Facts about Trees in South Africa

Facts about the Trees in South Africa 

South Africa is home to more than 1 700 indigenous species of trees and shrubs, some of which are threatened because of their rarity as well as the pressure of commercial and subsistence use.


Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata)

Buffalo Thorn, Ziziphus mucronata, Blink-blaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (the translation from Afrikaans would be “shiny-leaf wait-a-bit”), umLahlabantu (Zulu). This tree represents life as we know it as the young twigs are zigzagged, indicating that life is not straight forward. The tree has two thorn shapes, one straight and one hooked. The straight thorn indicates where we are going and the hooked where we have come from. Historically the Zulus planted a Buffalo Thorn on the grave of a deceased Chief as a symbol of where the Chief was buried thus the Zulu name umLahlabantu meaning “that which buries the Chief”. Even today a branch from the Buffalo Thorn is used to retrieve the spirit of a deceased person from the where he died.  http://pza.sanbi.org/ziziphus-mucronata

trees south africa


 Magic Guarri (Euclea divinorum)

The magic guarri is a useful medicinal plant. Although not very tasty to humans, its fruit is enjoyed by birds. The tree is also said to have supernatural powers – it can bring luck to your home. Genus name Euclea is from the Greek word ‘eukleia’, meaning ‘of good report’ or ‘famous’, referring to the fine ebony-like wood of some species. The specific name divinorum is in reference to the plant’s use by medicine diviners or sangomas in parts of Africa. Magic guarri is sometimes colloquially called ´the toothbrush tree´as an effective toothbrush can be fashioned from the young twigs. http://pza.sanbi.org/euclea-divinorum

trees south africa


Red Bushwillow (Combretum apiculatum)

Combretum apiculatum subsp. apiculatum is an attractive, deciduous, small to medium-sized tree which occurs in various savanna regions, often at low altitudes and in rocky areas, on well-drained soil. The red bush willow is a valuable fodder tree for browsing animals; mature green leaves are eaten by kudu, bushbuck, eland, giraffe and elephant. The wood is very hard, making it resistant to both borers and termites; it provides useful fencing poles and makes good firewood but as the pieces are not large, they can only be used to make small items of furniture. The bark is used for tanning leather. Medicinally, a decoction of the leaves has been used as a steam bath and as an enema to relieve stomach disorders. As treatment for conjunctivitis, an ash from the burnt stem is mixed with white clay and water and the resulting paste is spread over the face. http://pza.sanbi.org/combretum-apiculatum-subsp-apiculatum

trees south africa


Russet Bushwillow (Combretum heroense)

Bushwillows are often an important component of savanna habitats in Africa. Their flowers contain nectar and pollen that is food for a variety of insects, birds and mammals. The seeds are light in weight and have 4 papery wings. Ripe fruits are carried away from the parent tree by wind. The wood is used as supports in mines, and to make pick and hoe handles. Straight branches are used to make kieries (walking sticks). The leaves are used to prepare an infusion against coughs. They are cooked in water and drunk three times per day. The roots provide a remedy for stomach pain. About half-a-finger thick up to an arm thick roots, are dug out and the brown skin of the roots is scraped away. The cleaned roots are then put into a pot with water. The water is only slightly heated by putting the pot next to the fire and a cup of the liquid is drunk three times per day until the patient feels better. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/340062-Combretum-hereroense

trees south africa


Knob Thorn (Acacia nigrescens)

Although the Knob-thorn is very thorny, it is a highly nutritious tree, with the thorns merely limiting the amount of time animals feed on it.Animals such as kudu, elephant and giraffe browse the leaves, baboons and vervet monkeys eat the flowers and pods. Besides the leaves, elephants also eat the roots and inner bark.  It is known that elephants sometimes feed on the bark for its natural healing properties in fighting tooth decay. Unfortunately, in pulling this toothache remedy off the tree, the elephants sometimes ring-bark the tree, which may eventually kill the Knob-thorn. Should these trees be pushed over by elephants they will seldom re-grow. Giraffes have a very unique relationship with this acacia species – it is believed that they pollinate the trees. http://pza.sanbi.org/senegalia-nigrescens

trees south africa


Fever Tree (Vachellia xanthophloea)

The genus name Vachellia is named a after George Harvey Vachell (1789 – 1839), chaplain to the British East India Company in Macoa, who collected plants in China. The species name xanthophloea is derived from the greek words xanthos meaning yellow andphloios meaning bark. Early pioneers thought that this tree caused a fever since people travelling or living in the areas where it grew contracted a badfever. They therefore associated the fever with the tree. This however was erroneous as the swampy places where fever trees grow are also ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which carry malaria. Thus through these early settlers the myth was born and the plant acquired its name as the fever tree. This tree is popular amongst birds for nest building as the thorns add extra protection against predators such as snakes. Young branches and leaves are eaten by elephant and the leaves and pods are eaten by giraffe and vervet monkeys. http://pza.sanbi.org/vachellia-xanthophloea

trees south africa


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