During my longs walks a few months ago, in which I spent a week on foot criss-crossing the Londolozi property, I became more fascinated by and aware of prominent trees that stood out across the landscape.
Amongst the many I have seen, there is one particular tree that I find myself drawn to more than the others. It is a large Strangler Fig (Ficus stuhlmannii) down in the south-west of Londolozi that is slowly smothering a huge Jackalberry. I remember seeing this tree for the first time and my eyes expanding trying to take in its huge canopy. Looking up towards the massive boughs spreading above me as I parked in the tree’s shade, I was reminded just how small we are. The tree stands alone and makes an incredible statement from whichever angle you look at it.
So I got to thinking about why I have favourite trees in the first place, and what attracts me to them. Is it their size, their shape, or that they are a constant in an ever-changing environment?
Then I started to wonder further, especially if anyone else had specific trees they love or admire, so I asked a few of the staff and this is what they said….
Tracker Life Sibuyi, who has been tracking here for many years told me that his favourite tree is the Long- Tail Cassia (Cassia abbreviata). It is the first tree to get its leaves in August on the open crests just before the first rains; it stands out against the dull background so you cannot miss its luminescent green leaves and bright yellow flowers. This tree in Tsonga (Life’s home language) is called Lumanyama, meaning to bite the meat. This is because traditionally, before the Tsongan people went on a hunt they would make their dogs bite a Long-Tailed Cassia to make them more aggressive. They would also hang and hide their hunting meat in the tree because of the long brown dark pods the tree produces; the meat would be disguised amongst the pods.
Life says spoke to me of the many traditional uses of the tree, and how it was a particular favourite in the treatment of stomach ailments. The Long Tail tree provides food to many different types of animals; the barks and roots are eaten by porcupines and it’s a bonus that elephants don’t like it, Life tells me with a chuckle.
He says he has seen the Kudu antelope browsing on it numerous times and the Grey Go-Away bird and Brown Headed Parrots feeding on it. This tree symbolises a change in the season and new beginnings.
More specifically, Life’s favourite individual Cassia grows next to the road along the western side of the airstrip; he thinks the canopy of this tree is picture perfect. Seeing as though it is on one of the main routes for game drives as they leave and enter camps, it’s one of the first trees Life sees in the morning and in the afternoon. It’s the tree he passes when he picks up new guests and drops off guests who are departing. Another metaphor for change and new beginnings…
Brownyn Varty-Laburn, 4th generation custodian of Londolozi, told me of a tree that stands just to the north of the old Serengeti Pan. In actual fact it’s two trunks are twisted and intertwined. It is a skeleton of a Brown Ivory tree that died many years ago, but still stands tall, and is her favourite tree on the whole of Londolozi. Its what she likes to call it the Anamcara tree. Anamcara is an old Gaelic term for “soul friend”. When Bronwyn looks at this tree she thinks about two ancient souls that have been brought together by fate, as if the two trees are whispering wisdom to each other like two sisters. When you are at this tree you can enjoy a full 360 degree view of Londolozi’s wilderness. Bronwyn often goes to this tree on a new moon night when billions of stars shine their brightest and are clear to the naked eye One can simply sit, admire and appreciate the beauty around you.
James Laburn, Bronwyn’s Son, saw a Giant Eagle Owl for the very first time in his favourite tree and ever since then this Apple-Leaf tree (Phylenoptera violacea) has become known as the “Owl Tree” which James insists on going to see on EVERY game drive that he goes on for the past three years of his youthful life.
Sandros, one of the most experienced guides at Londolozi, told me the one tree that stands out the most to him is the Natal Mahogany (Trichilia emetica) near Dudley Riverbank. He says it is so rare to find such a big impressive Mahogany in the wild because they are usually cut down for various reasons, so to see one with such a large bubbling trunk with a crown spread over a few metres is very special. Sandros has also seen the Inyathini male leopard feeding on a bushbuck in the fork of the tree and says that the leopard often ventures there. One day, Sandros found tracks of a leopard around the tree so he parked his guests under the shade of the tree and set out on foot to track the leopard, he had no luck finding the leopard so he made his way back to the guests. He then noticed that there was a young leopard in the tree above the guests who had no idea of its presence, and were not aware of its snarls as Sandros said they were talking and laughing too much to hear it. This tree is also a common place for the guides to stop under for coffee and cookies but Sandros warned me, make sure you always check the tree for a leopard. I had stopped under this tree a few days ago and Advice (who I was tracking with) climbed this tree with a guest and as they got to the top they noticed the remains of a bushbuck kill that was stored in the fork of the tree, and what was interesting was that the leopard had taken the same route up the tree as Advice and the guest as we saw its claw marks.
Trees are a home to many small creatures and hold the earth together beneath our feet through a complex web.
Trees are the wisdom keepers of the earth. They are the life that’s been in the earth’s soil for ages that keeps its records in the rings of its trunk and whispers its stories through its creek of a branch and rustle in its leaves as the wind excites it and ignites its storytelling skills.
Their cracked bark reminds me of wrinkles of a wise lady or man that lived their days laughing and smiling.
Trees are nature’s metaphor remaining rooted in the earth no matter the elements around it, walking through a jungle or forest of trees can cleanse and reenergise a person’s soul…
The thing I love the most about nature is that we can only imagine what the animals are thinking or what the trees have seen; there are many theories that we can use for everything but most of the time we are forced to use our imagination and that’s what makes us constantly curious, finding nature to be poetic, engaging our creative thought processes in this ever-changing environment. How could you not want to experience this feeling?