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

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