Tree Species Hluhluwe and Surrounds
Tree Species Hluhluwe and Surrounds
I decided to start my next series of blogs on some tree education, often we marvel at the size, their odd shapes or here in Zululand they are more often than not used as cooling spots of shade.
Each tree is unique in shape, size and value, more valuable than any commodity as they provide us much needed oxygen to survive.
The picture I am sure explains why I wanted to do this amazing tree first. It’s probably one of the oddest looking trees around and is very often mistaken for a cactus, although it is officially classified as a tree.
This species is called Euphorbia ingens in the genus Euphorbia and comes from the tree family called Euphorbiaceae. It is popularly known as the Candelabra tree. Euphorbia is a large genus, with about 1600 species, found in most temperate and tropical regions.
The tree has very large succulent leaves which resemble a cactus leave. The leaves are filled with milky latex and are highly toxic and a strong irritant, Strong enough to cause blister if it comes into contact with the skin, blindness in the eyes and severe swelling.
The latex although very toxic has one very interesting use; fishing! The latex of the plant contains a poison called rotonin, It is used to stupefy fish, making it possible to catch them by hand. The fish poison is prepared by soaking a bundle of grass in the latex, tying it to a stone and throwing it into the water. Paralyzed fish rise to the surface within a short period of time. As long as the head and gills of the fish are removed prior to eating it, there is no danger of being poisoned as the fish does not retain any of the Euphorbia’s’ toxicity.
The plants flowers are very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. When the tree fruits, bird enjoy the treat and it is said that when the seeds pop open it sounds like popcorn popping. The seeds popping are a seeding mechanism that plants use to disperse seeds away from the main plant. Birds also like nesting in these trees; hole-nesting birds such as woodpeckers often use dead sections.
Despite the trees toxic latex and spiky thorns, black rhino who feed on the tree daily seem to suffer no ill effect. Black rhino have been sighted actually pushing trees over to get to otherwise out of reach leaves. Nobody really knows how the rhinos remain unaffected by the toxins in the bush and I am sure it will be a subject that will still get many hours of research.
So the next time you drive past this odd looking tree, keep doing just that.... looking.
Tree Species Hluhluwe and Surrounds
Fever Tree - Vachellia (Acacia) xanthophloea
Fever Tree (Acacia)
In this series of tree education I chose to focus on trees with strange shapes, odd looking fruits, peculiar names and weird names.
The Fever tree almost jumped to mind immediately. The Fever tree, formerly part of the Acacia family and now a part of the Vachellia family. Acacias as we know them are no more and have now been replaced by Vachellia. This is still causing much debate as to why the change but for now the name Vachellia seems to be staying put. When Vachellia (Acacia) xanthophloea was made Tree of the Year in 2010, it attracted country-wide attention. There is no denying that the yellow-green bark of the Fever tree with its powdery coating is both striking and unusual, and that its sparsely branching form is architecturally pleasing
The fever tree occurs mainly in depressions and shallow pans where underground water is present or surface water collects after summer rains. It is also found in low-lying swampy areas, along the margins of lakes and on river banks. It often forms pure, dense stands of closed woodland in seasonally flooded areas on alluvial soils. This tree can be found from Kenya in the north to KwaZulu-Natal in the south. It is a prominent feature in the lowveld region of South Africa.
The fever tree is probably one of the most visually striking trees. The tree is almost lime green and has a ghostly shine to it.
The fever tree has so much history and the story of the Elephants child by Rudyard Kipling. The story is told by the Kolokolo bird and in the book makes reference to the “great grey green” fever trees.
The Fever tree has caused much stir in the past and was long thought to be the cause of very severe illness that was accompanied by very high fever.
It was only later when we had better technology that it was found that the tree wasn’t the cause of people getting sick, it was malaria, the trees just commonly occurring in malaria areas. Nevertheless the story goes that locals would lie down in the vast shade of the tree , would fall asleep and would wake up in mosquito bites causing the onset of malaria .Some cultures believe though that the bark from the fever tree cures fevers. So the tree looks like it has a fever, believed to cause fever and also believed to cause fever. Enough evidence to support the name fever tree I would say.
Fever trees prefer hot and dry winters and hot and wet humid climates in summer.
Fever trees in their element can grow up to 25 meters high with the canopy spread over 12 or more meters. They are often found near a water source and when water is no longer abundant in winter they take their “winter rest”
After getting much attention the fever tree became a very popular tree amongst nurseries and bonsai growers. But because of the sheer size that a fever tree grows to its not always advisable to take on this plant unless you have plenty summer water and a lot of space. In my personal opinion they are best viewed in the wild where they belong.
Here in Northern Zululand we are fortunate enough to enjoy the fever trees with no risk of contracting malaria.
Just another good reason to visit St Lucia and join Heritage tours and safaris on a gamed drive! All the fun with no risk!
Tree Species Hluhluwe and Maputuland (iSimangaliso Wetland Park)
In the north eastern corner of South Africa lays the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, the first of its kind in the country. Known for its complex ecological processes, large biodiversity and superlative beauty, it is any nature lovers dream place to visit. Whether you’re interested in plants, mammals, reptiles, birds or just perhaps the unspoilt beaches and abundant marine life along the coast, it has something to offer everyone. But why is this area so diverse compared to other parts of South Africa? It might be difficult to answer fully but we can take a look at a number of influencing circumstances that add to the areas uniqueness, in an effort to shed some light on particularly the plant communities and tree species found in the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park.
Africa consists essentially of a high plateau surrounded by a series of low lying coastal plains. While the rest of the continent remained fairly stable, the plains where subjected to massive environmental changes due to a series of marine inundations during historic ‘ice ages’. The retreating and advancing ocean laid down extensive deposits of sediment, changed the courses of rivers and formed and isolated lakes, dune ridges, basins and other features. These events had a marked effect on the development of plant and animal communities along the coastline. One of the largest coastal plains in Africa stretches down from Somalia in the north to Zululand in the south. At the southern end of this plain lies a critical junction between the coastal lowlands, the inland plateau and the ocean. This area called Maputaland is where the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park is situated.
Once the coastline had stabilized to its current state, there were to main sources of plants and animals which could colonize Maputaland, - the subtropical/temperate biota of the south and high altitude west, and the tropical biota from the north. Many tropical species have invaded Maputaland which has resulted in the development of a rich diversity of tropical fauna and flora at relatively high latitude. Thus Maputaland acts as a ‘transition zone’ and the resulting tensions and transitions between temperate and tropical elements has seen complex biotic communities develop.
The vegetation is characterized by an abrupt pattern of local change because there are rapid changes in climate and soils. This complex mosaic of vegetation types includes a range of forest types, bushland, thicket, wooded grasslands and edaphic grasslands. An estimated 40% of woody vegetation is considered endemic. Some of the most notable vegetation types you will encounter on your travels through the south of the park will be the ancient coastal dune forests, wooded grasslands and some of the estuarine vegetation such as mangroves swamps.
So let us consider some interesting trees found in each of these areas:
Coastal Dune Forest is defined forest occupying the coastal dunes of north – eastern Zululand. The dune forests of iSimangaliso Wetlands Park are considered to be some of the oldest and highest vegetated sand dune systems in the world, reaching a height of 170 m. It occurs as a parallel belt along the coast ranging in width from 10 m to 500 m. This area comprises of two main vegetation types i.e. the coastal thicket on the seaward slopes and dune forest on the land ward slope of the dune systems.
The seaward facing dune thicket is usually covered by dense, stunted vegetation caused by exposure to salt-spray-laden onshore winds. One of the most common tree found species here is the –Dune star-apple (Diospyros rotundifoli), a small tree of up to 10 m with thick leathery leaves to prevent desiccation and a small fruit that looks like little red apples.
On the landward slopes of the dunes where there is increased shelter from the wind and sea, the trees are taller ranging in canopy heights up to 30 m and the tree canopy is usually interlaced by woody vines and creepers. One of the most common tree species and one of the largest found in this area is the Coastal Red-Milkwood (Mimusops caffra) – a protected tree species in South Africa under the National Forests Act of 1998. Protected tree species may not be cut, disturbed, damaged or destroyed, and their products may not be possessed, collected, removed, transported, exported, donated, purchased or sold, except under license granted by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry or a delegated authority.
A large tree of up to 25 m, the bark is dark grey, thin and wrinkled longitudinally. The young stems are densely covered with long, rust-colored hairs. The wood is reddish, closely grained, heavy, hard, strong and elastic. The red or orange-red fruits are the staple food of the monkeys along the coastal forests of KwaZulu-Natal. Blackbellied glossy starlings, Yellow streaked bulbuls and bushpigs also eat the fruit. Monkeys in particular spread the seed. Mimusops caffra is considered a royal timber tree of excellent quality. Its tough timber is in demand for local boat-building. The wood is also used to make the framework of the large conical fish trap that fishermen use. South Africa has only three species that belong to the genus Mimusops; M. caffra, M. obovata and M. zeyheri.
As you move from the dune forests into the coastal grasslands an abrupt change in vegetation occurs, as much of the grasslands adjacent to the dune forests historically has seen much disturbance. Areas to the south of Cape Vidal on both the eastern and western shores of Lake St. Lucia has seen decades of commercial timber plantations dominate its soils. With the establishment of the UNESCO Heritage site, one of the main objectives was to remove the timber plantations and rehabilitate the region to allow for the slow return of natural vegetation. In the region of 25 000 ha of plantations (est. 15 million trees) were removed in the early 2000’s. This not only opened the area for the reintroduction of game and re-establishment of natural vegetation but it also had a huge effect on the hydrology of the area and its wetlands, seeing groundwater return in abundance.
Unfortunately these previously cultivated areas are prone to having alien invasive plant species settle in them as these hardy plants tolerate poor soil conditions far better than indigenous species and they spread at a rapid pace. The iSimangaliso Wetlands Park has established an ongoing alien invasive species clearing program to rid the area of these pesky plants such as Triffid weed (Chromolina odorata), Lantana (Lantana camara) and Guava (Psidium guajava) to name a few. Methods of control include physical/mechanical removal, biological controls and fire management to help rehabilitate the grasslands.
One of the most common tree species found in these grasslands is the Waterberry (Syzygium cordatum) or Umdoni tree in Zulu. It is an evergreen, water-loving tree, which grows to a height of 8 -15 m. The leaves are elliptic to circular, bluish green on top and a paler green below. Young leaves are reddish. The white to pinkish fragrant flowers are borne in branched terminals and have numerous fluffy stamens and produce abundant nectar. It flowers from August to November. The fruits are oval berries, red to dark-purple when ripe.
The generic name Syzygium is based on a Greek word meaning 'coupled', an allusion to the paired branches and leaves. The specific name cordatum is from the Latin word cordatus, meaning 'heart-shaped', referring to the shape of the base of the leaf.
The foliage of this tree is eaten by Kudu and birds such as the Crowned Hornbill feed off the large hairy caterpillars that sometimes infest the tree. This tree is known for its many uses. The fleshy fruit is edible, slightly acid in flavor, and is eaten by children, monkeys, bush-babies and birds. The berries are also used to sometimes make an alcoholic drink. The powdered bark is used as a fish poison. In central Africa the tree is known as a remedy for stomach ache and diarrhea. It is also used to treat respiratory ailments and tuberculosis.
If you happen to find yourself on a boat cruise on the St. Lucia estuary enjoying the abundant birdlife, ample Hippopotami or Nile crocodiles lazing on the banks, you will also find some very special trees growing along the estuary banks, namely mangroves. A mangrove is a shrub or small tree that grows in coastal saline or brackish water. Mangroves are salt tolerant trees, also called halophytes, and are adapted to life in harsh coastal conditions. They contain a complex salt filtration system and complex root system to cope with salt water immersion and wave action. They are adapted to the low oxygen (anoxic) conditions of waterlogged mud.
Mangrove forests are extremely productive ecosystems that provide numerous good services both to the marine environment and people. Mangrove forests are home to a large variety of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusc species forming a food base for many animals. The dense root systems of mangrove forests trap sediments flowing down rivers and off the land, this helps to stabilize the coastline and prevents erosion from waves and storms.
The iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is the only area in South Africa where all mangrove species occur, once again reiterating its ecological complexities and biological diversity.
The trees mentioned above are only a mere handful of the hundreds of species found in the park, but it need not be overwhelming to new visitors. The iSimangaliso Wetlands Park has embarked on a new tree naming project, whereby name plaques containing the tree family, Latin names as well as common names and a bar code/QR ID for smartphone apps will be able to enlighten you on the most common trees in and around the parks many viewing sites, walking trails and other access areas. This is all in an effort to encourage everyone to learn about these areas amazing tree species in an easy effortless way. So if you’re an aspiring gardener or if you’re interested in learning more about trees then pay us a visit, and we at Heritage Tours and Safaris will be happy to host your stay.
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