T is for Trees of Africa

This entry is part 22 of the series Out of Africa


Think of Africa and you’ll picture trees. Dense forests, tangled jungles, animals feeding from the branches while others scavenge around the roots, snakes weaving through the undergrowth, and predators resting on branches; it’s all Africa. There are hundreds of species of trees here, some of them unique to this vast continent.

Today, I plan to show you a few of these, together with a snippet of information. I’m not using the fancy latin words, but the common names used by the inhabitants of the land.Bobab tree

The BAOBAB TREE (also known as the upside-down tree) can grow to a tremendous size and carbon dating indicates that some live as long as 3,000 years. In Zimbabwe, an ancient hollow Baobab tree is so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its trunk. When its leaves fall off, the spreading branches look like roots sticking up into the air, hence its nickname. It is found in low-lying areas.

Tree Marula02

The MARULA TREE has been a dietary mainstay in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia from as long ago as 10,000 years B.C. Both the fruit and the nut are rich in minerals and vitamins.

Many animals eat the fruit and leaves, and Amarula, a cream liqueur enjoyed tREE Marula berry01by humans, is made from the fruit. It is a myth that elephants become drunk when they eat the fermented fruit from the ground. It is possible they behave oddly as a result of eating beetle pupae that live in the bark.

The MOPANE TREE is recognised by its butterfly-shaped leaves, which start off bright green but turn into a kaleidoscope of autumn colours later. It is found in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

TREE Mopane_Worm_by_Arne_LarsenThe tree is host for the Mopane Worm which is an important supply of nutritional needs to many people around Africa. The wood is also widely used in furniture and fencing.

The SAUSAGE TREE has blood-red to maroon flowers that hang in long clusters. Many smaller animals and birds feed on them. The mature fruits dangle from the long stalks like giant sausages. They may be up to 0.6 m (2 feet) long and weigh up to 6.8 kg (15 pounds).

CaTREE Sausage_treenoes made from the trunks and large roots have been used for thousands of years in the Okavango River Delta in Botswana. The skin of the sausage is ground to a pulp and used externally for medicine, especially in the treatments of skin cancers. The Sausage Tree is found across Sub Saharan Africa to the northern reaches of South Africa.

Tree Tamboti seeds

The TAMBOTI TREE has flowers which develop pea sized seeds in three-lobed capsules. When these mature, they fall to the ground. Bystanders may hear a distinctive rustling among the debris at the foot of the tree, and if they look closely they will see some fluttering, due to some of the seeds jumping. Inside the seeds are small larvae which contort, causing the capsules to jump.

The Tamboti is found in the South African Lowveld and Swaziland. A poisonous latex exuded by the underbark of the tree is used as a poison in fishing and on arrow headsTREE Umbrella_thorn_acacia_or_israeli_babool_tree_plant_acacia_tortillis

The UMBRELLA THORN produces a large number of pods that fall to the ground unopened. They are eaten with relish by such animals as Kudu, Impala, Rhino and Elephant. In this way, the seeds are dispersed for propagation after passing through an animal’s stomach.

The timber is used for fenceposts, firewood, furniture, and wagonwheels. The bark is used for string in Tanganyika. The pods and leaves are high in nutrition and are browsed by game and livestock. This tree can be found in Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland, and across South Africa.

 Tree Knob Thorn_Pretoria_NBT

The KNOB THORN TREE grows 5-18 metres (16 – 59 feet) in height and is fire-resistant. The name refers to the characteristic thorns, which are knobbed. The scented flowers come in spikes about 100 mm (4 inches) long.

Elephant eat the branches, leaves and shoots, Kudu browse the leaves and shoots and Giraffe, Monkey and Baboon eat the flowers. The trees are used by nesting bird species. So it is a well-used tree, with a wide distribution, found in the drier parts of southern Africa as far north as Tanzania.

Tree Moringa BottleaThe BOTTLE TREE OF NAMIBIA is one of the most deadly trees on Earth. The milky sap is extremely toxic and bushmen used it as arrow poison in the past. It gets its name from the shape of its stem and usually grows in mountainous regions in the deserts of Namibia. The Bottle tree’s flowers are usually pink or white and dark red towards the center.

tREE Bottlebrush2

The NATAL BOTTLE BRUSH TREE is a small tree found in the mountains of eastern South Africa. The plant drops some of its leaves in winter, and the flowers emerge later.

The bottlebrush-shaped clusters are very large, measuring up to 15 cms (6 inches), and comprise dozens of 5-petaled flowers.  These brilliant scarlet blooms attract many types of birds and insects.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners . . . He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Psalms 1:1a,3