Trees of Africa
This tree can be found in Polynesia, Madagascar, Japan, Australia, Central America and Southern Africa. These primitive woody plants are very popular in Southern African parks and gardens. They are commonly referred to as living fossils. Cycads are believed to have reached their evolutionary climax 200 million years ago. There is no evidence that they have evolved since this time. There are a great many cycad fossils. There are some living cycads that are over a thousand years old. They are very slow growing so plant it somewhere where it won’t be disturbed. These are extraordinary plants and make a beautiful addition to any Southern African garden.
Acacia are trees with very light delicate foliage, distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Many of them have tough spines or thorns on their branches or twigs. There are more than 750 species of the acacia. The acacia is remarkable for the products that it provides for industry, medicine and trade. Among these perhaps the most important is cutch which is an extract of any of several species of Acacia—but especially Acacia catechu—produced by boiling the wood in water and evaporating the resulting brew.Catechu (called katha in Hindi) is an astringent and has been used since ancient times in Ayurvedic medicine as well as in breath-freshening spice mixtures.
African Wattle (Peltophorum africanum)
The African Wattle is a medium sized semi-deciduous to deciduous tree occurring in the bushveld. It grows up to 15 meters (50ft) tall. The leaves and pods are browsed by Kudu, Impala, and Duiker. The timber is highly prized for use in furniture. The mass of yellow flowers attracts insects and bees. These insects in turn attract insect eating birds. It occurs in open woodland from Zaire in the north to Kwazulu-Natal in the south, on well drained soils. It flowers from October to March.The powdered desiccated root is applied to wounds to hasten healing. Toothache is relieved by passing the steam from boiled leaves over teeth; this steam can also be used to treat sore eyes. Colic can be relieved by chewing the bark. Stomach disorders and intestinal parasites are relieved by taking an infusion made from the root. Diarrhea can be relieved by a decoction of powdered stem and root bark.
Baobab or Monkey bread tree (Adansonia)
The Baobab contains eight species of trees, six native to Madagascar, one native to Africa and another found in Australia. The mainland African species also occurs on Madagascar, but it is not a native of that country.The species reach heights of 5–30 m (16-100 feet) and trunk diameters of 7-11 m (22-36 feet). A specimen in Limpopo Province, South Africa, often considered the largest baobab tree alive, has a circumference of 50 m (164 feet) and an average diameter of 15 m (50 ft).Some baobabs are reputed to be many thousands of years old, which is difficult to verify as the wood does not produce annual growth rings, though radiocarbon dating may be able to provide age data.Baobabs store water inside the swollen trunk (up to 120,000 liters or 32,000 US gallons) to endure the harsh drought conditions particular to each region. All occur in seasonally arid areas, and shed their leaves during the dry season. The leaves are commonly used as a leaf vegetable throughout the area of mainland African distribution, including Malawi, Zimbabwe, and the Sahel. They are eaten both fresh and as a dry powder. In Nigeria, the leaves are locally known as kuka, and are used to make kuka soup.The fruit is nutritious, possibly having more vitamin C than oranges and exceeding the calcium content of cow’s milk. It is also known as “sour gourd” or “monkey’s bread”. The dry pulp of the fruit, after separation from the seeds and fibers, is eaten directly or mixed into porridge or milk. In Malawi, the fruit pulp is used to make a juice rich in nutrients. The fruit was once used in the production of tartar sauce. In various parts of East Africa, the dry fruit pulp is covered in a sugary coating (usually with red colouring) and sold in packages as a sweet and sour candy called “boonya” or “bungha”.
The history of the marula tree goes back thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows the marula tree was a source of nutrition as long ago as 10,000 years B.C. Marula, Scelerocarya birrea, subspecies caffera, is one of Africa’s botanical treasures. In the Pomongwe Cave in Zimbabwe, it is estimated that 24 million marula fruits were eaten. Not only the fruit but also the nut is rich in minerals and vitamins. Legends abound on the multiple uses of the tree, the bark, the leaves, fruit, nut and kernels. Well known as the fruit that ‘drives elephants mad’ when they drop to the ground and are eaten in their fermented state, marula is a much-loved tree in the veld in Africa. It was a dietary mainstay in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia throughout ancient times. It is a deciduous tree growing up to 18m tall (60 ft), found on various types of woodlands and sandy loam soils. The marula can be found from Ethiopia to Kwazulu-Natal. It produces flowers from September to November and bears fruit from January to March. The fruits are edible and very high in vitamin C. Warthog, elephant, Waterbuck, giraffe and kudu all eat the fruit and leaves of this tree. The marula has many uses for man also: The skin of the fruit can be boiled to make a drink or burnt to be used as a substitute for coffee; the wood is soft and used for carving; the inner bark can be used to make rope; large Saturniid Caterpillars are gathered from this tree for roasting as well as the larvae of the Cerambycid Wood Boring Beetle. Inside the flesh are one or two very small tasty nuts which are rich in protein; the oil is used as a skin cosmetic and the green leaves can be eaten to relieve heartburn. The bark contains antihistamines and is also used for cleansing by steeping in boiling water and inhaling the steam. A piece of bark is crushed into a pulp, mixed with cold water and swallowed in the treatment of dysentery and diarrhea. The bark also is used as a malaria prophylactic. Marula trees are dioecious, which means they have a specific sex. This fact contributes to the belief among the Venda (African tribe), that bark infusions can be used to determine the sex of an unborn child. If a woman wants a son the male tree is used, and for a daughter, the female tree. If the child of the opposite sex is born, the child is said to be very special as it was able to defy the spirits.
The sausage tree
The sausage tree of sub-Saharan Africa is beautiful in flower. The blood-red flowers of the South African sausage tree bloom at night on long, ropelike stalks that hang down from the limbs of this tropical tree. The fragrance of the flower is not pleasing to humans but attracts the dwarf epauleted bat and other pollinators, like insects and the sunbird. As the flowers drop from the tree, animals come to feed on the nectar-rich blooms. Impala, duiker, baboons, bush pigs, and lovebirds all feed on the flowers of the Sausage tree. The mature fruits dangle from the long flower stalks like giant sausages. They may be up to 0.6 m (2 feet) long and weigh up to 6.8 kg (15 pounds). The rind of the fruit is used to aid the fermentation of local brews. The pods are kept as religious charms and fetishes, and produce a red dye when boiled. Ointment is made from the fruit and is used to treat skin conditions.The trunks and massive roots of the sausage tree are used to make dug-out canoes called Mekoro. These canoes have been used for thousands of years as transportation in the Okavango River delta in Botswana.
The ‘sausages’ cannot be eaten but the skin is ground to a pulp and used externally for medicine. Its most important use is for the cure of skin ailments especially skin cancers. The fruit is burnt to ashes and pounded with a mortar and pestle with oil and water to make a paste to apply to the skin.
Wild Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata)
The Wild Date palm has feather-shaped leaves. This evergreen palm does not grow much more than 6m (20 ft) in height and often occurs in dense stands, with one or more curving stems rising above the rest. It has dark brown to dark grey bark. Leaves are 3-4m (10-13 feet) long, are Feather-like with up to 50 leaflets per side. They are dark green, smooth and glossy. Flowers are inflorescence borne on axils of young leaves near the apex of the stem. Male and female are on separate plants. The fruits are small (2,3 x 1,4cm [7-4 ft]) and borne in large pendant clusters. Fruit pulp is fairly fleshy, yellow when young and brown at maturity with one seed inside. This species thrives only where a permanent high water-table exists as is the case in a swamp; which accounts for its absence in dry land areas. The Wild Date Palm, being water-dependant, is often an indication of an earlier permanent water flow in a particular area, even if there is no water visible at the time.
Jackalberry (Diospyros mespiliformis)
The Jackalberry can grow very tall, up to 25 m (80 feet) with a trunk circumference of 5m (16 feet). The average tree only reaches heights of 4-5 m (15 to 18 feet). The trunks grow straight and high, with the first spreading branches growing far above the ground. The mature trunks from older and heavier trees have fluted, flattened ridges along the trunk which strengthen them.
The bark is dark brown when young, turning dark grey as the tree matures, with a rough texture, forming deep horizontal grooves. They have a dense dark green spreading crown. Older leaves have a glossy, leathery look, darker green above and a lighter green below.
Young leaves and twigs are covered with downy hairs. While they are young the trees don’t lose their leaves, but as the tree gets older it will shed its leaves in early spring. New leaves will grow from June to October and are pinkish, orange or reddish or even close to black in colour. The Jackalberry tree is part of the Ebenaceae family, and is also known as African ebony.
Jackalberry flowers are small and inconspicuous. The fragrant, white to pale cream hairy flowers are separate genders, growing on different trees. The females grow individually on a hairy stalk while the males grow in clusters. The fruit only grows on female trees.
The fruit of the Jackalberry tree is a favourite of many animals. The fleshy fruit is oval, almost round in shape and about 1 inch in diameter and yellow or yellow-green in colour. Two to six wrinkled seeds can be found inside the fruit. The skin is tough but the edible fruit has a chalky, floury consistency with a lemon-sweet flavour. They can be eaten fresh or preserved. They are also dried and ground into flour. A beer and brandy can be brewed from the fruit.
When the Jackalberry fruit is fully ripe it turns purple, but one hardly ever sees it this colour since it is usually eaten by various animals long before it can get that ripe. Animals such as elephant, rhino, giraffe, buffalo, kudu, nyala, impala, warthog, baboon and the hornbill to name a few, love to eat the fruit of the Jackalberry. It is also eaten by the jackal, which is where it gets its name, as the seeds were often found in the dung of jackals. The larvae of the bushveld emperor butterfly also eat the leaves of this tree.