Moringa peregrina

Plant Family

Moringaceae

Binomial Name

Moringa peregrina Forssk. ex Fiori

Alternate Binomial Names

Moringa aptera Gaertn. (1791)

Common (Vernacular) Names

Ben tree, wispy-needled yasar tree, wild drum-stick tree (En). Ben blanc, moringa aptère, arbre à noix de ben (Fr); gas-e-rowghan or gaz rokh (Iran).  We refer to this tree as Arabian moringa.

 

Plant Information

Endemicity. This species is endemic to the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea region, Arabia where it grows in rocky slopes of wadis and gullies; Acacia-Commiphora woodland, sometimes on nearly bare rock, at elevations up to 850 meters[1],[2]  It reportedly occurs in Pakistan and desert areas of the Sistan and Baluchestan provinces of Iran but these reports need confirmation.

Moringa peregrina growing from rocky cliff, Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia

Moringa peregrina Growing in the Wild, Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia
Photo by Abdullah Alsharief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers are zygomorphic, pink, and sweetly scented and are important as bee plants in southern Sudan and Yemen.

Flowers of Moringa peregrina

Flowers of Moringa peregrina
Photo by: Pikiwikisrael
Public domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seedlings emerge from the soil opening with red leaflets that turn to blue green after about one month.

Emerging Seedling of Moringa peregrina

Emerging Seedling of Moringa peregrina
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Licensed use: CC BY-SA

Young seedling of Moringa peregrina with red stems

Young Seedling of Moringa peregrina
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Licensed use: CC BY-SA

Seedling of Moringa peregrina

Seedling of Moringa peregrina
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Licensed use: CC BY-SA

 

Tubers begin forming early and become about the size of a sweet potato in the first year of growth.  When growing among rocks or shallow soils the tubers and root system may be greatly reduced. In the dry season, the aerial parts die back to the top of the tuber below ground-level. As the plant matures the stem becomes permanent and the leaves get progressively longer, while the leaflets get smaller, more needle-like and widely spaced.  Mature trees produce leaves with a full complement of tiny leaflets that later drop off leaving mostly naked leaf axes.  This gives the tree with a wispy appearance similar to Tamarix spp

Moringa peregrina with Roots Exposed

Moringa peregrina with Roots Exposed
Grown in Cultivation at Discovery Harbour, Hawaii
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Licensed use: CC BY-SA

 

Tuber of Moringa peregrina

Tuber of Moringa peregrina  Grown in cultivation at Discovery Harbour, Hawaii
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Licensed use: CC BY-SA

 

Growth Habit.  This species is in the moringa form category of slender trees[3].  It typically grows as a deciduous shrub or small tree up to 10M tall.  In the wild the trees may exist only as bushy shrubs.  In cultivation, the trees may grow into a very tall single trunked tree with few branches.  Pruning or pollarding is recommended to promote branching, pod production and to keep the tree at an acceptable height for harvesting the pods.

Moringa peregrina in Cultivation, Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia

Moringa peregrina
In Cultivation
Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia
Photo by Abdullah Alsharief

Moringa peregrina Unpruned Growth Form

Moringa peregrina Growth Form Unpruned
Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia
Photo by Abdullah Alsharief


Cultivation in the Middle East and Africa  
Moringa peregrina is primarily harvested from the wild.  It has apparently not been grown in artificial cultivation as a crop plant.  Planting trials have been carried out in Sudan.  Both seeds and cuttings were successfully used for propagation in a nursery. Exposure to full sunlight and high temperatures reduced seedling growth. Transplanted five-month-old seedlings had good survival rates. Branches of 1–1.5 m in length were used as cuttings and these performed well. Moringa peregrina grew fast from both seeds and cuttings; 3–4 m annual growth in height was not unusual when adequate moisture was available. The first pods were produced about three years after planting.[4]

Cultivation in Hawaii.  We are not aware of or previous introductions of this tree in cultivation in Hawaii.  Seeds for our trials were collected from trees in Al Madinah area of Saudi Arabia in 2014 and 2015.  Repeated testing of the seeds from both years has consistently yielded germination rates over 99%.  Seeds were germinated in our greenhouse and outdoors, in certified artificial media and native cinder soil mixes with no significant differences in germination and growth rates.  The seedlings have formed tubers and are ready for transplanting in about six months after germination.

Seeds of Moringa peregrina

Seeds of Moringa peregrina
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Licensed use: CC BY-SA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our attempts to grow this species in the ground here without irrigation have failed.  Soon after planting healthy appearing seedlings lose their leaves and shoots and become dormant.  They usually do not emerge from dormancy and eventually die.  Seedlings from the same seed source planted in the ground with drip irrigation, or planted in plastic pots containing native soil excavated from the same area do well.  Dormant plants provided with irrigation or transplanted into pots resume normal growth.

Since this species is endemic to very dry desert areas this apparent dependence on irrigation was initially puzzling.  We now believe that the problem is caused by the plant’s inability to adapt to highly variable, rapidly changing soil moisture levels.  In areas where the plant is endemic it is highly tolerant of drought conditions and typically loses most or all its leaves and shoots during the dry season. This is probably an adaptation to prevent water loss during these seasons that occur on a consistent annual cycle.  In our area of Hawaii there is a dry season but significant rainfall is normally received throughout the year.  However, due to the highly pervious nature of our volcanic cinder-based soils, and high evaporation rates, soil moisture levels drop very rapidly after rains and can become xeric after a few days, apparently triggering or continuing dormancy.  The plants do not have time to regrow before the next episode of dry soil conditions occurs.  Plants in irrigated soil or pots experience steadier soil moisture levels so loss of leaves and other adaptations to drought are not triggered.  We have observed similar patterns of dormancy and response to irregular soil moisture conditions with other African moringa species in cultivation here including M. ovalifolia, M. drouhardii, M. hildebrantii and to a lesser extent with M. stenopetala.  Indian moringa (M. oleifera) usually does not become dormant under the same conditions.

 

Pests and Diseases

No insect pests or evidence of diseases have been observed on Arabian moringa grown at our site in Discovery Harbour or reported by our customers and volunteer growers with small test plantings on Molaka’i and Oahu.  It is apparently resistant to burrowing and reniform nematodes as it grows in soils at our site in which we cannot grow common vegetable crops due to severe nematode infestations.  For a desert plant, the species is surprisingly resistant to prolonged wet soil conditions common during the rainy season.

 

Uses

The medicinal, nutritional and water purification uses of the leaves and pods of this tree are well known, and the edible oil extracted from its seeds (ben oil) has been used since ancient Rome and Egypt.  In ancient Egypt moringa was referred to as bak.  Its seeds were esteemed in perfumery, and the oil, was used as a base for scents. At the court of Ramses II, “the people dress in festive garments every day, their braided hair drenched in sweet moringa oil.” The oil, applied to the skin, was also thought to repel mosquitoes, and mixed with other ingredients for treatment of many disorders.  Vases of the oil were placed in tombs.  Moringa was the sacred tree of the gods Heryshaf and Ptah.[5]

Early uses of the tree may also be mentioned in two books of the bible. The book of Exodus (15:25), describes the Israelites traveling after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea for three days into the wilderness of Shur — in the north-west of the Sinai Peninsula without finding water. When they finally came to a place with water, which they named Marah they found they could not drink from the water because it was too bitter. They complained to Moses, who asked God what they could drink. Then God showed Moses a tree, “which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet”.   Moringa peregrina may also be the Tree of Life referred to in the bible in Revelations 22:1-2-3.

Note:  many references state that Moringa oleifera is the species referred to in these ancient texts.  This is probably incorrect; Moringa peregrina is endemic to the Middle East including the Red Sea region; Moringa oleifera is endemic to India and there are no indications that it had been imported into the Red Sea region until recent times.  The two species were once classified as a single species, which may account for some of this confusion.

Oil.  Ben oil is the primary product from the tree.  It has apparently been in declining production and is now primarily produced for home use or local markets.

Fuels.  Wood from the tree was collected in the southern Saini for firewood but is now becoming scarce.  The seed cake residue from oil production can be used as a fuel.  Recent research indicates that the oil is a promising feedstock for production of biodiesel[6].

Food.  In the southern Arabian Peninsula, the tubers of young saplings are roasted and eaten[7].  It is also used as fodder for camels.

Medicinal Properties.  The seeds are used for medicinal purposes in the Middle East and Sudan. The oil is used to treat abdominal pain. Antioxidant activity of its leaf extracts has been confirmed[8].  These antioxidant compounds may be useful in preventing degenerative diseases.

Water Purification.  The seeds of this tree have been used to purify water since ancient Egypt.  A proteinaceous component of the seeds coagulates solids and seed extracts have antimicrobial properties.

Ornamental for Landscaping.  The tree is grown as an ornamental in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. We believe it may have applications for xeriscaping in other areas with similar.  It does well here in Hawaii as a container plant and can be grown in cinder based soil media.

 

Invasiveness Potential

We requested the Hawai‘i-Pacific Weed Risk Assessment (HPWRA) program to assess the invasiveness potential of Moringa peregrina since there were no records of prior introductions in Hawaii.  HPWRA assigned it an assessment score of 0, indicating low risk.  It has been designated as a Pono Plant, a good choice for planting in Hawaii

Conservation Status

This species is not considered threatened.  Wild populations in some areas are reportedly in decline because of collection for firewood and grazing by camels.  It is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

 

CITES Listing

Moringa peregrina is not listed by CITES.

 

Improved Cultivars

We do not offer improved cultivars of this species and are unaware of any efforts by others to develop these.

 

Plants and Seeds for Sale

We offer seeds and seedlings of this species.  Seedlings may be available in limited quantities as certified and non-certified plants and are subject to stock on hand.  Seedlings are not offered for sale until they have developed small tubers to improve survival in shipment.  This requires several months of growing time.  Orders for large quantities must be placed several months in advance. Please contact us for more information.

 

Shipping Information

Seeds can be shipped to all locations but all shipments must be inspected and cleared by the Plant Quarantine Branch of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) before shipment.

Seedlings can be shipped bare root, are resistant to adverse shipping conditions but may lose their leaves.  Non-certified seedlings must be shipped bare root, require inspection and clearance by HDOA before shipment and cannot be shipped to the states of Arizona, California, Louisiana or Texas.  Certified seedlings are shipped directly from our facility to all states without additional inspections, and may be shipped with some growing media on the roots and tubers.

Acknowledgement

Abdullah Alsharief provided some of the information and photographs on this page and collected the seeds used in the above research.

References

[1] Prota.  Plant Resources of Tropical Africa.  www.prota.org .  Cited in Fern K. (2014).

[2] Fern K.  2014. Useful tropical plants database   Moringa peregrina.  http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Moringa+peregrina [accessed 2017 Apr 30].

[3] Olsen ME. 2014.  The home page of the plant family Moringaceae.

http://www.explorelifeonearth.org/moringahome.html#maps .  [accessed 2017 Apr 30].

[4] Munyanziza, E. & Yongabi, K.A., 2007. Moringa peregrina (Forssk.) Fiori In: van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Mkamilo, G.S. (Editors). PROTA 14: Vegetable oils/Oléagineux. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.  http://database.prota.org/PROTAhtml/Moringa%20peregrina_En.htm  [accessed 2017 Apr 30].

[5] Anonymous.  c2017.  Cow of gold.  An encyclopedia of Egyptian mythology.  The trees of ancient Egypt. https://cowofgold.wikispaces.com/Moringa.  [accessed 2017 Apr 30].

[6] Salaheldeen M, Aroua MK, Mariod AA, Cheng SF, Abdelrahman MA. 2014. An evaluation of Moringa peregrina seeds as a source for bio-fuel.  Ind. Crops and Prod.  61:49-61.

[7] Olsen ME. 2014. Moringa peregrina Forssk. ex Fiori.  http://www.explorelifeonearth.org/peregrina.html [accessed 2017 Apr 30].

[8] Dehshahri, S., Wink, M., Afsharypuor, S., Asghari, G., & Mohagheghzadeh, A. (2012). Antioxidant activity of methanolic leaf extract of Moringa peregrina (Forssk.) Fiori. Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences, 7(2), 111–118.