Trees provide life to everything around us. Without them we simply wouldn’t exist. When thinking about it, almost every time we found ourselves out in the bush we in some ways are connected to the trees around us. Whether it be scanning the limbs of the large trees for a glimpse of a rosette coat draped over its branches or searching for the bird we haven’t yet seen or merely enjoying the sight of its textured bark or blossoming flowers, we are constantly given the opportunity to connect with a tree.
For animals, trees equal life. Whether it be their source of food, a safety net, a home or even a vantage point, so many of them rely on these pillars to survive. There are however a few trees that stand out, a few that are my favourites, and some that are iconic in the Lowveld, so today’s blog I would like to highlight a few of them and their most identifiable features. The next time you are on a drive, look out for these striking trees that shape our landscape.
Leadwood (Combretum Imberbe)
A tree that can grow up to 20m tall and live for ~1000 years. Its pale pencil-lead grey bark with cracked misformed rectangular blocks is almost similar to a crocodile’s back. These beautiful trees often decorate the fringes adjacent to a riverbed or drainage line. Growing incredibly slowly their very dense and heavy heartwood is the third densest wood we get here (behind #1 zebrawood Dalbergia melanoxylon and #2 Russet Bushwillow Combretum Hereroense).
Because of its density, the dead tree can be seen still standing for many years. It is believed that the wood actually erodes away as opposed to decaying. As a result of this, we often see very textured old dead leadwoods dotted around the reserve and dream to see a leopard resting in the branches. Leadwood trees are not adversely affected by many other plants or animals due to their strength and dense wood. They can be seen as a common support structure/host for the strangler fig trees. The strangler figs are unable to strangle and kill the leadwood and so the two grow together for many years, reaching enormous sizes.
Animals that eat the leaves of the leadwood are elephants, giraffes, kudus, impalas and grey duikers.
Sycamore Fig (Ficus Sycomorus)
For me, one of the more beautiful trees we see along the banks of the Sand River, as well as dry river beds here at Londolozi. This large tree often has an impressively buttressed base that supports the enormous growth of up to 30 meters tall. The trunk of the sycamore fig can grow up to three meters in diameter and is coated with a pale, smooth, powdery, yellow bark that begins to flake with age.
This tree fruits throughout the year and is relished by many fruit-eating birds, bats and different mammals including elephants, giraffes, kudu, nyala, bushbuck, impala, warthogs, baboons and monkeys. The fruit is edible for humans and very nutritious however it is not as sweet and tasty as other figs that we love to eat. And may also be occupied by an array of insects. More often than not, even for those with little interest in trees, when passing by a sycamore fig you’ll want to stop for at least a few seconds to admire it. Its almost like a tree you would expect to find in Rivendell from the Lord of the Rings!
Jackalberry (Diospyros Mespiliformis)
Whenever I’m asked by someone what my favourite tree is, the jackalberry has to be my answer. The jackalberry is the most beautiful of them all, they grow to be a huge tree with an imposing upright trunk that splits into a few thick branches that support a dense dark green spreading canopy which stands as tall as 25 meters. The trunk and limbs are covered in a dark black/brown fissured bark with a superficial whitewash splashed over it.
Like the two previously mentioned trees, the jackalberry is typically found along riverine areas where their tasty oval/round fruit draws in many animals. Often fruiting from April to October, these fruits provide a valuable source of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins with very high levels of Vitamin C (about 25mg per 100g) to all those that consume them, humans included. The leaves are eaten by elephants, giraffes, nyala and kudus. The fruit is eaten by kudus, klipspringers, baboons, vervet monkeys, parrots, hornbills, turacos and bulbuls just to name a few.
Jackalberry trees hold a close place to many people at Londolozi’s hearts, the main tree growing through the Varty Camp deck is a jackalberry and it was beneath this exact tree that the original camp was set when Charles Boyd Varty and Frank Unger arrived on Sparta farm in 1926. Many jackalberry trees found within the camp provide an abundance of shade, life and energy to keep the spirit of Londolozi going.
Next time whilst visiting Londolozi or anywhere in the Lowveld of South Africa, keep a lookout for either of these three trees. There are so many beautiful trees that if you just look a little closer you’ll find something that will grab hold of your curiosity. In the comments below Id be interested in hearing which is your favourite tree?
Filed under General Nature Life Safari experience Wilderness teachings Wildlife
An interesting blog Dan. I love a lot of different trees, but i would single out a Boabab (Adonsonia Digitata) and the Coral tree. If you have not done so as yet, a good and insightful read is ‘the secret life of trees’ written by Peter Wohlleben.
Many thanks Dan for this unusual and very informative article. On trips to African game parks I have been disappointed by guides typically focussing only on animals and birds and bypassing magnificent trees without any comment or explanation as to what they are. Presumably this is because most guests don’t share my interest in trees.
Great post Dan! If he hasn’t already, you must get Freddy to tell you about the time he tracked and found the Sycamore Fig Tree 🙂 We were all devastated when it washed away!
Dan, thank you for bringing my attention to the trees of Londolozi. The flora of our world is so often overlooked and we forget that is the life blood of our planet. Your favorite trees are indeed magnificent each in its own way. Again, thanks for sharing.
Nice blog, Dan! While I too love the Leadwood, I’m partial to the Marula tree – beautiful, full crown, interesting bark and, of course, that lovely fruit that’s so important to my favorite liqueur!
This is one of the best blogs I’ve ever read. Without trees/plants there would be no life on earth. We all depend on them and they are so immense in their beautiful diversity and monumental features as to have us in awe. Leopards and other animals are a perfect complement to their striking appearance. I had seen a wonderful documentary on southern Africa ‘s trees, it was magical. They look so different from each other you can’t miss them. Thank you so much for writing about them
Thank you very much for this interesting and nice blog.
I love all trees and have a big tree in my garden at home. Birds love this tree and it cools the heat nicely down in our summer months.
Like Gawie Jordaan I can also recommend the book “The secret life of trees”. It is really interesting.
How about some love for the much abused Amarula?
Sycamore fig for me! Sorry to hear about that beauty that got washed away 🙁
Dan I also love the Jackalberry tree, for it’s enormous branches and the very tall trunk. Leopards seem to love the tree for resting and stashing their impala kills in. It feeds quiet a lot of animals and it is just outright a beautiful tree. Good story Dan on the trees, much appreciated.
A nice blog Dan. I am a tree lover and one of my favourite poems is called “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. If you get a chance – do read it. Here in Canada it is Autumn. I live in Ontario and we have just gone through one of the most colourful and beautiful Autums I can ever remember. You are so right, trees provide a lot of things for both humans and animals. Thank you for sharing with us.
I’m a big fan of the leadwood forest in Londolozi as well as the jackalberry trees, but here at home, I’m drawn to the magnificent redwood and giant sequoia trees. Not only are they beautiful to view, but act as homes to many birds, animals and insects. I love the deep red/brown striated bark that isn’t seen in other trees here. Thank you for your interesting blog!
I live in Hong Kong, so I’d have to say my favorite tree is the banyan. It’s a type of strangler fig, and large specimens can be centuries old – the current record-holder is in India and 250 years young. The most prominent feature is that the tree sprouts aerial roots from its branches that grow downwards into the ground and can eventually become prop roots and even form part of the trunk. In the Kruger, baobabs are fascinating to see, but I like any “leopard tree” with promising branches!
Dan, certainly the lion’s claw is on a leadwood (Combretum imberbe). The trees where the elephant is strolling look like marula?
I’m partial to the Sycamore fig… Such a big beautiful tree. I love the base of it as well! The cherry blossoms of Japan are stunning as well when in bloom -like little beautiful miracles with an each blossom. Like another commentor I also live in Ontario Canada and it was a stunning autumn. I was stopped dead in my tracks many times just looking at the colours
That sycamore fig is quite impressive! Do you have any idea how old it is? I’ve put it on my list to see! #196 more days and counting.