The sausage tree of Africa

Andrew Mangwarara —
ONE of the greatest things about being in Africa is its vegetation and among this unique plant life is the tree, kigelia Africana, commonly called the sausage tree.

The genus has one species, which is only found in Africa from South Africa right through to Tanzania. In Zimbabwe it is common in most parts of the country. It prefers woodlands and growing alongside rivers. The sausage tree is known as mubvee or musonya in Shona and umvebe in isiNdebele.

This is a large tree able to reach 20m in height with a large rounded crown and smooth grey bark. Its leaves have up to 11 leaflets with a large terminal one.

The flowers of this tree are very attractive, making a suitable tree for your garden, maroon in colour, which are borne on pendulous stalks. Though they may be very showy flowers they do have an unpleasant smell. It flowers from August to October.

Flowers are followed by enormous greyish brown, sausage shaped fruits, which have been known to grow up to 9kg in weight and containing a fibre filled pulp with numerous seeds.

Its fruit are the highlight of the tree if you have planted it in your garden. Really like the furnisher in the garden the fruits stand out as they hang precariously on the tree. You will have a bit of Africa if you plant this tree amongst your exotic species.

Even its foliage lends its own unique feel. Indeed one neglected specimen for the garden. There are just, however, a few safety precautions for kigelia africana. Do not plant it in your car park as fruits can damage your car when they land.

Again it has a vigorous root system so should be planted away from buildings and swimming pools unless you have the time and energy to dig a regular trench around the tree cutting the roots regularly.

In the African setup it has a number of beliefs and medicinal properties associated with it. Traditional healers are known to help young man improve their manhood using the tree as its fruit grow.

Medicinally it is used externally for treating ulcers, sores and syphilis. The dried fruit is powdered as a dressing whilst bark decoctions are used to treat dysentery. Apparently the decoctions of the fruit and bark are taken orally for stomach ailments in children.

The fruit is reported to be purgative. Unique compounds such as lapachol and kigelin are the active ingredients. In other countries like Malawi the roasted fruits are used to aid the fermentation of beer and improve its flavour.

The hardwood is used to make dugout canoes and fruit boxes. Its root can make a yellow dye. Although its fresh fruit cannot be eaten as it is considered to be poisonous its fruit extract is used to make beauty products and skin ointments.

The tree truncheons easily take root if planted in river sand from September, whilst its seed must be sown fresh to get good results. It does germinate readily.

Shelter the young plants from frost whilst raising them in full sun and its beauty quite apparent at that seedling stage. Use lots of compost and water moderately.

Kigelia africana trees are generally pest free. It shows you the true advantages of growing indigenous trees. The sausage tree is no wonder a tree to have in your landscape as it will definitely bring an expression of the land of Africa.

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