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Trees bees use - Ziphus spina-christi - Christ’s thorn

by Reinhard Fichtl

Apicultural value

Christ's thorn is one of the most important nectar and pollen sources of Eritrea and Yemen. Honeybees forage on the abundant nectar and pollen and in dense stands the bees will produce significant surplus of honey. In most cases the pollen and nectar of single tree will strengthen colonies and significantly stimulate brood rearing.

Recommended for planting to increase honey production



The name “spina-christi” derives from the legend that Jesus Christ was crowned with the branches of this Ziziphus species.


A shrub, or more often tree growing up to 10m  in height.

Bark: grey to brown and fissured.

Branchlets: whitish to pale yellow.

Thorns: numerous spines, paired, one straight, ‘one curved.

Leaves: ovate to elliptic, finely toothed.

Flowers: yellowish green, arranged in many flowered cymes.

Fruit: yellow to red, globose, up to 15 mm in diameter, edible.

Flowering: trees are found in flower throughout the year.


It is introduced and naturalised in many tropical countries. Its native habitat is throughout the Sahel from Senegal in West Africa to Ethiopia and Eritrea in East Africa. It is widespread in the Near and Middle East, and in the dry areas of northern


Found from sea level up to 1900 m in wooded grassland, on limestone slopes and on alluvial soils, in Acacia woodland, in and along dry river beds, on cultivated land and in gardens. It will grow where the annual rainfall is between 50 and 350 mm.


The ripe fruits are edible and found in large quantities in local markets. The seeds inside the fruits are roasted to be eaten. The fleshy part can be dried and pulverised to be baked under the heat of the sun.

The termite-resistant wood is widely used as firewood, or for charcoal making. It is also very suitable for making furniture, tools, posts, poles, and construction work, and especially for turning work, such as the extraction of oil from sesame seeds.

The leaves are browsed by camels, goats and sheep. It is often planted ornamentally and for shade. Also it is used as living fence and sometimes as boundary marker.

In traditional medicine the leaves and bark are used to cure dandruff and stomach disorders. The seeds are used to cure throat infections and as conditioner to encourage hair growth. The roots are used to treat headaches and tonsillitis.


1. Amanuel.G (ed) (1994) Indigenous trees and shrubs of Eritrea. Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Asmara, Eritrea.

2. Hedberg, J; Edwards,S (eds) (1989) Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3: Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae National Herbarium, University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Sweden

3. Maydell von,H I. (1990) Trees and shrubs of the Sahel. Margraf Verlag, Weikersheim, Germany.