The odd shapes of camel thorn pods - News - Gondwana Collection

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The odd shapes of camel thorn pods

Avatar of inke inke - 12. October 2018 - Environment

Camel thorn trees are found almost everywhere in Namibia – in the Namib and in the Kalahari deserts, in the northeast where rain is abundant and in the dry south. They provide shade for man and beast and offer shelter to many animals. Sociable weavers like to build their heavy grass nests into these trees.

Dirk Heinrich

“As hard as camel thorn wood is our Land”, are the lyrics of a song. Wood from camel thorn trees leaves the best embers for a braai (barbecue). Fence posts made from camel thorn decades ago still stand firm, because termites and beetles avoid this wood. Camel thorn trees (Acacia erioloba) are found all over the country except for a narrow strip in the Namib Desert close to the coast. These trees thrive in arid as well as humid conditions. They are heat and frost resistant. For man and beast they are an important source of shade. And they offer food and shelter to countless animals.

The trees with the very hard wood grow slowly. They can reach a height of more than 15 metres. Not only vultures and eagles are nesting on and between their thorny branches but sociable weavers also choose camel thorn trees for their massive grass constructions which can easily weigh several tons.

Especially the large pods are very popular with wild animals as well as livestock. The crescent-shaped fruit usually measures 70-100 x 30-50 mm. Erioloba means hairy earlobe. The grey velvety shell contains protein-rich seeds. Some trees break ranks and produce pods in all sorts of weird and wondrous shapes: almost circular, thin and bent or twisted into one another. Meanwhile, trees in the vicinity bear completely ordinary pods.

The commonly shaped pods (top left) are from trees which grow just a few metres apart from each other. The picture in the middle above shows an open pod with seeds which have a diameter of about 10 mm each.

“At Sossusvlei there are places where each tree has its own shape of pod. The reason for this phenomenon still needs to be investigated scientifically”, says botanist Herta Kolberg. “Probably it is genetic and each tree is an individual with its own characteristics, just like people.”

The pods contain between 8 and 25 seeds. If you put them in the soil and water them nicely they will nevertheless fail to germinate. They first need to pass through the digestive tract of an animal. There are other methods, however. “You can put them in boiling water, leave it to cool and then plant the seeds”, says Kolberg. “Or open the hard shell of the seed a little by scratching it with a file or with sand paper before putting it into the soil.”

In winter the pods fall from the trees and become an important food source for numerous types of animals, including elephants. The pachyderms often shake the trees so that the dry fruit falls down and they can pick it up with their trunk to eat it. 

The velvety grey pods on the thorny branches are about to fall down and become food for wild animals and livestock. Women from the informal settlements on the outskirts of Windhoek collect the pods and sell them at the roadside to farmers.
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