Is The Shepards Tree Magical
The Shepherd's Tree, Boscia albitrunca, is the larval food plant for 14 different species of butterflies in the KNP and southern Africa.
Photos: Herbert Otto, Graham Otto and Kurt Otto
The shepherd's tree has a white trunk, which the species name albitrunca alludes to; Albi = white and trunca = trunk. The tree has small elliptic leaves and prefers well drained rocky or sandy soils. It is a solitary growing tree in arid and savanna conditions.
The greenish-yellow flowers are borne in leaf-axils and seem petal-less with many protruding stamens. The ripe fruit vary in colour from pale yellow- apricot to translucent-like pink, at about 1cm in diameter, appearing from December to March.
The tree is favoured and browsed by game and livestock and the leaves have a rich protein content. It is believed to have magical values. The roots are also used for a coffee substitute or ground to make porridge, while the buds of the blossoms are pickled. A fruit pulp may be used as a side dish. The leaves and roots have medicinal properties.
The butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of this popular tree. When the eggs emerge about a week later, their first meal is usually the egg shell. From here they feed on the leaves of the tree itself. The Pierid larvae have 5 instars, which means that they moulted or lost their skins 4 times, to grow into a larger larva.
The butterflies whose larvae feed on this tree, also feed on species of the Caperbushes, Worm-bushes and Maeruas. This is a case of adapting to nature and what is available.
- The diverse white, Appias epaphia contracta
- Brown-veined white, Belenois aurota aurota
- African common white, Belenois creona severina
- The red tip, Colotis antevippe gavisa
- The common orange tip, Colotis evenina evenina
- The speckled sulphur tip, Colotis agoye
- The smoky orange tip, Colotis euippe omphale
- The lemon traveller or lemon tip, Colotis subfasciatus subfasciatus
- The queen purple tip, Colotis regina
- Banded gold tip, Colotis eris eris
- Zebra white, Pinacopteryx eriphia eriphia
- Veined orange, Colotis vesta argillaceus
- Bushveld purple tip, Colotis ione
- The Lilac Tip, Colotis celimene amina
By Herbert Otto