic of Congo, it is cultivated as a fodder crop.

Apiculture: Z. abyssinica is an excellent tree for bees, both pollen and nectar being easily available. 

The species is a source of firewood and is used in the production of charcoal.

Timber:  The dark brown to black wood is heavy, hard and resistant to termites and borers. It is used mainly as poles to fence kraals and villages and to cover graves. It is also used for furniture, interior work and carving.

Tannin or dyestuff:  The bark yields a cinnamon-coloured dye.

Medicine:  Ash from the burnt leaves is mixed with salt and applied on the throat to relieve tonsillitis. A fomentation of steaming hot leaves soaked in boiling water are used as on the chest to treat pneumonia.

The spiny branches make this plant useful as a protective live fence.