Family: Mimosaceae (Touch-me-not family)
Genus: Dichrostachys
Botanical name: Dichrostachys cinerea
Sanskrit: Vellantaru, Viradru
Hindi: Kunali, khairi, Veerataru
English: Sickle Bush, Bell mimosa, Chinese lantern tree, Kalahari Christmas tree, Sicklebush
Malayalam: Vitattal
Vitattal is a semi-deciduous to deciduous tree characterized by bark on young branches, dark grey-brown fissures on older branches and stems and smooth on the spines. They typically grow up to 7 metres in height and have strong alternate thorns, generally up to 8 cm long. Flowers of the Dichrostachys cinerea are characteristically in bicoloured cylindrical spikes that resemble Chinese lanterns and are 6–8 cm long and fragrant. Upper flowers of a hanging spike are sterile, and are of a lilac or pale purple. Pods are usually a mustard brown and are generally twisted or spiralled and may be up to 100 x 15 mm.
Fruit and seeds that grow on Sickle Bush are edible. Cattle, camels and game such as giraffe, buffalo, kudu, hartebeest, nyala, red forest duiker and Damara dik-dik feed on the juicy pods that fall to the ground. Such animals also feed on the immature twigs and leaves of the tree which are rich in protein (11-15%) and minerals. The flowers can be a valuable source of honey. The wood is of a dense nature and burns slowly with no toxicity, so it is often used for fuelwood. The species yields a medium to heavy, durable hardwood and is often used in smaller domestic items as walking sticks, handles, spears and tool handles particularly in central Africa.
In traditional medicine, the bark is used for headache, toothache, dysentery, elephantiasis, root infusions are used for leprosy, syphilis, coughs, as an anthelmintic, purgative and strong diuretic, leaves are used forepilepsy and also as a diuretic and laxative, and a powdered form is massaged on limbs with bone fractures. The roots are also sometimes used for bites or stings. In Siddha medicine of the Tamils in southern India, Sickle Bush is called vidathther and used for gonorrhea, syphilis and eczema.
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