Sausage tree - A bit of African magic - News - Gondwana Collection


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Sausage tree - A bit of African magic

Avatar of inke inke - 09. September 2016 - Discover Namibia

The name of the sausage tree derives from its brown-grey fruit that look like enormous sausages. (Photo: Ron Swilling)

If you have ever seen a sausage tree you probably will not forget it. This robust medium to large tree with a rounded crown has striking pendulous burgundy coloured flowers, growing in sprays that hang downward, reminiscent of orchids. The large opulent blooms have velvet inners and long pollen-bearing stamens, thought to be pollinated by fruit bats. If the tree is not in bloom to dazzle you, then the enormous brown-grey gourd-like fruit hanging from the branches definitely will.

There is a touch of magic and intrigue about this tree with its unusual flowers and fruit. The flowers, growing in sprays (strings) of up to 90 centimetres long consist of up to 50 buds that open at night and fall the next day. Once a flower has been pollinated and fertilised the rest of the flowers on the spray wilt so that only one fruit develops per spray. The fruits that are more like salamis in size than sausages, can grow up to 1 metre in length, 18 centimetres in width and can weigh up to 10 kilograms. Their fibrous pulp contains numerous seeds.

A member of the Bignoniaceae family, which includes the jacaranda native to Central and South America, the sausage tree, Kigelia africana, has a smooth greyish brown trunk with bark that often flakes in larger trees giving it a mottled appearance. It can grow up to 20 metres in height and has bright-green leathery compound leaves.

When the flowers open in spring the tree attracts myriad insects, moths, butterflies and birds, and even young monkeys dip their small faces into the flowers for the sweet nectar. Occasionally elephants and kudus browse on the leaves and the fallen flowers provide a tasty feast for animals, game and livestock alike. Duikers, kudus and impalas eat the flowers while baboons, monkeys, bushpigs, porcupines and black rhinos have been known to eat the fruit. 

The sausage tree, or “worsboom” in Afrikaans, has many uses. The roasted fruit is used to aid beer fermentation in Malawi, the light but tough wood is used to make dugout canoes in Botswana, and the roots supposedly yield a yellow dye. In times of food shortages the seeds have been baked and eaten.

Although the fresh fruit is to be avoided as it is said to be a strong purgative and can cause blisters in the mouth and on the skin, and the green fruit is said to be poisonous to humans, many traditional remedies are prepared from the fruit, which has antibacterial properties. Dried and powdered fruit is used as a dressing for ulcers, syphilis and sores and an ointment is made to treat skin conditions, including those caused by sun exposure. The unripe fruit can be made into a poultice for rheumatism and the ground and boiled bark can be used as a treatment for children’s stomach ailments. Fruit extract is also a popular ingredient in cosmetics and fruit hung in the home is regarded as a charm against whirlwinds.

One sausage tree that gained fame in the history books is the great tree Dr Livingstone noted in his diary. He camped under it before seeing the Victoria Falls for the first time at the auspicious point where today the four African countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia (almost) meet. Kazungula is said to be named after this historic tree, known locally as the Muzungula. 

A bit of African magic, this typical bushveld tree is found growing at low altitudes on riverbanks, along streams, on floodplains and in open woodland, widely distributed throughout tropical Africa. In southern Africa it occurs from KwaZulu Natal on the east coast of South Africa and extends to Zimbabwe, northern Botswana and the Caprivi. It provides nourishment for animals, an array of remedies, an abundance of beauty and blissful shade from the searing sun. Be warned though to keep your eyes open for falling fruit when sitting in its luxurious shade!

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