There is beauty to be found all around. The flash of a waterbuck as it runs through the bushveld, curious monkeys at play, a hippo grunting from its waterside home. There’s not a single moment where the veld is not alive with chorus, movement and excitement. But even when there is a seeming stillness and nothing is in sight, there are always other beauties, trees standing strong, fixed, for all to admire.
For animals, trees are a safety net, a home, a source of food and a vantage point. On game drives we scan passing trees hoping to catch a glimpse of the rosettes of a leopard. Birding enthusiasts likewise stare avidly at trees hoping to catch sight of a bird that they have not yet seen.
Elephants of course have a great love for trees, especially of maurla trees and the fruit that they provide. We could spend hours watching these large pachyderms as they feed on trees reaching for the greenest leaves.
There are however a few trees that stand out, a few that are my favourites, and some that are iconic in the Lowveld, seen throughout the Sabi Sands and Londolozi. It’s for this reason that I have chosen a few of the iconic trees that we find here along with some of their most identifiable features. The next time you are on a drive, look out for these striking trees that shape our landscape.
Knobthorn (Acacia nigrescens)
I first spotted this tree on a game drive in the Lowveld not far from Londolozi. The tree was pointed out to me and has stuck with me ever since. Once you recognise the thorns on the bark of the tree you can be sure that you’ve found the knobthorn. It’s commonly found throughout the reserve often near drainage lines and rivers. From July to September the flower buds open to form a spectacular, creamy-white display. The knobthorn is also known for its flat bean pods that hang in clusters. The pods break open on the ground from around December to June.
Animals that enjoy this tree: The knobthorn is a popular feeding source for a number of animals. Flowers are eaten by monkeys, baboons and giraffe. The leaves and shoots by kudu, elephant and giraffe. Giraffes also enjoy eating the pods. The holes in the truck are frequented by birds that use the tree as a nesting site.
Leadwood (Combretum imberbe)
This is one of my favourite trees, especially in winter when it loses its leaves. The tree stands ghost like with its branches outstretched like fingers pointing to the sky. I could stare at the tree for hours looking at the different shapes and figures that can be interpreted from the texture of its bark. The word for this is pareidolia – seeing images of animals or faces in the clouds, so it is that many interpretations can be found in the bark of a leadwood.
The leadwood is a very tall majestic tree with a pale grey bark that breaks up like snakeskin. The wood of this tree is amongst the heaviest in the world and is much sought after especially as fuel as it is a slow growing tree and the wood burns for a long time creating great warmth. Leadwoods can live for thousands of years. They often grow in the open on basalt plains and in small groups along rivers and drainage lines.
Animals that enjoy this tree: The leaves of the tree are eaten by giraffe, elephant, kudu and impala.
Marula (Sclerocarya birrea)
Many of you will know the marula tree as it is so often seen throughout the Lowveld region and is easily recognisable. This is a single trunk tree that is easy to distinguish from its bark that often peels into circular flakes that appear to be a pink-brown under the bark. The canopy grows upwards and outwards with smaller twigs breaking off the main branches like stubby fingers pointing skywards. The tree is most well known for its delicious fruit that belongs to the Mango family. It consists of a pip surrounded by the fleshy fruit. The fruit is green and ripens to a pale yellow from January through to March.
Animals that enjoy this tree: The fruit is eaten by elephants, monkeys, baboons, kudu, duiker, impala and zebra. Elephants also eat the bark and leaves.
Jackalberry (Diospyros mespiliformis)
This large tree is a common sight at Londolozi with its dark green dense canopy. The fruit of the jackalberry is usually present on the tree throughout the year. You will often see these trees alive with monkeys and birds that enjoy eating the berries. Trees grow singly along rivers and drainage lines but also on termite mounds.
This tree is seldom seen without leaves as new ones appear at the same time that the old leaves start to fall.
Animals tend to eat the fruit before it is ripe. The fruit is also eaten by jackals hence the reason for its common name…
Sycamore Fig (Ficus sycomorus)
I chose this tree for its beauty, the sycamore fig that grows along rivers, is almost like a tree you would expect to find in Rivenddell from the Lord of the Rings! Its massive trunk is gnarled and much like the leadwood, with many layers and textures. The pale branches of this tree are visible between the leaves. The plum-like fruit can be seen on the tree for most of the year. Its colour a yellow brown that changes pinkish when ripe.
Animals that enjoy this tree: The fruit is a favourite food of many birds that include: barbets, hornbills, rollers, African green pigeons and brown-headed parrots. Baboons, bushbabies and monkey will eat the fruit off the tree while antelope, bushpig, warthog and rhino will browse on the fallen figs on the ground.
Written by: Kate Collins.
Illustrations by Simon Max Bannister.
What kind of tree are you? If you could choose one tree that you would like to be or that you feel represents you, tell us what it is and why!