Gleditsia Fera – Bo Ket

General Information

Gleditsia fera is a spiny, deciduous tree with a light, open canopy; it can grow from 3 – 24 metres tall. The bole is 40 – 45cm in diameter, armed with stout thorns up to 8cm long.

The tree is harvested from the wild for local use as a source of saponins for medicine, as a pesticide and making soap. It is occasionally cultivated.

Known Hazards

The seed contains saponins. Although toxic, these substances are very poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing harm.

They are also broken down by heat so a long slow baking can destroy them. Saponins are found in many plants, including several that are often used for food, such as certain beans. It is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.


Asia – south and east China, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, Indonesia (Celebes).


Gentle slopes, mountain valleys, forests, beside villages, near roads and in sunny places at elevations from 300 – 1,000 metres
Rain forests in the Philippines, at elevations up to 250 metres, occasionally to 900 metres.

Cultivation Details

A plant of subtropical to tropical areas. Easily grown in a loamy soil, requiring a sunny position. Succeeds in most soils including sandy ones. Established plants tolerate drought and atmospheric pollution.

Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus. Although many species within the family Fabaceae have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria, this species is said to be devoid of such a relationship and therefore does not fix atmospheric nitrogen.


A decoction of the leaves is used as a purgative. The pulp of the pods is rich in saponins and is used in local medicine

Agroforestry Uses:

Trees have a light canopy, they come into leaf late in the season and usually drop their leaves early making them an excellent top storey tree in a woodland garden.

Other Uses

  • The seedpod and pulp contains saponins and has been used as an insecticide
  • The saponins have been used to make soap
  • The wood is suitable for indoor construction purposes


Seed – pre-soak for 24 hours in warm water and then sow in a nursery seedbed. The seed should have swollen up, in which case it can be sown, if it has not swollen then soak it for another 24 hours in warm water. If this does not work then file away some of the seed coat but be careful not to damage the embryo. Further soaking should then cause the seed to swell. Once it has swollen, the seed should germinate within 2 – 4 weeks at 20°c. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual deep pots and plant them out into their permanent positions when large enough.

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