They provide us with the oxygen we breathe, they store carbon and controlling emissions, they stabilize soil and provide shelter and food to an array of wildlife at Madikwe Game Reserve, which in turn provide food to the predators that are the main attraction for tourists who come from far and wide. It is hard to not show appreciation for trees as the international community celebrates Arbor Day.
The Covid-19 pandemic that has recently swept the globe has resulted in hard lockdowns that have left us feeling isolated and home-bound. People are craving the outdoors, the fresh air and the smell and sense of freedom that trees, particularly in the African bushveld provide. Nature truly provides a cleanse of the mind, body and spirit.
Madikwe covers 75 000 hectares of land and has a great diversity of flora. There are three trees, that really to stand out when looking out at the expanse of the Madikwe plains and hillsides.
The Leadwood Tree
One of the most distinguishable trees in Madikwe is Combretum Imberbe, more commonly known as the Leadwood tree. The Leadwood is one of the largest trees in Africa, with the oldest trees reaching heights of 20m.
The name Leadwood is appropriate given the density of the tree which actually sinks in water and is extremely heavy.
Some of the Leadwood trees in Madikwe are hundreds of years old. They would have seen dozens of generations of elephant, kudu, and other browsers feeding on their leaves.
Like many trees in Africa, there are culture believes and medicinal usages. The Khoisan use the sap of the tree as a dietary supplement, while burning the wood and inhaling the smoke was deemed a remedy for colds and lung infections. The ashes of the wood could then be used to make a toothpaste due to its high lime content.
Dead Leadwood trees can be a signature of the Madikwe landscape, with the hardness of the wood meaning that the trees keep their integrity and remain upright decades after they’ve died. This can create a dramatic landscape and incredible photo opportunities for birders or those lucky enough to see leopard who have dragged their kill into the branches.
The Shepherds Tree
Even in the most arid regions, the Boscia albitrunca, or Shepherd’s tree, offers refuge and shade with its green foliage to wildlife. This tree is a survivor of note, having adapted to hot and dry conditions, it’s small leaves retain water while it’s tough bark protect it from the sun and wind.
Aside from providing shade for mammals and people, visitors to Madikwe will also notice that there is almost inevitably a termite mound at the base of the tree. Termites use the tree and the shade it provides to keep their mound sturdy and aid in regulating temperature. This relationship is symbiotic one as the termites can also provide protection for the tree as they would help defend the tree by being an irritant to browsers like kudu and giraffe.
The roots of this tree, when dried and roasted act as a coffee substitute or can be ground like a maize to make a traditional porridge.
The Sickle Bush
By far the most prominent tree species on the Madikwe Game Reserve plains is the Dichrostachys cinerea, Sickle Bush, more commonly referred to by its Afrikaans name, Sekelbos.
The Sekelbos is often confused with being part of the Acacia family, however, it can be differentiated by having spines rather than thorns. Spines are specially adapted small branches, whereas thorns, are specially adapted leaves.
Leaves of this plant, are similar to Acacia in that they are soft and feathery. These leaves are traditionally used to treat aches and pains by making a tea and inhaling the steam. The rich nutrients in this tree also attract many animal species, specifically elephants which feed on the leaves, and strip the tree to feed on the inner back and roots.
When in bloom around December time in, these trees have beautiful violet and yellow flowers.