Know your Plants on Safari – Part 1

Shifting the focus from fauna to flora, one plant at a time.

There is something magical about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. Nobody is denying that. But going on safari shouldn’t necessarily be all about the wildlife when there is so much more to appreciate about being in the African bush. The flora can be just as fascinating as the fauna if you know what you’re looking at. However, when we don’t know what we’re looking at, it kind of all blurs into one big green and brown bush. That’s why Craig Robinson, Assistant General Manager at Ant’s Hill is on a mission to change all that using one simple tool…education.

Let’s get started and meet the ‘Sweet Thorn’:

SWEET THORN (Acacia Karroo)

Origin of Name: The name Acacia is derived from the Greek work “akis” meaning a sharp point or spine and Karroo comes from the dry interior of South Africa where this tree occurs abundantly.

Where to find it: The sweet thorn is a rather common tree through most of Southern Africa and extending further into Zambia and Angola.

Appearance: The young stems and shoots are a reddish colour, darkening with age. The bark of the stem and mature branches is coarse and almost black. When in flower it is an incredibly beautiful tree with striking yellow globe like flowers.

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Photos by Phil Shah.

Why you should look out for it on safari: In the wild, these flowers attract a variety of different animals from giraffe and black rhino to birds like turacos, parrots and sunbirds. The gum of the plant is also frequently eaten by monkeys and bush babies. Keep an eye out for these animals when you see some sweet thorn out on a game drive!

Human Use:
• Sweet thorn is a popular garden and farm plant as it grows quickly and creates a good windbreaker and fodder plant.
• Insects such as wasps, butterflies and bees help to pollinate the tree and it is a favoured tree amongst bee keepers as the honey produced from this tree is said to be of superior quality.
• The gum of the plant holds the highest value, so much so that it was once exported on a commercial level as a good quality gum for the confectionary market and sold under the name “gomme du cap” or ‘gum of the Cape’.
• It has also been used as a medium quality adhesive and is still occasionally used in rural areas as well as being used in some pharmaceutical products.
• The inner bark can be turned into a strong, good quality when braided when fresh.
• The seeds prove useful as they can be roasted and ground and made into a coffee substitute, although it is an acquired taste!
• When it comes to farming or looking for water, sweet thorn proves to be a good indicator tree as they tend to grow near underground water sources.
• The variety of medicinal uses are almost endless with this tree, including treating oral thrush, mouth ulcers, diarrhoea, dysentery and even colic. It can also be uses as an emetic, a coagulant, to treat haemorrhage, as an emollient, an astringent and the list goes on and on.

Definitely a phenomenally useful and striking tree to see and have around. And now the next time you see it, you’ll be able to appreciate just how great this tree really is.