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Three Flowering Trees

3 Flowering Trees

In this article we will look at three trees that are characterized by striking displays of flowers: the pod mahogany, the violet tree and the sausage tree.

Scientific name – Afzelia quanzensis

Pod mahogany, Flora of Zimbabwe, photo by M. G. Bingham
Pod mahogany, Flora of Zimbabwe, photo by M.G. Bingham

English name – Pod mahogany

Shona names – Chamfuti, Mugogoma, Mugoriondo, Mujarakamba, Mukamba, Mungwingwi

Ndebele names – Ihlene, Umkamba, Ndebele

This tree is common at medium to low altitudes, scattered in mixed woodland and rocky outcrops, usually in deep sand. It is a medium to large deep-rooted tree that may grow up to 35m high, with a large, spreading crown. When in full leaf the deep cool shade of the pod mahogany offers a welcome rest from the summer heat.

The trunk, usually straight and up to 1m in diameter. It has a grey-green or creamy grey, smooth bark that is beautifully patterned with raised rings that flake off, leaving circular patches.

Mature trees flower July to November and are an attractive feature of the Bulawayo to Victoria Falls road.  Close inspection shows the flower to have a pretty single red and white petal, a spray of stamens and yellow veining.

Flower, pod mahogany

Large brown, woody, flat pods 170mm long, appear in late summer. In autumn they split open to release black seeds with scarlet arils, up to 10 seeds per pod.

Seeds, pod mahogany

Eland browse the leaves and elephants eat bark and leaves. The sweet-scented flowers attract insects, which in turn attract birds. The larvae of different charaxes (or emperor) butterflies feed on the leaves. In season you will often see hornbills opening freshly split pods to feed on the arils, discarding the seeds onto the ground where they are either eaten by animals or can germinate.

Beautiful furniture made from Pod Mahogany is traded under the Shona name, Chamfuti. The timber is hard and durable and the trees have been over-exploited, in the past for use as railway sleepers, and are now at risk from illegal cutting for wood carvings for sale to tourists.

Scientific name – Securidaca longependunculata

Violet tree flowering

English name – Violet tree

Shona names – Chipvufanana, Mufufu, Munyapunyana, Munyazvirombo, Mutangeni

Ndebele name – Umfufu

The violet tree is a  deciduous shrub or small tree, over 2m tall, occurring in various types of woodland and wooded grassland, up to an altitude of 1600m.

Violet tree, flowers
Violet tree flower, Flora of Zimbabwe, photo by B. wursten

The sweetly scented and attractive violet (or pink and purple) flowers of this small tree appear from August to November. The flowers, in sprays on long stalks, often appear in large numbers when the leaves are still small, making a spectacular display. It produces a winged pod, which spins as it falls to the ground.

Seeds, violet tree

The crushed roots smell of wintergreen and herbalists make extensive medicinal use of both bark and roots for a variety of complaints and parts of the tree are used to treat sicknesses from headaches to arthritis. Strong alkaloids make this a dangerous plant to eat, which can often have fatal results. The poison is used for multiple purposes, and a powder is mixed with stored grain as a pesticide against various beetles. Soap, fishing nets and baskets can be made from the bark.

This tree is suffering from over-harvesting, and from droughts and fires. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has included the Violet tree in their “Adopt a seed – save a species,” in order to protect the species and assist local communities in Mali, part of the Millenium Seed Bank Partnership.

Scientific name – Kigelia africana

Kigalia africana - tree

English name – Sausage tree

Shona names – Mubveve, Musonya, Muvhanate

Ndebele name – Umvebe

This is a predominantly lowveld species occurring mainly in riverine vegetation in low, hot areas up to 1200m, but common at lower altitudes.

Kigelia is another genus (like Falhadia albizia) that consists of only one species, Kigelia Africana. Some reports are that the scientific name comes from a Mozambican name kigeli-keia. Some reports state that Kigelia was introduced from India.  

Elephants and kudu eat the leaves.

Kigalia, flower

The flowers are large, dark maroon (sometimes described as liver-coloured)  with yellow veining, in sprays up to 12-flowers. The flowers open at night, only one at a time, and are short-lived. Once one flower has been pollinated, the other buds in the same spray will usually abort to avoid the development of too many of the heavy fruits on the same stem.

Its scent is most notable at night and bats are a main pollinator, but the flowers remain open into the day and are visited by many insect pollinators, particularly large species such as carpenter bees.

Pods of kigalia

The conspicuous grey or light brown gourd-like fruit (hanging like drying sausages from long, strong stalks) can weigh up to 7kg. The fruits are eaten by baboons, bushpigs, elephants, giraffe, hippopotamuses, monkeys and porcupines. The seeds are dispersed in the dung.

The fresh fruit is poisonous and very purgative. Due to the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties of Kigelia, local healers have traditionally used the fruit to remedy skin conditions such as fungal infections, acne and eczema, and Kigelia is today used in a range of commercially available skin care products. Current research may confirm the widely held belief that an extract of the fruit may act as a treatment for skin cancer and other skin ailments.. In Botswana the timber is used for makoros and yokes.

Robin Wild

Robin Wild – Retired director of NGOs devoted to public good, but also a passionate amateur botanist and lover of the Zimbabwean bush, following in the footsteps of his famous botanist father, Hiram Wild.

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