Buffalo thorn tree. Michael Briza
Buffalo Thorn [Zizphus mucronata]
This is a deciduous tree, which grows up to 17m tall. It is a fast growing, deciduous, drought and frost resistant tree. The bark is rough and is dark grey to brown in colour. The flowers are silvery green in colour, found in dense bunches amongst the leaves. Flowers can be found from October to April, with fruit being found from February to August. The thorns are found in pairs on the branches, one thorn being straight with one hooked.
In certain cases adult trees may loose their thorns completely. The flowers attract a lot of insects, they also attract birds which eat the large red berries it produces. It makes a good perimeter barrier as its thorns are rather profuse when young and difficult to untangle because one points forward while the other points backward. They have shiny light green leaves hence the Afrikaans common name Blinkblaar.
Branches are used for protection of cattle kraal and sometimes on the graves of dead tribal members. The wood is used for implements and fuel. The leaves bark and roots are used medicinally and magically for pain relief to respiratory complaints and skin infections, especially for chest and stomach disorders. The leaves if crushed may be used to stop bleeding. Certain tribes believe the tree is safe to use as a shelter against lightning.
Where they are found
They are found from Arabia to the Western Cape.
The tree is also known as the Blinkblaar Wag-'n-bietjie which means the shiny-leafed wait-a-while and refers to the trees hooked thorns that are difficult to get free from when caught. The Buffalo Thorn also plays a huge role in the beliefs of the people of Africa with the Zulu people using a branch to carry the spirit of a deceased person from his place of death to his burial site. When travelling in a vehicle the branch is placed on its own seat for the duration of the journey. In Botswana it is believed that the tree will protect a person from lightning.