Woodland Type Trees at Victoria Falls

© Lee Berger
The 1500 year old baobab, The Big Tree at Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls' famous baobab - 'The Big Tree' - is between 1000 and 1500 years old.

The following trees are found in the bush away from water (although some may be part of the riverine fringing belt).

Baobab (Adansonia digitata)

Muuyu (Sh); Umkhomo (Nd)
Characteristics: Unmistakable huge tree with an average girth of up to 18m (there is a record specimen with a girth of 47m), growing up to 25m, with a smooth bark; it has large, white, pendulous flowers that emerge briefly in early summer; when baobabs die, they collapse into a vegetative heap and rot; the most well-known tree in the Victoria Falls area is the "Big Tree" baobab on Zambezi River Drive.
Animal associations: Many small mammals, insects, birds and reptiles live in or on baobabs because the textured bark and hollows provide suitable habitats; the trees are pollinated by fruit bats; the fruit is eaten by baboons; elephants strip and eat the bark.
Traditional or medicinal uses: Leaves may be cooked and eaten; the fruits are cracked to yield brown seeds coated with a powdery pulp that is high in tartaric acid and vitamin C and are sucked for refreshment or soaked in milk to make a wonderful drink; the bark is used to weave mats, bags and hats.

There is a local myth that anyone plucking the flower of a baobab will be eaten by a lion.

Knob Thorn (Acacia nigrescens)

Munanga (Sh); Umkhayamhlophe (Nd)
Characteristics: Easily recognised by the very fat knobs on the trunk and branches, particularly in younger trees; in late winter and early spring, the bare tree produces an abundance of creamy, white, flower spikes which are exquisitely fragrant; the leaflets are larger than in other acacias and noticeably round.
Animal associations: Giraffe favour the leaves of the acacias because of their high protein content; elephants often strip the bark in late winter when stored nutrients are being mobilised from the roots and transported to the leaves; tree squirrels and rats enjoy the gum; honey bees are fond of the nectar from the flowers; the hemiparasitic herbs from the family Loranthaceae are commonly found growing in this tree.
Traditional or medicinal uses: The heartwood is very heavy, strong and termite-resistant and was used to make mine props, railway sleepers and well linings; the inner bark can be used to make a fairly good twine; very good firewood.

Mopane (Colophospermum mopane)

Mupani (Sh); Iphane (Nd)
Characteristics: Distinctive, butterfly-shaped leaves that are bright green when young and turn red and yellow in winter before dropping; bark has pronounced longitudinal fissures; depending on soil conditions and climate, it may remain a small shrub or reach heights of 25m; forms dense, single species stands; it is the dominant tree in the basalts around Victoria Falls.
Animal associations: Many animals are associated with the mopane, particularly elephants, which feed on the leaves, bark and roots; tree squirrels live in hollow specimans; the localised Arnot's chat lives mainly in mopane forests; the larval stage of the moth Gonimbrasia belina (known as the mopane worm) feeds on the leaves of this tree; the insect Arytaina mopane feeds on the leaves and is, in turn, targeted by many mammals and birds; cicadas are closely associated with the mopane tree.
Traditional or medicinal uses: Used to treat diarrhoea in cattle and syphilis in humans; stubborn wounds may be treated with the gum; used extensively for building huts and fencing because it is termite-resistant; makes an excellent firewood that produces long-lasting coals and an aromatic smoke.

Large False Mopane (Guibourtia coleosperma)

Mungenge (Sh) Muchiva; Umtshibi (Nd)
Characteristics: Majestic evergreen tree with contrasting black and creamy pink bark - the black having the appearance of fire damage; occurs in dry forest on Kalahari sands; leaves are dark glossy green and have two leaflets resembling the symmetrical wings of a butterfly; the fruit is a dark woody pod, which splits to expose a hanging seed covered in bright scarlet flesh. Animal associations: Birds eat the bright red pulp around the seed.
Traditional or medicinal uses: The beautiful pinkish-brown colour makes it a sought-after carving wood; it is used particularly in the carvings of hippos found at the Victoria Falls craft village; the scarlet flesh surrounding the seeds is removed in warm water and either eaten or made into a nourishing drink while the seeds themselves are roasted, pounded and then eaten as a porridge.

Silver Terminalia or Silver Cluster-Leaf

(Terminalia sericea)
Mususu (Sh); Umangwe (Nd)
Characteristics: Normally a medium-sized, upright tree with deeply fissured bark that grows in deep, sandy soils; it has unique silvery-blue leaves and, when in fruit, it bears conspicuous, pinkish, single-winged seeds.
Animal associations: Although not very nutritious, the leaves are browsed; the twigs are eaten by giraffe and elephants - where there are high populations of these, the trees are extensively damaged during feeding; the galls on the twigs are caused by a gall midge larva - the gall protects the developing larva and it eventually emerges as an adult through an aperture at the base of the gall.
Traditional or medicinal uses: The straight and elastic young branches are used to make snares; because the wood is termite-resistant it is often used for fencing poles; the bark is used in tanning leather and the inner bark makes a good twine; the roots are used to make an eye-wash and are also used in the treatment of pneumonia; a decoction from the tree is also considered an effective treatment for diarrhoea; it is a controversial bilharzia cure whereby the roots are mixed with the entrails of a blister beetle to treat the patient, but healers acknowledge that the side effects are often bad; the leaves provide a blue dye while the leaf hairs are used to glaze pottery; a stick from this tree is often stuck in the floor of a shrine to facilitate communication with the ancestral spirits.

Bloodwood (Kiaat) (Pterocarpus angolensis)

Mubvamaropa (Sh); Umvagazi (Nd)
Characteristics: The bloodwood is a beautiful tree with a characteristic flat crown spreading from a straight stem with deeply-fissured bark; in winter the golden, round and flat, medallion-like pods (which contain the seeds) are very conspicuous.
Animal associations: Kudu browse on the young leaves and baboons eat the seeds; the bark is easily damaged by elephants, and this makes the trees susceptible to infection.
Traditional or medicinal uses: Excellent timber wood with varying colours; the tree exudes a red gum, which is used as a dye and for the treatment of ringworm, skin lesions and intestinal parasites; the inner bark is used to make a very strong twine.

Long-Tail Cassia (Cassia abbreviata)

Muremberembe (Sh); Isihaqa (Nd)
Characteristics: Medium-sized tree with rough bark; the most conspicuous feature is the very long, cylindrical seed pods which often remain hanging on the tree for months; the beautiful, abundant yellow flowers are evident from September until December.
Animal associations: Young branches are sometimes browsed by animals; seeds are popular with birds and are also fed upon by insects.
Traditional or medicinal uses: Traditional healers use the roots to treat blackwater fever (a complication of malaria) as well as severe abdominal pain and toothache; the seeds are sucked as a tonic; the bark produces a dye while the timber is used in house construction.

African Rain-Tree or Apple-Leaf

(Lonchocarpus capassa)
Mupandapanda (Sh); Idungamuzi (Nd)
Characteristics: Medium to large-sized tree with a dull green appearance; branches are never straight and appear bent and crooked; tiny purple flowers are produced in profusion and give the tree a violet hue from afar - when these flowers fall, they create a rich purple carpet below the tree; the fruits are a flat, light-brown pod and are also produced in abundance; it is a good indicator of ground water.
Animal associations: The leaves have a high nutritional value and are eaten by most browsers - even when fallen; they are particularly favoured by elephants; the insect Pytelus grossus sucks sap from this tree (among others), extracts the sugars and sheds water as a by-product - when the trees have large populations of these insects, the water dropped creates a localised "rain" beneath the tree.
Traditional or medicinal uses: In traditional medicine, smoke from the burning roots is inhaled to relieve symptoms of a cold; parts of the tree are also used to treat snakebite; the roots contain rotenone which interferes with the ability of fish to take up oxygen - traditional fishermen macerate the roots and throw the pulp into ponds to poison fish, which are then collected and eaten; during famine, the leaves are cooked and eaten.

Marula (Sclerocarya birrea)

Mupfura (Sh); Umganu (Nd)
Characteristics: Tall, deciduous tree with characteristically grey bark that flakes in patches and resembles a jigsaw puzzle; when leafless, the branches appear fat while the tree acquires a blueish tinge when in leaf; dioecious (sexes on separate trees); female tree produces a profusion of golf-ball-sized green fruits which become yellow when ripe.
Animal associations: Fallen fruits enjoyed by many animals, especially elephants, which will walk for long distances to feed on the ripe fruit, even shaking the trees to make the fruit fall; elephants also strip the bark to eat it and will feed on the roots during times of drought; most browsers eat the leaves; the poisonous larvae of the Polyclada beetle live on this tree and are used by bushmen to prepare arrow poison.
Traditional or medicinal uses: Fruits are high in vitamin C and are eaten raw or made into a jelly; marula fruit are used to make beer and in the production of two liqueurs - and can be used as an insecticide; the fruit stone contains two or more seeds, which are delicious and their high protein content makes them a delicacy; the oil extracted from the seeds is an excellent skin moisturiser and effective sunblock; the bark is used in the treatment of diarrhoea.

Musasa or Msasa (Brachystegia spiciformis)

Msasa (Sh); Igonde (Nd)
Characteristics: A large tree found in a variety of habitats; it grows upwards and outwards, attaining a large spreading canopy; the leaves are composed of about four-paired, shiny leaflets with the terminal pair being the largest; the trees are deciduous and produce new leaves in August (in eastern Zimbabwe and Zambia the new leaves are a magnificent deep red, but in the Victoria Falls region they do not show this colour); the best local specimen is on the terraces at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
Animal associations: The animals most associated with the msasa are the bright orange caterpillars of the msasa moth Pachymeta robusta, which is very gregarious and usually congregates in large masses on the tree. Traditional or medicinal uses: The bark contains tannin and is used in tanning hides; a bark extract is used to treat diarrhoea; a decoction is also made to treat conjunctivitis.

Zambezi Teak (Baikiaea plurijuga)

Mukusi (Sh); Umkusu (Nd)
Characteristics: This large tree with an upright stem is the dominant species in the deep Kalahari sand and is, therefore, very common between the Victoria Falls airport and town; the attractive pink or purple flowers are obvious between December and March; the woody pods have velvety hairs and are broadest near their hooked tips; the noise of these pods splitting explosively to disperse the seeds is a characteristic sound of the Kalahari sand forests in midsummer.
Animal associations: Young seedlings are fed on by duikers and rodents, and this can limit the capacity of young trees to mature; older trees are very hard but still subject to damage by powder post beetles.
Traditional or medicinal uses: The wood is of a very high quality and has a beautiful red-brown colour; it has been used to make railway sleepers, furniture and flooring.

In 1952, Zambezi teak from the Victoria Falls area was cut to make the floor of the London Corn Exchange. The wood was chosen because of its ability to withstand abrasion, and so it could endure the abuse of having huge amounts of grain deposited on it. The doors of the British Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street in London are also made from Zambezi teak taken from the Zambian side of the River.

Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata)

Muchecheni (Sh); Umphafa (Nd)
Characteristics: A small to medium-sized bush or tree growing in a variety of habitats; the leaves are very shiny and, although from a short distance it appears to be innocuous, closer inspection reveals paired straight and hooked thorns; the branches grow in a distinctive zig-zag fashion, and the cherry-sized brown berries also assist in identification.
Animal associations: The leaves and fallen fruit are very nutritious and are eaten by antelope; impala even eat the fallen leaves while monkeys, baboons and birds eat the fruits; the female long-horn beetle rings the bark of the terminal branches in which she lays her eggs - the larvae hatch and feed off the dead wood.
Traditional or medicinal uses: This tree has many uses; the fruits are used to make a beer; the fruit pulp may be mixed with water to make a refreshing drink or can be made into a flour and cooked; the seeds can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute; the wood is of a good quality and is used to make whips, bows and hammer handles; a decoction of the roots is used to make a general painkiller and the leaves and bark are used to treat chest complaints; pastes of the root and leaves are applied to treat boils and swollen glands; the leaves are chewed as an aphrodisiac.

On the Thorns of a Dilemma

Buffalo thorn is revered in African culture - some communities believe that to cut this tree down after the first rains will result in drought. Graves are often covered with the branches of this tree to protect the ancestral spirits while many rural communities believe that the tree is a lightning protector.

As natural history writer Ian McCallum has written: "The thorns of the tree Ziziphus mucronata (buffalo thorn) are spaced along the length of every branch in pairs. One of the pairs points robustly outward and forward while the other curves back and inwards in the opposite direction.

The Nguni African legend says the thorns tell us something about ourselves - that we must look ahead to the future ... but we must never forget where we have come from."

Exotic Cassia at Ilala Palms Lodge

Exotic Trees
The colourful trees one sees in Victoria Falls village are mostly exotic species. The cassia (pictured above) and the flame tree (in the background) are characteristic of Victoria Falls and come into full bloom in early summer.

Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.

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