The baobab (Adansonia digitata) is southern Africa’s most distinctive tree with its extremely stout, fleshy trunk and widely spreading crown. An African legend holds that a giant child of the gods once pulled the baobab out of the ground and then stuck it back upside down, which accounts for its root-like branches. The baobab can grow up to 25 metres tall and has an astounding longevity – some trees in Kruger are believed to be well over 4 000 years old. The baobab has many uses, particularly because of the tartaric acid in the fruit, which is favoured by man and beast. It has a particularly beautiful white flower which blooms during spring.
The magic guarri
The magic guarri (Euclea divinorum) acts as an early warning beacon to other trees in times of impending drought. Distributed throughout the Park, this slow-growing, dense, evergreen shrub produces a pheromone when it becomes stressed. This triggers the release of tannin in the leaves of surrounding trees which makes them unpalatable to browsers such as kudu. The increase in tannin content is a self-protection mechanism that prevents the bush from being eaten out. The guarri itself is not favoured by animals although birds like its fruit. Alcoholic beverages have been made from the fruit while twigs broken off from the tree were used as toothbrushes in the old days because of the fibrous texture.
Most of the wooden carvings and bowls one sees on sale as one drives into southern Kruger are made out of kiaat, or wild teak (Pterocarpus angolensis). This tree is limited mostly to the Pretoriuskop area where it is quite dominant. It does favour other areas where there is a deep and sandy soil, but is not common throughout the Park. It is a slow grower, and is loved by elephants. It is commonly used for furniture as it works easily and polishes well. It is recognizable in the wild by its distinct roundish pods, which ripen in late summer, and its small, golden yellow flowers in spring.
One of the staple diets of browsers is the red bushwillow (Combretum apiculatum). Found throughout the Park but dominant in the south, this smallish deciduous tree is the second most common tree after mopane. While its leaves are palatable, animals avoid its seeds which are mildly poisonous and can cause prolonged hiccupping. It gets its name from the fact that its leaves turn reddish brown in winter. Its drought resistance ensures that it is a food source for browsers even in the driest of times. It is recognizable by the small four-wing clusters of fruit which ripen in late summer and autumn.
The third most common tree in Kruger Park after the mopane and red bushwillow is the knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens). It is a medium to large tree with a spreading crown, growing up to 16 metres tall. It is most easily recognizable in spring when its bright yellow fl owers liven up the landscape. It has thorn-tipped knobs which are more conspicuous on younger trees. In winter its narrow pods become black (hence the name nigrescens – Latin for “becoming black”). It is a heavy wood with lots of tannin, grows slowly and is both drought-resistant and sensitive to frost.
Palm trees in Kruger
There are two main kinds of palm trees in Kruger – the wild date palm (Phoenix reclinata) and the lala palm (Hyphaene atalensis). The wild date palm is more common in the south of the Park on the banks of rivers and spruits. Primates and birds enjoy the clusters of yellow-brown fruit, while elephants eat the leaves and stems. The Lala Palm does well on the basaltic corridor, and is more abundant in the north, and there are some fine examples of these trees around Letaba and Shingwedzi camps. The fibre of both palms has been used traditionally by Shangaan-speakers for making mats and ropes and a fine alcoholic beverage can be brewed from the sap.