Argania Spinosa

Argania spinosa, more commonly known as Argania tree or Argan tree, is a tree species native to South-western Morocco, Algeria, and other arid regions of the South Mediterranean. Growing roughly 8 to 10 meters in height once it has matured, the Argan tree is perfectly suited to its environment because it can easily adapt to poor, sandy, and shallow soil types due to its root system. The root base of the Argan tree is very extensive, and is known for its ability to burrow deep into the earth in search of vital nutrients that sustain the tree, and water. The deep root system that comes from the Argan tree also makes it a perfect companion species for farmers and traditional growers in the area who use it as a shelter for more tender crops that would otherwise struggle to survive in the harsh dry climate. The soil under the tree is often more fertile because of the nuts and vegetation that falls from the higher branches, and the trees shape helps to keep the ground below it cooler and more shaded. The deep root system that comes from the base of the Argan tree and heads directly down into the Earth, leaves a large area directly at the base of the tree that is perfect for growing more tender crops like barley, that require bright filtered light, and fertile soil to prosper in the arid region.

The Argan tree, although native to the region, and considered a ‘forest’ species of tree in Northern Africa along the Mediterranean regions of Morocco and Algeria, is also cultivated as a multipurpose species by farmers and traditional growers. Aside from the trees ability to provide shelter and fertile soil for other more tender crops to grow below it, it is also cultivated for its seeds, which inside them contain edible oil. The fruit produced by the Argan tree comes in the form of a stone fruit, similar to a walnut or almond, and is pulp covered. The inside of the pulp contains two or three seeds, also known as kernels. It is from these seeds that the Argan oil is extracted, using traditional methods and manual techniques. The Argan tree is also grown as fodder for livestock. Livestock, mostly goats, eat the leaves of the Argan tree, and sometimes consume the nuts, which if possible, is prevented because of their high value. In South-western Morocco, Argan trees, over the last several decades, have been promoted as a way to combat deforestation in the area, and have been encouraged as a domesticated species of tree. It is because of their ability to easily grow in areas that would otherwise remain bare, and as a way to provide shelter to other crops, that the Argan tree is such a favored species in the region. They are also used as a way for farmers and rural growers to alleviate poverty. They are promoted as a crop that yields higher returns because of the sale of its seeds and are a way for farmers to produce a crop that requires very little attention once established. Once established, the Argan tree can live for 200 years, supplying fodder and seeds to the farmer, and in turn helping to create a prosperous crop for the community as a whole.

An illustration of isolated branches, leaves, nuts, and fruits from an Argan tree (ironwood).
The scientific name of the Argan tree is Argania spinosa. Argania spinosa along with twenty-five other species of plant are accepted genera of the sub family Sapotoideae. The sub family Sapotoideae falls under the category of flowering plants called Sapotaceae. There are are seventy genera and eight hundred species of plants that can be categorized into the Sapotaceae family. The leaves of the Sapotaceae family are leather like, simple, and growing in a stipule fashion often times but not strictly. The flowers of the Sapotaceae flowers are radially symmetric as well as bisexual. There are typically four to twelve petals on the corollas or flower sets.

Sapotoideae is one of the two major clades that fall under the Sapotaceae family. Sapotoideae is almost completely restricted to tropical and sub tropical regions. About half of the species in the Sapotoideae family can be found in the Indo-Pacific region. Africa is the second most species rich in the world region that the Sapotoideae occur, and they occur at about half the rate in which they do in Indo-Pacific. Going further, in the Americas the Sapotoideae have about half as many species as in Africa. If there are three hundred in Indo-Pacific, there are one hundred and fifty in Africa, and then seventy-five in the Americas. The Sapotoideae is a group of trees and shrubs that has no strict unique morphological character, as there are even a few giant species of Sapotoideae that can grow over sixty meters tall.

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