Mopane. Brett Hilton-Barber
Mopane [Colophospermum mopane]
The most diagnostic feature of the Mopane tree is undoubtedly the butterfly-shaped leaves, which are bright green when they emerge but turn into a kaleidoscope of autumn colours later in the season. These colours are characteristic of the landscape for many months of the year. Most specimens are multi-stemmed and spread upwards in a narrow V-formation with a wide-spreading, rounded but relatively v-formation sparse crown. The bark is light to dark grey in colour and has very prominent longitudinal fissures.
Some Mopane trees can attain a height of up to 25 m, especially on alluvial soils. When conditions are less favourable, small Mopane shrubs known as 'Mopane scrub' and locally referred to as 'gumane', are more evident.The bark is very distinctly longitudinally fissured. Old stems are very light grey and younger ones are darker. Two leaflets arising from a single petiole. They resemble butterfly wings.
Flowers and Fruit
The flowers of the Mopane are yellow-green, small and inconspicuous and are borne in pendant clusters near twig terminals. The fruit of the mopane tree consists of a flattened and leathery pod, almost kidney-shaped. It is green at first, it contains one wrinkled, flat seed dotted with sticky resin glands. Flowering occurs from December to January. Fruiting occurs from April to June.
Where they are found
The Mopane tree is in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
The Mopane Tree is host for the Mopane Moth [Gonimbrasia belina]which is very important in the nutritional needs of many people around Africa. The caterpillar of the moth, known as the Mopane Worm, is harvested and eaten as is or dried as a future food source. The Mopane Tree wood is also been more widely used in furniture for its colour and durability, and as it is so hard it is termite resistant, making it ideal for fencing.