Courtesy of vil.sandi/Flickr
African Tree: Baobab (Adansonia Digitata)
Other names include Boab, Boaboa, Tabaldi, Bottle tree, Upside-down tree and monkey bread tree. These trees hold somewhat of an iconic status in Africa – especially Madagascar, where 6 indigenous species belong to that island alone – which have a characteristic look about them where they look like they are growing upside down, with the roots at the top which are actually its branches. The trees are known for their fire-resistant bark and have a remarkable drought resistance. These giants grow up to 30 metres high, and carbon dating shows they may live up to 3,000 years old. Their width is so great that one particular tree found in Zimbabwe was so large it could fit up to 40 people in its trunk. Infact, some extraordinary uses for Baobab trees have been shops, prisons, houses, barns and even a bus shelter! But it’s not just the height, width and special shape that make this such a unique tree: Its trunk and bark are incredibly smooth to the touch – unlike the bark of other trees – and the colour is usually that of a pinkish grey or copper colour. The trees are extremely difficult to kill: Even if burnt or stripped of their bark, they regenerate at amazing speed and will continue to grow. When they do die of natural causes and old age, they rot from the inside and will collapse suddenly, leaving a heap of fibres, which has lead to the belief by many people that the soul of the tree doesn’t die at all, it just simply disappears and moves on. Older Baobab trees are vital for creating ecosystems around them: From large mammals to thousands of reptiles, birds and insects that scurry around its crevices. Baboons in particular enjoy the fruit it provides, fruit bats drink its nectar and pollinate its flowers, while elephants have been known to manage to chop down a whole tree and consume it. Baby Baobab trees look very different to their adult forms and is a reason why the Bushmen believe that it doesn’t grow like other trees: They believe instead that it suddenly crashes to the ground fully grown and then one day simply disappears like magic. This is why they are known amongst many such cultures as “magic trees”. Baobab fruit can grow up to a foot long and contain tartaric acid, vitamin C and can be soaked in water to make a refreshing drink. They are also sometimes roasted and ground up to make a coffee-like drink. The bark of the tree is pounded to make rope, mats, baskets paper and cloth, while the leaves can be boiled and eaten, while glue can be made from pollen. The leaves are used medicinally to treat kidney and bladder diseases.
Courtesy of Malcolm Manners/Flickr
African Tree: Wild Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata)
The Wild Date Palm grows to around 6 metres in height. The bark is dark brown to dark grey in colour, and the leaves are rough and scarred, being 3-4 metres long. Basal leaflets are spiny and the others are dark green, smooth and glossy. The flowers grow amongst the axils of the young leaves near the apex of the stem. Male and female are on separate plants. Male florets are caduceus and pale dirty yellow. Female florets are small and yellow-green in colour. The fruits are small (approximately 2,3×1,4cm in dimensions) and grow in clusters. The fruit pulp is fleshy and yellow when young, and brown when mature, with only one seed inside. They are found only where a high water-table exists as is the case in the swamp, which is why it is absent from dry areas. Being such a water-dependent tree, is often an indicator of where earlier areas had permanent water flow, even if the area seems arid at the time. Wild Date Palms contribute to areas of biodiversity because mammals, birds and humans all treasure the heart of the tree which is used as a vegetable. In Botswana and South Africa the plants are tapped for sap which is used to make palm wine. This is done prior to the flowering of the plant.
Courtesy of Rod Waddington/Flickr
African Tree: Sausage Tree (Kigelia Africana)
The amusingly named ‘sausage tree’ is named such for obviously reasons when you take your first glimpse of it; Its fruits weigh in at 5 to 10 kilos a piece, are light brown and bear a striking resemblance to sausages. These fruits are so heavy – however – that they can be quite dangerous if unwary people park their cars underneath, as they can turn into projectiles when they fall that can cause some serious damage! However, this fruit is also a favourite with all sorts of wildlife, from baboons and bush pigs, to hippos and elephants (who spread the seeds of the tree via their dung). Humans use the fruit in a different way: Medicinally for stomach ailments, while others ferment it to make a traditional African home brew. The flowers of the sausage tree are beautiful in their own right, being a red maroon colour, that hang in long twines, thought the smell is a little repugnant to humans. Animals however – such as the fruit bat – find it much more attractive, and are one of its main pollinators. As the flower eventually drops from the tree, animals come to feed on the nectar rich blooms. Animals such as Impala, duiker, baboons and lovebirds all feed on the flower. It is out of these flowers the ‘sausage’ like fruits grow from for months. Interestingly, the red flowers of the tree only bloom at night on long, rope like stalks. The pods of the fruit produce a red dye when boiled, whilst ointment is made from the fruit and is used to treat skin conditions. Meyer parrots enjoy eating the seeds. But one of the most interesting uses of the tree are Mekoro: These are dug-out canoes made from the tree trunks and large roots, and have been used for thousands of years as transportation in the Okavango River delta in Botswana.
Courtesy of Steven Tan/Flickr
African Tree: Marula Tree (Sclerocarya Birrea)
The Marula Tree is indigenous to southern Africa and is perhaps best known for its sweet, yellow fruit. Local legend had it that the fruit becomes “elephant alcohol” once it’s fallen to the ground and naturally ferments. The fruit of the Amarula is now the world’s second best selling cream liqueur in the world, but traditionally it has been used throughout the ages as a natural malaria cure to an insecticide, as well as a food source, especially in the summer months, when the branches are often covered in colourful mopan worms, themselves being an important source of protein for millions of people in southern Africa. The fruit and its nut are rich in vitamins and minerals, and have been eaten as a source of food for over 12,000 years. The tree itself can grow up to heights of 18 metres, and they grow on sandy soils in various types of woodland areas. The skin of the fruit can be boiled to make a drink or burnt to be used as substitute for coffee. The wood is soft and suitable for carving, whilst the inner rope can be used to make rope. The bark can also be used to make a light brown dye. For acid reflux sufferers, the green leaves have been used for thousands of years as relief for this ailment. The bark contains antihistamines and is used as a malaria prophylactic. Marula fruit can also be used to make delicious jams and juices.
Courtesy of lwh50/Flickr
African Tree: Jackalberry, African Ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis)
The Jackalberry can grow to staggering heights – up to 80 feet – with a trunk with a circumference of 16 feet. The trunks grow straight and high, with its first branches growing far above the ground. Mature trunks from older trees tend to have flattened ridges along the trunk which serves to strengthen them. When a juvenile, the tree’s bark is dark brown, but it tends to turn grey as the tree gets older and matures, with a rougher texture and deep horizontal grooves. Jackalberry flowers are small, though fragrant, and are white to pale cream in colour. Different genders grow on different trees. Females grow individually while males grow in clusters. The fruit of the tree only grows on female trees. It is a favourite of many animals. A fleshy fruit, round in shape and 1 inch in diameter, and yellow and yellow-green in colour. The fruit is edible, with a chalky, floury texture but a lemon sweet flavour. They are typically dried and ground into flour, or a beer and brandy is also brewed from them. When fully ripe, the fruit turns purple, but to see it in this colour is a rare occurrence, because by this time it is usually eaten by animals long before it can reach this ripened stage! Animals such as Nyalas, impalas, warthogs, baboons and hornbills in particular love the fruit. The name Jackalberry actually comes from the fact that seeds are found in the dung of jackals, but the leaves are also eaten by elephants, rhinos, giraffes, buffaloes and kudus. The trunk of the tree is good for making high quality furniture and canoes. Tannin is contained in the leaves, bark and roots of the tree, which acts as an astringent to stop bleeding. The tree is also said to contain antibiotic substances that can help heal infections. A mixture made from roots is used against parasites such as ringworm, and for dysentery and fever. The seeds are simply eaten as nuts. The Jackalberry Tree is found throughout much of Africa, from Senegal to Namibia. They are commonly found on savannas where they can be found to be growing on termite mounds. Jackalberry has the advantage of berry virtually termite resistant when it is chopped down and utilised.
Courtesy of Bernard DUPONT/Flickr
African Tree: Lala Palm Tree (Hyphaene Coriacea)
Known in Africa as Molala, these large palm trees grow from 5 to 7 metres high, but can sometimes reach a staggering 15 metres in height. Found across Africa in low-altitude bush land and coastal bush, the leaves are fan shaped and greyish-green in colour. The fruit it produces are tennis ball size, that goes through the ripening process from green, through orange to glossy dark brown. A thin layer of sweet-tasting, ginger-flavoured, spongy fibrous pulp surrounds the seed. Fruits are produced in large quantities, up to 2000 per tree, each taking two years to mature and up to two further years to fall. The fruits change slightly according to the location, but are generally identifiable by being green to pale orange at first, because becoming more and more brown with age. They are irregularly pear-shaped and have a diameter of about 60-80mm, with a very fruity aroma. Inside, an edible spongy pulp surrounds the singular seed. The fruit takes about 2 years before it falls from the plant. They are most commonly dispersed by monkeys, elephants and baboons. The milk found inside the young fruit is similar to coconut milk in taste and its colour. Elephants are huge fans of the newly formed leaves of the tree, which are crispy at their base and have a satisfying coconut flavour. The crown-heart is eaten as a type of vegetable and is known in Botswana as ‘gau’. The pulp is also palatable and eaten in particular by baboons and elephants: It resembles gingerbread and humans extract the pulp by breaking the hard exocarp with sticks. Pam Swifts are a bird associated strongly with this tree, as they often nest in a vertical position underneath the leaves. They have evolved a method for preventing the eggs from falling by gluing them in place with saliva. Lala Palm trees are found across Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, and Namibia.
Courtesy of Adam Mosley/unsplash.com
African Tree: Knob Thorn (Acacia Nigrescens)
Growing to an impressive 15 metres tall, the Knob Thorn is found in the drier climates of Africa: The furthest north is generally Tanzania, and the furthest south is the Kruger National Park in South Africa. It enjoys sandy and deep soils. The tree is known for being fire-resistant – which is particularly useful for the dry climates it lives in. The name comes from its characteristic thorns, which are found all along the trunks and branches, and the trees are usually leafless throughout winter and spring. The flowering of the tree is quite erratic, and occurs anytime between August and November. The flowers themselves are scented but also covered in thorny spikes about 10cms long. In the budding stage, the flowers are reddish-brown in colour, but turn white when fully open. The fruit is a pod about 10cm long, and 2cm broad. The fruits are particular enjoyed by Giraffe – which explains why the tree is sometimes referred to as the “Giraffe tree”. The elephants enjoy the branches, leaves and shoots, whilst the Monkey and Baboon eat the flowers. The trees are used by species of bird that prefer to hole nest. The wood is the tree is hard and termite-resistant, thus it has been used in the past to make mining props and posts. The tree is also drought resistant as well as being fire resistant. It is an extremely hard timber which is very durable, but is not often used in furniture making: Instead – due to its impact toughness, it is ideal for Parquet flooring material.
Courtesy of Tatters/Flickr
African Tree: Weeping Boer Bean (Schotia Brachypetala)
Found in lower altitudes from South Africa’s Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu-Natal, and into Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the Weeping Boer’s name is thought to come from its beautiful flowers, that produce copious amounts of nectar, which over flows and ‘weeps’ from the flowers. The tree can grow to impressive heights of 22 metres, but average out at about 15 metres. The bark is rough and coloured grey-brown. The foliage is reddish to coppery when young and changes to a glossy green when mature. It can grow in areas with frost, but in this case with lose its leaves for a short period from winter to spring. In frost-free areas the tree is an evergreen. The flowers are a deep red and are produced in masses, making this tree particularly beautiful. The flowering time can be unusual: Some trees can be in bloom when no other tree – even only metres away – will have absolutely no sign of flowers at all. The fruit is a hard, flattened, woody, dark brown pod with contains flat, pale brown seeds 2cm in diameter. The pods split on the tree and mature in late summer. The tree attracts a wide variety of birds, animals and insects and is rich in biodiversity while in its flowering stage. Nectar-feeding birds, bees and insects love to feed on its nectar, whilst insect-eating birds naturally flock to eat the insects that are attracted by the flowers. It is an exceptional ornamental tree, but has a number of other uses: The bark can be used for heart burn and hangovers, while bark-root mixtures can be mixed together to strengthen the body and purify the blood. The seeds are edible after they have been roasted, and have a high carbohydrate content. The mature pods were roasted by the Bantu-speaking people, who taught European settlers how to do this in turn. The bark can be used for dyeing, which gives a red-brown or dark red colour. The timber is good quality, good for furniture making. The heartwood is termite-resistant, hard, and is used in furniture and flooring blocks, as all types of wagon wood and beaming.
Courtesy of loraineltai/Flickr
African Tree: Nara Plant (Acanthosicyos Horridus)
Forming clumps of vegetation in the sand dunes of Walvis Bay, Namibia, it seeks deep water tables with it’s roots, in an otherwise arid, desert habitat. It is a small tree at a height of only 1.5 metres, and the plants are totally leafless, but they have oblong spherical fruits that reach 25cm in diameter, which are a welcome source of sustenance in the otherwise barren arid environment of Namibia’s deserts for the local Bushmen. The plants are remarkable in that they are able to build up sand deposits around themselves and yet continuously grow to always be above these sand deposits. New plants establish only when rain falls and they quickly form deeply growing roots that seek the deep water table. The fruit treasured by the Bushmen are spiny, and mature between February and April. The flesh surrounding the seeds turn orange despite the skin remaining the same colour of green throughout it’s lifespan. The flesh is extremely sweet in taste and is strongly aromatic. The Bushmen use the fruits for two main purposes. The first is the extraction of the seed which are then consumed by splitting in the mouth. The second is for processing the pulp, where the tasty flesh is boiled to form a fruit leather. This leather can be eaten throughout the year and will not spoil. Animals such as jackals and rodents will also eat the fruit when it is immature who don’t seem to care about the bitter taste of the unripe fruit.
Courtesy of Bernard DUPONT/Flickr
African Tree: Buffalo Thorn (Zizphus Mucronata)
This tree is found truly all over Africa, from Arabia to the Western Cape in South Africa. Growing up to 17 metres tall, it’s a fast-growing, deciduous drought and frost resistant tree. The bark is rough and the colour grey brown. It produces flowers that are silvery green in colour, found in dense bunches, which tend to bloom from February to August. The thorns are found in pairs on branches, one thorn being straight with the other hooked. In some cases, it has been known for adult trees to loose their thorns completely. The flowers attract numerous species of insects and birds, which eat the large red berries it produces. It makes a good perimeter barrier as its thorns are strong and profuse when young and difficult to untangle oneself from due to one pointing forward and the other back on each branch! Indeed, the thorny branches themselves are used for protection of cattle kraal and sometimes as perimeter protectors of the grave yards of dead tribal ancestors. The wood of the tree is used mainly for fuel, while the bark and roots are used medicinally for pain relief and respiratory complaints, as well as stomach disorders. The leaves – when crushed – are traditionally used to stop bleeding. Certain tribes believe the tree is safe to use as shelter against lightning in storms!