What tree is that?
So often when I’m in the bush, I hear people asking, 'What tree is that?' Even regular bush-goers like myself only know a handful of the easily identifiable ones, such as the baobab, the fever tree and the mighty fig trees that grow along the rivers in Kruger and other national parks.
So it’s great to see that at last someone has brought out a handy, concise, easy-to-use pocket guide – Trees of Southern Africa is by Piet van Wyk, and published by Struik/Nature.
This is an ideal travelling companion because it really does fit into your pocket or camera bag, and identifying some of those majestic, interesting or even bizarre trees that you see on your visit to South Africa will certainly enrich your travel experience.
Open any page and you’ll find a clear picture of each tree, its flowers, fruits and leaves, plus a description and where you can find it. There’s often a fascinating, handy little note at the bottom of each page that gives you more detail, or even tells a story.
You’ll learn, for example, that the San built their shelters in the middle of candle-pod thorns to protect themselves from lions and other predators, or that the bark of the water fig is valued for medicinal purposes.
I often argue with myself as to what my own favourite tree is. I love the jackalberry because it seems to give out raw natural energy, and along the Kruger National Park rivers I’ve sometimes spotted leopards lying up in its thick branches. The sycamore fig is another favourite, especially in summer when its fruits attract huge numbers of birds, monkeys and baboons. Or what about the aptly named sausage tree, with its huge comical fruits that do really look like sausages on steroids?
But in the end, I always come back to the baobab, one of the longest-living and biggest-growing trees in the world.
Called the 'upside down' tree, San mythology believes that the Creator first threw it down from the sky in a fit of anger and so it landed the wrong way up. Apparently its fruits were sold in Cairo markets as long ago as 2 500BC. And there are two very famous ones: their huge hollow trunks once served as a prison and a post office.