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The Big Five (No, not that Big Five) – #4: The Tamboti Tree

It’s blistering hot out here in the height of summer. Whatever rains arrive are a welcome respite, but quickly followed by a humidity that can only be experienced firsthand to understand. 

It’s a good thing that our reserve is decorated by some of nature’s toughest trees, bringing us dappled shade, juicy nutrition and endless beauty all year round – but especially in summer! We continue our appreciation of Abelana’s Big Five Trees (Baobab, Tamboti, Knobthorn, Marula and Mopane), by celebrating two more of Africa’s finest…

Trees of Abelana

A display of summer green – Abelana’s trees at their finest

The Tamboti Tree

The Tamboti Tree (Spirostachys africana) is one of Africa’s most fascinating tree species, a beautiful, bushy, semi-deciduous tree full of secrets and surprises – which is why we celebrate this unique plant, for all its personality!

  • The Tamboti is a drought-resistant tree, growing to an average height of 18m, which makes it the perfect tree for the dry bushveld found across so much of South Africa’s northern-eastern regions. 
  • The Tamboti is recognised for a few of its distinctive features, which includes an incredibly rough grey bark, which elephants frequently rub against when trying to scratch a stubborn, otherwise-unreachable itch. This bark is also known as a delicious food source for porcupines, who will often feast so vigorously that they cause the tree to die!
  • Other animals eat of its leaves and fruit, including elephants, monkeys, various antelope species and elephant. 
  • While the Tamboti is a wonderful food source to animals, it’s actually highly toxic to humans. Oddly enough, it has medicinal properties – the white milky sap inside the tree’s leaves is known to numb tooth pain when directly applied (please don’t try this!), but just a little too much of the substance can cause nausea, vomiting, and even death. 
  • Travellers and campers who have found and burned Tamboti wood on their campfire have been pleasantly surprised by its lovely sandalwood-scented smoke, but soon after will be rather unpleasantly surprised to find themselves in the grips of stomach cramps and diaohrrea – all from inhaling the Tamboti’s toxic smoke! 
  • Tamboti seeds are full of delightful surprises too! In the form of a three-lobed capsule, the seeds will ripen in the summer months, and then explode with loud clapping sound The seeds are thus dispersed, and will either grow or provide decadent dining for francolins and guinea fowl! 
  • Often, seeds are inhabited by the larvae of a small grey moth. When these are exposed to heat – such as the baking African sunshine, the larvae wriggle and contort, causing the seeds to “jump” around! This is why the Tamboti is nicknamed the “Jumping Bean Tree”. 

We are obviously in awe of the Tamboti and we are blessed to have an abundant presence on Abelana Game Reserve – we enjoy a healthy mix of appreciation and respect for its diverse qualities! 

Trees of Abelana

A collage of greenery and bushveld – Abelana’s rich tree life at sunset

Another Abelana Favourite: The Large-Leaved Rock Fig

The large-leaved rock fig (Ficus abutilifolia) provides another reminder of just how bizarre and creative mother nature can be! These petite fig trees grow bounteously throughout Abelana Game Reserve, the surrounding Lowveld, and large areas of low-altitude, hot southern African regions. 

  • Large-leaved rock figs can grow up to 15m tall, but for the most part, they remain fairly small. Don’t let their size fool you though – large-leaved rock figs love to grow into and around rocky outcrops, their exposed roots clinging to sheer cliff faces and often splitting entire rocks. Dynamite does come in small packages, after all! 
  • The large-leaved rock fig has a pretty yellow-ish white bark and, a bit like the yellow fever tree, is somewhat powdery to the touch. 
  • Adapting to their precarious habitats, these trees twist and contort as they grow, which is why many people cultivate them as ornamental bonsai trees. 
  • The large-leaved rock fig flowers in summer, with fruit ripening in February and March. The delicious figs are enjoyed by people, as well as birds, fruit bats, monkeys and baboons, bushbuck, bushpig, duikers, and many others.
  • Bark decoctions – concentrated liquors resulting from heating or boiling the bark – were once believed to bestow men with increased strength and stamina. 

Abelana trees

A young large-leaved rock fig clings to a boulder

From the rich soils of the riverbank to the bouldering, mountainous outcrops, Abelana Game Reserve plays host to such an incredible variety of plant and tree species which, of course, serve to attract a resplendent array of birdlife, insects and mammals from far and wide. 

To enjoy the Lowveld’s most glorious summer display of life and busyness for yourself, get in touch about a luxury safari to Abelana River Lodge. Our riverside pool is pristine, the gin is on ice, and air-conditioned suites are surrounded by the very trees that we all love so much! Contact us on 061 952 4302, or by email at info@abelanagamereserve.com