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The Big Five (No, not that big five) – #2: the Knobthorn Tree

As we head into the lush green of spring and summer, we continue to celebrate the sturdy, silent giants of the Abelana Game Reserve – our Big Five Trees (the Baobab, Knobthorn, Tambotie, Mopane and Marula), alongside five other favourites that we can’t resist mentioning…

The Knobthorn Tree

The knobthorn tree (Senegalia nigrescens) forms part of the widely-known acacia family. African acacias are heavily protected by vicious thorns, while the Australian variety is far friendlier, having no thorns. The prickly knob-thorn giants flourish in hot, dry savannas, and can withstand long droughts.

  • The knob-thorn tree grows up to 18m in height and can be recognised by the thorns that decorate its trunk, which eventually thicken into the hard, resistant bark “knobs” that grow over and engulf the thorns.
  • The knob-thorn tree provides nutrition to giraffes, monkeys and baboons, through its leaves, prolific springtime flowers, and summer pods. Elephants are known to rip off entire branches to eat – an unbelievable feat of power and strength!
  • Knobthorn trees are ideal nesting trees for a variety of vulture and raptor species, and therefore attract some magnificent birdlife to our reserve.
  • It’s estimated that giraffes obtain 40% of their diet from the foliage of the knob-thorn tree. But don’t worry, they return the favour by helping to pollinate the species as they browse from tree to tree.
  • Because the knob-thorn is resistant to fires and its bark is too hardy for termites, it makes a wonderful home for birdlife, providing sanctuary from flame and critter alike.

Knob-thorn flowers are pretty, soft, powdery tufts of pink and yellow, and they scent the springtime and summer air with a fragrance that is so typical of Africa, one cannot help but appreciate them, as the animals on our reserve obviously do…An undoubtedly good reason to put them on our Big Five Trees

A mousebird in a Knobthorn tree

Another Abelana favourite: The Jackalberry Tree

Another tough, termite-resistant tree that we believe is worth a mention is the prolific Jackalberry tree (Diospyros mespiliformis). This African champion has not only adapted to the affronts of the continent, but thrives on some of the land’s most destructive inhabitants… termites!

Much like the Knobthorn, the Jackalberry’s bark is impervious to termites. Even more fascinating, Jackalberry’s have been seen growing right on top of termite mounds, enjoying the aerated soil created by the insects’ underground tunnelling. In return, the tough trunk and roots of the tree provide protection for the termites.

  • The Jackaberry tree is also called the African Ebony, for its dark, hard wood that turns to grey when matured.
  • These evergreen trees have been recorded as tall as 24 metres, but the average Jackalberry will grow to around 7-8 metres. They have wide, strong trunks and provide dense shade.
  • Jackalberry flowers are small, white and fragrant, and they grow into nutrient-rich, lemon-flavoured fruit that both man and beast enjoy. The fruit can be eaten ripe, preserved or dried, and even ground into flour. People have been using the Jackalberry fruit to brew beer or brandy, for centuries.

While often sharing the same expanses of savanna and bushveld, the Knobthorn and Jackalberry trees aren’t entirely “friends”.

During times of drought, the Knobthorn, an acacia, will release a chemical through its roots into the ground that stops other seeds, like Jackalberries, from growing. The Jackalberry, however, has the upper hand in terms of size and the fact that it’s not on the menu for elephants, who will strip a Knobthorn for its tasty bark.

A breeding pair of woolly-necked storks nesting in a Jackalberry tree

Here at Abelana, both species are plentiful, providing shade and habitat, beauty and nutrition to our wilderness wonderland, and all its creatures.