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Top 5 Indigenous Trees for a deciduous Thorny Barrier

Dichrostachys cinerea

(Sickle Bush)

This is a small deciduous tree which is water wise and grows to 5 metes, happily in the sun. The pink/yellow flowers are fragrant and appear in spring and resemble a ballerina with a pink skirt and yellow legs. The name Dichrostachys means two coloured spikes. The Shona name, Mapangara means 'the tree that provides tassels for the chief's hat'. In Botswana it is called 'the Kalahari Christmas tree'. The fine foliage resembles that of the Umbrella Thorn, The tightly twisted pods also resemble those of the Umbrella Thorn.The leaves and pods are eaten by Rhino, Monkeys, Giraffe, Bushpig, Impala, Nyala, Kudu, Elephant and Buffalo so it's great for a game farm. It makes a great thorny, security barrier but the spines are lethal to tyres. Durable hard wood is used for termite resistant fencing posts, and firewood which burns slowly. The inner bark is tough and pliable and is used to make twine and strong rope. All parts of this tree are used medicinally. The leaves are used for sore eyes, wound cleaning, headaches and toothache while the roots are chewed and placed on snake bites and scorpion stings. This is useful to know when one is hiking in the bush.The root is considered to be a pain killer and is used after giving birth. This tree is used for urinary problems, eye wash, catarrh, bronchitis, pneumonia, a purgative, sore throat, VD, syphilis and an aphrodisiac. It is drunk as a tea or used topically. The dried leaves and roots are burnt and the smoke is inhaled to relieve chest complaints and a blocked nose.It is drought resistant and a good bonsai subject. It attracts many insects and therefore the insect eating birds. It is anti-witchcraft and is planted at the homestead as a protective charm. A medicine horn filled with dried parts is used to protect one from snake bite. The roots are non aggressive. This is the larval host plant for the Satyr Emperor and Topaz Blue butterflies and 3 moth species. The name is derived from the Greek 'dis'=two and 'chroos'=colour and 'stachys'= spike referring to the bicoloured flower.

Ehretia rigida

(Puzzle Bush)

This deciduous tree/shrub is frost resistant, drought resistant and fast growing in the sun or semi-shade. It is usually multi-stemmed with tangled branches which give rise to its common name. It produces masses of fragrant, lilac flowers in spring. They attract bees, flies, beetles, wasps and butterflies. These are followed by edible orange berries which ripen to black and they attract birds – insect and fruit eaters like Crested francolin, Guinea fowl, Hornbill, Barbets, Bulbuls and Starlings as well as humans and wild animals. It makes a wonderful nesting site for birds and is browsed by game. It is useful for formal pruned hedging, informal hedging/screening or thorny security barriers. The branches are used for bows and fishing baskets as they are flexible. It has medicinal properties to treat cuts, relieve pain and gall sickness in cattle. The magical uses are a good luck charm on hunting expeditions, rain making ceremonies and protection for huts and crops from hail damage. The Afrikaans common name of “deurmekaarbos” is very descriptive. The wood is hard and is used for stampers. Named for George Ehret (1708-1770) a German botanical artist. His unique style and clarity of illustration drew the attention of people like Sir Joseph Banks. Over 3000 of his illustration survive in private collections and Natural History Museums.

Senegalia ataxacantha (Acacia ataxacantha)

(Flame Thorn)

A small, deciduous tree which is frost resistant, water wise and fast growing in the sun. In summer it is covered in white flowers which attracts insect eating birds and is often used for nesting sites. It makes a great thorny, security barrier. The beautiful red pods give rise to the common name of Flame Thorn. The wood is flexible when split into strips and these are used to weave baskets. It is the larval host plant for butterflies like the Black-striped Hairtail, the Satyr Emperor and the Club-tailed Emperor.

Vachellia karroo (Acacia karroo)

(Sweet Thorn)

Previously known as Acacia karroo. This very popular deciduous tree is frost resistant, water wise and fast growing in the sun or semi-shade. The bright yellow flowers occur in spring and they are honey scented which attracts insects and they attract insect eating birds. It is favoured by honey farmers. It is also a popular tree for nesting sites. The leaves are eaten by mammals, bush babies, rhino, giraffe, eland, kudu, sable, gemsbok, impala, springbok, nyala, and monkeys. I once watched vervet monkeys carefully picking the top 4 leaves off of the branches which could be a prickly affair. They also eat the flowers. The Xhosa use the leaves to feed their goats. This is a useful tree for thorny, security barriers but do remember that it does have aggressive roots so allow 7 meters from a building or a pool. There are a host of medicinal properties using all parts of the tree. The roots are used for infant colic. The gum is used to draw abscesses, splinters and to treat thrush and is also eaten by people, bushbabies and monkeys. It was once exported as Cape Gum. It was also used as glue. Ground bark is used for stomach ache and ailments as a result of sorcery. The thorns are used for heart pains and magical purposes. Crushed roots are mixed with food to treat infant colic. The roots are used to treat body pains, dizziness, convulsions and VD, It is also used as an aphrodisiac. Parts of the tree are also used to kill parasites in fowl runs. The bark is used to tan leather red and it makes strong twine. It makes excellent firewood. The seeds are a coffee substitute. The wood is hard and is used for building, furniture and fuel. Simon van der Stel wrote of the Sweet Thorns in Namaqualand 'These trees are never found except where surface or underground streams run. ' It indicates fertile soil and good grazing. It is useful in a garden as the roots fix nitrogen in the soil. It is the larval host for many butterflies like the Common Hairtail, Black-striped Hairtail, Otacilia Hairtail, Talbot's Hairtail, Black Heart Common Scarlet, Natal-spotted Blue, Thorn - tree Blue, Topaz-spotted Blue, Silver-spotted Grey and the Burnished Opal. This is a popular bonsai subject. Named for Rev George Harvey Vachel (1798-1839) a British priest and plant collector. He was chaplain to the British East India company in China where he collected plants.

Ziziphus mucronata

(Buffalo Thorn)

This medium sized, deciduous tree is frost resistant, drought resistant and grows in the sun. It is protected in the Free State. It has non aggressive roots, so you can plant it 4 meters from a building or a pool. This is a great bird garden tree as it attracts the insect, fruit and nectar eaters as well as being used for nesting sites. It is the larval host plant for the Black Pie, Dotted Blue, Hinza Blue and the White Pie butterflies. Useful if used as an informal hedge/screen or as a thorny security barrier. Game farmers need to plant this important fodder tree as it is browsed by giraffe, eland, kudu, sable, wildebeest, nyala, impala, klipspringer, springbok, grysbok, steenbok, dik-dik and warthog while the fruit is eaten by baboons, monkeys and warthog. The fruit is highly nutritious and are also enjoyed by guineafowl, francolins, parrots, louries and coucal. The raw fruit is edible, or it can be cooked into a porridge or roasted and used as a coffee substitute. It is also used to brew beer. Their nutritious leaves are cooked as spinach and the wood is useful for fuel, hammer handles, and spoons. Saplings are made into whips by removing the bark from the sapling.It is an important medicinal tree as the bark infusions are used for a cough,respiratory ailments and to purify the complexion. Root decoctions are used for pain, toothache, infertility, purification and lumbago. Leaves and shoots are used as a gargle for measles and scarlet fever. The flowers are used as a fish poison. It has many magical uses as the trees are said to ward off lightening and those sitting under a tree during a lightening storm will be safe. Branches are placed on the graves of chiefs to protect them. The branches are also used for cattle kraals and in rituals to return the spirit of the dead to their hometown. The wood is used to carve bowls and spoons and the thin branches are used for fencing posts, roof struts, grain mortars and gates. The zig zag shaped young branches epitomize one’s path through life which is both good and bad. The leaves are 3 veined to remind us that our relationships with God, the environment and our fellow man needs to be in balance. The forward pointing thorns remind us to reach for our goals and the re-curved ones remind us to look back and reflect on where we have come from. The name is derived from the Arabic zizouf= the name for the lotus or 'jujube' tree. The tree has dark red edible fruit from which the Victorian sweet, 'jujube' was made. The latin 'mucro' means sharp point and refers to the thorns.

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