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Olea europaea subsp. africana

(Wild Olive)

One of the oldest cultivated trees and is the symbol of peace as when Noah sent a dove from his Ark, it returned with an Olive leaf. In ancient Rome an olive branch was held to plead for peace and in ancient Greece, Irene, the Goddess of peace loved olives. The tree represents abundance and drives away evil spirits. This medium sized, evergreen tree is frost resistant, drought resistant and grows in the sun. It is neatly shaped and has a dense spreading crown. The white/green flowers open in summer and they attract bees and butterflies. The flowers are replaced with edible, purple berries which attract birds - insect and fruit eaters like starlings, pigeons, parrots and louries. They are also enjoyed by people, monkeys, baboons, mongooses, bushpigs, and warthogs. The fruit is also used to produce black dye. It's useful for nesting sites. The leaves are browsed by game and stock and is a fodder tree for mammals. It is useful as a formal, pruned hedge or an informal hedge/screen. Very popular as a bonsai subject. They sometimes have aggressive roots so plant 4 meters from a building or a pool. It is protected in the North West Province, the Cape and the Free State. There are numerous medicinal uses for eye lotions, tonics for high blood pressure, kidney ailments and sore throats. Wild Olive tonic is available commercially and is used to treat colds and to build the immune system. It is believed that inhaling the smoke from a Wild Olive fire will cure a hangover. Magical uses are to protect against lightening, by putting a branch in an open doorway. The beautiful golden brown wood is used for furniture, ornaments and fencing posts. As the wood is strong and durable, it is used for walking sticks, knobkieries and spear handles. It grows along rivers and is useful to stabilize the soil. A must for a bird garden! This is a popular bonsai subject. The name is derived from the Greek elaia and the latin olea = classical latin name for the olive.

Senegalia caffra ( Acacia caffra)

(Common Hook Thorn)

This fast growing, deciduous tree that grows to a medium height of 9m x 9m. It grows in numerous areas including the Highveld. Often seen on quartzite koppies as it tolerates low ph soil. It is very attractive with its pale green, soft and feathery drooping foliage. The fluffy, creamy yellow flower spikes are very pretty and fragrant and are visible in spring. They are followed by straight flat brown pods. It has brown, paired hook thorns which are not easily shed. The edible flowers attract monkeys, birds and insects. It is considered to be a good fodder tree and is also eaten by livestock, Black Rhino, giraffe, kudu, impala, reedbuck and grey duiker. Plant it in full sun with moderate water. It is also good for bonsai. It has a rather aggressive root system so don't plant it closer than 3 meters from a building or pool. The long flexible branches are used for basket making and it also used for tobacco pipes. The wood is hard and termite proof so it is used for fencing posts and furniture. It is also used for fuel as it produces long lasting coal. It is traditionally used as a protection charm by hammering branches into the ground. The bark, leaves and roots have medicinal and magical properties. The leaves are eaten for abdominal disorders and the roots are used as a love charm emetic. The bark is used for blood cleansing and it is also used as a light brown dye.The wood is hard and is used for fence poles and fuel. It tolerates fire and is frost and drought resistant. This is the larval host plant for the Pennington's Playboy and the Van Son's Playboy.

Senegalia nigrescens ( Acacia nigrescens )

(Knob-thorn)

This deciduous, medium sized tree usually grows in single-species stands. They are slow growers and reach a height of 8-20m. The very strong hooked thorns are retained on old growth, eventually growing into large spiny knobs. This is an aid to identifying the trees when they are leafless. The bark is distinctive, dark brown, rough and deeply fissured. The creamy white flower spikes are at first rusty-pink, but white when fully open. Its flowering time is in spring and the sweetly scented flowers occur before the leaves and in profusion. Honeybees are fond of the nectar and it produces a good honey. The flowers are eaten by giraffe, baboons and monkeys and the leaves and pods are eaten by elephant, giraffe, kudu, duiker, impala and steenbok. The oblong pod is very dark brown. The leaves are round and much bigger than other Acacias. The leaves are also cooked as a pot herb or spinach. Elephant also eat the inner bark which has healing properties to fight tooth decay. The knobs are ground and used as a painkiller and to treat eye infections. There is a belief that if it is applied to young girls they will develop large breasts. 40 % of a girafffe's diet consists of the leaves and it is thought that they pollinate the flowers. It should be planted in full sun. It is frost hardy and survives moderate drought. It is an ideal plant for bonsai. This is a host plant for the Demon Emperor butterfly and the Dusky Charaxes. It is also the host plant of the Cream Striped Owl Moth which have distinctive eye-spots on the wings. Birds like Woodpeckers, Barbets, Scops Owl and Squirrels utilise it for nesting in holes. White backed vultures nest in those trees that are close to rivers. The wood is hard, heavy and difficult to work, but it is used for furniture, flooring, railway sleepers and mine props. It's useful for fencing poles as it is termite resistant, and is used for fighting sticks and long burning fuel. The inner bark is used to make twine while the outer bark is used for tanning leather.They are shallow rooted and elephant often knock the trees down, so don't camp near these trees. It is used magically as poles are planted in the ground to stop lightening striking the village. In Botswana a tree with a girth of 43 cm was carbon dated and aged at 313 years.That's 100 years before the French Revolution! The name is derived from the Greek word akis meaning a point or spike referring to the thorns and the Latin word 'nigrescans' meaning 'becoming black' which refers to the seed pods that blacken with age. Mistletoe is often seen growing on these trees.

Spirostachys africana

(Tamboti)

This medium-sized, semi-deciduous tree with a round crown occurs at low altitudes. It grows up to 18 m in height. The tree is commonly known for its toxic milky latex that exudes from all parts of it. Its characteristic bark is dark brown to black, thick, rough and neatly cracked into regular rectangular blocks that are arranged in longitudinal rows. Leaves are alternate, simple and are up to 70 x 35 mm and the margins are finely toothed. The young, red leaves are often visible among the older, green leaves in spring. The flower heads are 15-30 mm long, bearing mostly male and a few female flowers. The female flowers are attached at the base of each spike. Flowering takes place in August to September before the new leaves appear. The flowering spikes of this plant are unusual in appearance as the male flowers appear gold-coloured because of the pollen whereas female flowers are blood red. The flowers are visited by bees. The fruit is a capsule that is three-lobed and opens with an exploding sound that can be heard on hot summer days from October to February. The Knobthorn Moth lays its eggs in the fruit and the larvae cause the fruit to jump once they have hatched. This is why they are called 'jumping beans'.The fruit is eaten by birds, antelope and monkeys. This tree is very attractive in larger gardens, it is fairly drought and frost resistant, but grows very slowly. Although the latex is very toxic to humans it does have traditional medicinal uses, for example, a drop of the fresh latex is applied to a painful tooth as a painkiller. The bark is used to treat stomach pains but large dosages will cause damage to the internal organs. Powdered bark is rubbed all over the body to prevent having a hairy body. Wood smoke is inhaled to drive away evil spirits. Pieces of bark are worn as a protective charm and it is also used as a fish poison. It attracts birds, butterflies and is also ideal for bonsai. Antelope, stock and monkeys eat the fallen leaves while fresh leaves are eaten by Black Rhino and Elephant. Porcupine eat the bark. Although it is medicinal, all parts of this tree can cause nausea and death. The wood is hard and is used for furniture but is lethal if used for fuel. It is more fragrant than sandalwood and can be put into linen cupboards to keep fish-moths away. Even the sawdust smoke is lethal if burnt. I read of children who died after using the branches as skewers to braai their boerewors. The name is derived from the Greek speiros = spiralled or twisted ; stachys= spike as the flowers are in a tight spiral on the spike.

Vachellia robusta (Acacia robusta)

(Splendid Acacia)

This is a very upright tree and it has dark green foliage that grows more erect than other Acacia species. The leaflets are also larger. The white, scented ball shaped flowers open in spring and it starts flowering when it is about six years old. The flowers attract insects for the insect eating birds. It has a pair of straight thorns.This is an ideal garden tree and it is fast growing, about 1m per year. The bark is used to make twine and it is eaten by Rhino. The bark is also used for tanning. Baboon and monkeys eat the young shoots and the gum. It can be used for security hedging /screening. It attracts butterflies like the Hutchinson Highflier as it is the larval host. The weavers eat the seeds and the leaves are browsed by kudu. The roots are apparently poisonous but the tree is used medicinally as it is inhaled for chest complaints and applied for skin ailments. It is also used magically to get rid of snakes. It has aggressive roots so don't plant it closer than 3 meters to a building or a pool. 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.

Vachellia tortilis (Acacia tortilis)

(Umbrella Thorn)

It is a most classically shaped Acacia and is the well known emblem of one of our commercial banks and was the subject of many of Pierneef's paintings. The flat top droops slightly at the edge, producing an umbrella shape. It occurs naturally in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Noah apparently used this wood to make The Arc. It has both hooked and straight thorns.The flowers open in summer and are white pompoms and sometimes so profuse that the tree appears blanketed in snow. Baboon and monkeys enjoy eating the flowers. It makes a striking specimen and is highly sought after for bonsai. It requires full sun and survives drought and frost. It grows well in any soil even in clay soil although it is an indicator in the wild of good soil and grasses for grazing. It stabilizes the soil. The bark is used to make fibre for ceremonial skirts and it is used to make a yellow dye. Elephant are fond of the bark and often tear off strips which result in the death of the tree. In the Kruger National Park sharp rocks are placed around the trees to protect them from the elephants as they don't like walking on sharp rocks. Attracts birds and butterflies. The leaves are browsed by elephant, giraffe, eland, waterbuck, kudu, gemsbok, nyala, springbok, bushbuck, impala, duiker and giraffe while the contorted pods are enjoyed by monkeys, baboons and parrots. The gum is edible and is enjoyed by Bushbabies. It is slow growing but the wood is used for fuel. It is planted to stabilize the soil as it has an extensive root system. It is the larval host plant for the Topaz Blue and the Brown Playboy. 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.

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