On a rocky outcrop on the banks of the Manyelethi River sits a very interesting tree.
This tree has fascinated me for quite some time now. There may be more impressive trees here but the reason I find this one particularly spectacular is because it is the only one of its kind (that we know of) on the whole of Londolozi.
It is a Shepherd’s Tree, Boscia albitrunca.
It got its common name from the drier region of its distribution, where herdsmen used to take shelter from the blistering sun in the shade of the tree while they were watching over their sheep, as there generally isn’t much other shade on offer in these arid areas.
Known to some as the ‘tree of life’, the nutritional value of this tree is held in high regard and provides sustenance to many animals such as birds, monkeys, elephant and baboons. The leaves have a crude protein content of roughly 14.5% as well as a high level of vitamin A, and are fed on by the larvae of two butterflies – the Brown-veined White butterfly and the Queen Purple Tip butterfly. Some animals will even eat the bark as an anthelmintic (to expel any parasitic worms or other internal parasites).
Not only is this tree of great value to animals but it also has many human uses too. The root can be used in many ways – it can be can be eaten raw or cooked much like a vegetable. When ground and roasted, it can be used as a substitute for coffee and when dried, ground and sifted into a flour, it can be eaten as a porridge. To make a sweet drink the outer bark of the root is scraped off and pounded it into a flour which is then boiled until it is a thick sticky substance, then diluted.
Medicinally the root is said to help with the treatment of haemorrhoids and the fruit has been used commercially to aid with the treatment of epilepsy.
I have often wondered why this is the only tree of its kind here and I can only guess that because of the great nutritional value that these trees have in general, they are highly sought after by many browsing animals including elephant, kudu, nyala and bush-buck. Sheperds trees are fairly slow growers, and young saplings are very vulnerable during their early years. Most may have not had the chance to grow into a mature tree, whereas this particular tree may have been protected and sheltered by the rocks amongst which it grows.