When it comes to the average safari, trees are often overlooked in favour of, well, everything else that inhabits the African wilderness! Thank goodness Abelana Game Reserve is far from average because we absolutely love our trees and are immensely proud of them, valuing the critical role they play in our environment.
The trees that line the banks along our stretch of the Selati River in the northern reaches of the reserve are particularly noteworthy because of the amazing way they have to adapt to the different flow regimes of the river. Most riparian tree species adapt their very physiology to maximise their survival chances, making use of surface, ground, soil and rain water or a combination of these. So a big shout out to our wonderful jackalberries (Diospyros mespiliformis), sycamore figs (Ficus sycomorus), winterthorn or ana trees (Acacia albida) and all the magnificent riverine forests on our reserve.
Next up is the mighty baobab, Adansonia digitata – a legendary tree in African terms. Known as the “tree of life” the baobab has many uses in local tradition. The powder extracted from its odd-shaped fruit is used to make a refreshing drink similar to lemonade – this was the original source of cream of tartar before modern winemaking produced it. The pulp of a baobab fruit is a mine of vitamins and minerals, with six times more vitamin C than an orange and 50% more calcium than spinach!
Baobabs grow incredibly slowly and their age is usually assessed by adding 100 years for every metre of its circumference. We have several great baobab specimens on Abelana, the biggest of which is found not far from Abelana Safari Camp, in the lee of a towering koppie. It’s a particularly gnarly tree with lots of incredible character hewn into its bark and is easily more than 1500 years old if the circumference trick is to be believed.
Baobabs are classed as succulents and it’s the only tree that can regenerate its bark when ring-barked by an elephant.
Finally, to another of our local tree heroes – the large-leafed rock fig, Ficus abutifolia, that proliferates on our amazing rocky outcrops and koppies. With its beautiful creamy coloured trunk and exposed root system and smooth, flaky bark, the leaves of this tree are heart-shaped and the largest of all of Africa’s fig species. Its roots can reach down as much as 60m as they snake their way through cracks and crevices in the rock to access nutrients from water and soil below, and give the tree its nickname – the candlewax fig – because of the way they resemble melted candle wax.