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Adansonia digitata

(Baobab)

The enormously fat trunk is the hallmark of the mature tree, the effect being enhanced by the comparatively sparse branches. This is a protected tree in South Africa. Beautiful large, 12 cm , waxy, sweetly scented white flowers with delicately crumpled petals and big yellow stamens occur and are followed by bulbous, egg shaped, woody fruits with a velvet look. The flowers open at night in summer and attract fruit bats and bush babies. It is very drought hardy and it can grow in clay soil. It is a very useful tree as the bark is used for rope, paper, fishing lines, nets, cloth and beautiful baskets. The wood is soft and fibrous and is used for ceiling boards and paper. The wood is salty when burnt and this is added to food. The leaves are edible either raw or cooked as a spinach.They are also medicinal and used to treat fevers or as a poultice on sores and scratches. The pith of the fruit is made into a porridge for mothers with insufficient breast milk. It is fire resistant. The fruits contain tartaric acid and are delicious and the fruit pulp makes a refreshing drink which is high in vitamin C. They contain more calcium than milk, more iron than red meat, more potassium than a banana and more magnesium than spinach.The seeds are eaten raw, or dried and are also roasted and used as a coffee substitute.The seeds are also rich in Vitamin D and are used in beauty products. The fruit is eaten by baboon and monkeys. Superstitions: It is believed that if one drinks the water in which the seeds have been soaking, one is protected from crocodiles. An acid porridge is made from the pith and this makes one strong and brave. It is believed that the evil spirits that live in the flowers will tell the lion to eat whoever picks a flower. In Zambia the women are forbidden to eat the fruit during the beer brewing as it would cause the beer to go bad. It attracts birds, bees, butterflies and mammals. It is a good fodder tree for impala, kudu, nyala and elephant. The roots and trunk can be tapped as a source of water and one tree can supply 1000 gallons of water. The young roots are cooked and eaten. The bark is pinkish - grey. The Champion tree in South Africa is the Sagole Baobab which is in the Big Tree Nature Reserve, 100 km north of Thohoyandou in Limpopo. It has a trunk diameter of 10,47 meters, a height of 22 meters and a crown diameter of 38,2 meters. It is estimated to be several thousand years old. In 1862 Thomas Baines commented on a fallen Baobab near Nxai Pan in Botswana. He painted that group of trees and they are now called 'Baines Baobabs'. That fallen one is still growing after all these years. Recently Prince Charles asked to be taken there as he wanted to paint them in watercolour. Warning - this tree grows in the hot areas of South Africa with minimal rain and is not suited for a Highveld garden. It would need to be protected if planted here. Mankind has used hollow Baobabs for storage, domes, prison at the Kasane police station, bars like the Muchison Club, burial sites and hideaways. During world war 2 Major Trollip built an operating toilet in a Baobab at Katima Mullilo and it is now known as The Toilet Tree.The wood is very soft and is used in the manufacture of paper. Birds such as Rollers, Hornbills, Parrots and Barn Owls nest in the trunk recesses. The tree is also used by Leopard and Spotted Genet. It was named after Michael Adanson 1727-1806 who was a French botanist and naturalist. He published monographs of the Baobab. Digitata comes from the Latin digitus=finger which refers to the composition of the leaflets.The origin of the word Baobab is found in the Egyptian name Bu hobab given to it by Cairo merchants who dealt in exotic products during the 16th century. David Livingstone referred to it as "that giant upturned carrot". It is also referred to the "upside down tree." It is used medicinally to treat fevers and diarrhoea.

Albizia adianthifolia

(Flatcrown)

This is a fast growing, deciduous, large tree with a clean straight trunk and branches that arch upwards and outwards, so that the feathery foliage forms a flat spreading crown. The flowers are white and fluffy and the flowering time is autumn. It grows up to a metre per year and does well in sun or shade. It is very frost tender and therefore is not suitable for Highveld gardens. The wood is used for turning, making drums, carving spoons, the poles are used for building and the bark is used medicinally for skin complaints. It is also used for firewood. The leaves are used to make a tea to treat dysentery. A bark infusion is used to treat toothache. It attracts birds like Forest Weavers that tear open the seed pods in search for parasites. It is also the larval host plant for several butterflies like the Kerstens Hairtail, Blue-spotted Emperor, Satyr Emperor and the Common Sailor. Elephants eat the leaves and young shoots. A lovely tree for a large, warm garden. This tree was introduced to the Seychelles where it has now become an invader specie.

Ficus ingens

(Red-Leaved Rock Fig)

This is an evergreen tree which is briefly deciduous and grows to 10 m, with a rounded or spreading crown and with a spread of up to 30 m wide. All the parts have milky latex which is visible when a leaf is broken. The bark is grey, smooth and becomes cracked in older specimens.The heart-shaped or lanceolate, dull green leaves are hairless and leathery, with conspicuous yellow veins running parallel from the midrib. New leaves are coppery or reddish. It has an aggressive and invasive root system and should therefore not be planted near buildings, swimming pools, drainage or sewerage systems. It is popular as a container plant and as a bonsai. Because it is such a lovely shade tree and is fast growing, it is suitable for large gardens. The leaves are reportedly toxic but the new leaves are eaten by kudu, nyala and grey duiker. The fruit is edible but not always as palatable as Ficus carica, although mammals like dassies, monkeys, squirrels baboons and bushbabies eat the fruit while fallen fruit is eaten by nyala, bushpig, waterhog, suni and grey duiker. Pigeons, parrots, louries, starlings, barbets and bulbuls enjoy the fruit. It is the larval host plant for the Common Fig-tree Blue and the Lesser Fig-tree Blue butterflies. It is pollinated by a wasp. Extracts of the bark are administered to cows with a low milk production. The latex is used as a substitute disinfectant for iodine. It is medicinal as the bark decoction is used for anemia.The wood is strong and is used for timber on the farms. It is fast growing but needs to be protected from the frost when young. The name is derived from the Hebrew fag or the Persian fica referring to the edible figs.

Schotia brachypetala

(Weeping Boerbean)

This large, handsome, evergreen tree is drought resistant and relatively frost resistant in warm areas. It is found in riverine forests so is adaptable as it grows in the sun, shade or semi-shade. It occurs naturally in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Transvaal and Natal. The stunning rich, deep red flowers open in spring and summer and they attract birds, the insect, fruit and nectar eaters. They are also eaten by louries, parrots, baboons and monkeys. It flowers best after a long dry winter so don't be tempted to water it in the winter. The leaves are browsed by baboon, giraffe, impala, nyala and black rhino. It is also used for nesting sites and attracts Foxy and Giant charaxes butterflies. The bark is traditionally used to make sangoma's red dye and the seeds are roasted and eaten. The seeds were eaten by the early Boers. It’s a magical tree and is used to ward off evil. There are many medicinal uses as a decoction is drunk after excessive beer drinking and for heartburn, nausea and diarrhoea. The smoke from the leaves is inhaled for nose bleeds. Powdered leaves are put on ulcers to speed up healing. The bark contains tannin and is used for tanning leather. The wood is hard and is used for furniture, flooring and fuel. It’s a show stopper when in flower but do remember that it drops nectar on parked cars, hence the common name! The roots are not aggressive so plant it about 3 meters from a building and a pool. This is a popular bonsai subject. The Tsonga common name of "Mvhovhovhoz" imitates the sound of the swarming insects at flowering. Named for Richard van der Schot ( 1730-1790) a Dutch gardener who studied at Leiden and became head gardener at the imperial Gardens at Schonbrunn. He was then asked to take a 4 year journery to Grenada, Saint Vincent, Aruba, Cuba and Curacao to collect tropical plants and 'curiosities' for the palaces natural history collection.

Vachellia sieberana (Acacia sieberiana var. woodii)

(Paperbark Thorn)

This tree occurs in Northern Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Transvaal, Swaziland and Natal. It is easily identified by its dense, widely spreading foliage, a flattened crown and flaking bark. The fluffy, scented white pompom blooms are conspicuous against the deep green, feathery foliage. The papery bark is exceptionally attractive and peels off in flattish strips, displaying yellow under bark. The bark is highly flammable and sensitive to fire, so perhaps it’s best not to build a braai under it. Legend has it that one should write one’s wishes on a piece of bark and blow it away. This apparently guarantees that your wishes will be fulfilled. The bark shelters insects which are foraged by insect eating birds. In India the wood is used to build temples and in ritual fires. The magical uses in South Africa are numerous. A sprig is placed over a bed to war off evil. It is used in money and love spells and the burned wood stimulates psychic powers. The Buffalo Weavers nest in these trees. Pied and Crested Barbets like to make nesting holes in the bark. The bark is also used to create a grey dye. It will remain evergreen in a moist habitat but in cooler or drier parts it is semi or completely deciduous. The paired, white thorns are joined at the base and grow up to 100 mm in length. The light brown pods have a musty or fruity smell and are 100 to 200 mm long. The pods are browsed by game and the Grey Hornbills crack open the pods to eat the seeds but the leaves contain prussic acid which is dangerous to stock. A wonderful nesting and lookout site for many birds, and is a ‘food basket’ for a variety of birds, beetles, bees and other bugs. It is the larval host of the Black-striped Hairtail, Common Scarlet and the Silver-spotted Grey. It is medicinal as an infusion from the roots is used as an antiseptic and a bark decoction is a painkiller. It is also used to wash children who have a fever, stomach ache, acne, gonorrhoea, colds, tapeworms and diarrhea. The leaves are a vermifuge. The wood is used for general timber although easily damaged by insects. It is fasts growing and would make useful firewood and timber. It is often seasoned under water for 6 months to make it more durable. The gum is clear and of a good quality. Soot is added to the gum to make ink.It has been recorded as growing to about 200 years. It has aggressive roots so don't plant it closer than 7 meters from buildings and pools. This is a popular bonsai subject. Branches fall from these trees. All thorn trees drop their thorns so it is not suitable for a lawn. 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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