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Faidherbia albida (winter thorn or applering acacia), formerly categorized as Acacia albida in many classifications, is a deciduous tree in the Fabaceae (legume family) native to much of Africa and the Arabian peninsula to western Asia (including Cyprus, Israel, Syria, and Iran) that is used in agroforestry (to stabilize and improve soils, as it is associated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, including Bradyrhizobium species). Also known as anatree and whitethorn, its leaves and pods are important as animal feed and forage, and have been used as a human food in famine times.

The winter thorn tree typically grows in seasonally dry tropical to subtropical forests and woodlands, swamps, and floodplains. Often fast-growing, it is deciduous, but unusual in that it retains its leaves during the dry seasons, and sheds them during the rainy season. It can reach heights of up to 30 meters (99 feet) tall. Young twigs are white or whitish-gray, with straight, paired spines up to 4 cm (1.5 inches) long. Leaves are doubly pinnate, with bluish-green leaflets. The yellowish to cream-colored flowers occur in long spikes. The fruit, capsules or pods typical of the legume family, are up to 10 cm (4 inches) long, twisted into a ring shape, with a green and rosy red color, hence the common name “applering acacia.”

In addition to its use as animal fodder, winter thorn is planted for shade, shelter, and hedges and sometimes as an ornamental. Because it flowers later than many associated species, it is important for bees and honey production in the Sahel region. The wood is used for light construction and fencing, as well as specialty products (utensils, tools, containers, as well as canoes). Bark, roots, and powdered pods are used to stun or poison fish in parts of Africa. Strips of the stringy bark are used like dental floss, to clean teeth. In West African traditional medicine, it has been used to treat colds, pneumonia, and other respiratory conditions; nausea; diarrhea; and malarial and other fevers.

Introduced and occasionally naturalized in India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Peru, it has occasionally been reported as weedy, but not been noted as particularly invasive, in contrast to several of the Acacia species.

Bailey et al. 1976, Duke 1983, FAO/Ecocrop 2012, Lewis et al. 2005, Wiersema et al. 1990, Wiersema and León 1999, Wikipedia 2012)


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