Sunday, 09 November 2008 14:30

Scented Thorn

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Where to find it:

Conservancy members whose properties are near the slopes of the Magaliesberg mountain range should be looking for the Acacia nilotica, as it occurs naturally on these slopes.
Members who live in other areas of the Conservancy will be pleased to know that the Scented Thorn/Lekkerruikpeul occurs in bush veld, woodland and river valley scrubland as well as dry thorn veld.  Its presence is an indicator of clay soils as well as sweet veld.  

General description and features:

Most noticeable is the wide V-shaped irregular canopy of the Scented Thorn that can grow up to approximately 10 metres in height.  This tree has large white spiny thorns at which point the twice-compound leaves grow.  
During October to February, one sees the beautiful yellow ball-shaped flowers on the tree and when one is near it, a delightful sweet scent fills the air.  
The pod-shaped fruit is produced from March to August and is unmistakeable in its necklace appearance.  (I always remember this tree by saying to myself “necklace Nilotica”.)  The mature pods are also sweet-scented.   
Antelope and cattle find the pods irresistible to eat.  One does need to caution on goats eating too many of the ripe pods, as these, together with excessive leaf consumption, could cause spontaneous abortion in the goat ewes.

Trunk and Bark:

On young branches, the bark is reddish-brown in colour and quite smooth in texture, while on older branches and trees, the bark is dark grey and very rough (fissured).

What the tree can be used for:

The Voortrekkers were ingenious in boiling the roots and dried pods, then using the liquid to make their ink.  In the early 1900s, the settlers in the Thabazimbi  and Springbok Flats areas used the wood to make their Riempie benches, small tables and other household furniture.
The bark and seed pods contain tannin, that is used in leather tanning.  The gum is edible and used in the confectionary industry.
Acacia nilotica  wood is hard and often used for making fence posts and also in the mining industry as mining props.  The wood is termite and borer resistant.
Traditional medicines were made from various parts of the Scented Thorn – for example, an extract from the roots was used to treat TB and colds, the fruit (pods) extractions were used to help with diarrhoea, and the gum extract would relieve throat and chest illness.  

The future:

The Scented Thorn is a slow growing tree and can be grown either from seed or root cuttings.  To grow from seed, ensure the pod is dry to make for easier extraction of the seed from the pod.  Soak the seed in hot water overnight.  
Prepare a soil mixture of loam and compost in a black nursery bag or a pot and plant the next morning.  Germination takes approx 7-15 days, with a 60-90% success rate.  Take care when transplanting into the garden, as the taproot is very delicate and can be damaged easily.  This tree grows approx 700mm per year – so if you are patient, you will be rewarded with a beautiful tree in your garden!
It is quite frost and drought resistant.  You should see the first flowers after about three years of growing.  If you have browsers on your property, you may want to consider protecting the young trees for at least the first two years to give them a chance to get established.  
Look out for birds, various reptiles and insects that may use this beautiful tree for food, shelter, perching, nest building or prey-catching.  Also be on the look out for Vervet Monkey or Chacma Baboon coming to this tree to feast on the seeds.

If you don’t find this tree on your property, consider growing one!
Wouldn’t it be rewarding to contribute to maintaining the tree diversity within the Magaliesberg mountain range by planting an Acacia nilotica ?

The Committee is interested in hearing from members whether they have this tree growing on their property or whether they would like to plant one. What birds have you seen coming to this tree? Which butterflies or other insects have you noticed?

References:
Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter. 1996 Making the Most of Indigenous Trees.
Jacana and Twisisa. 1997. SAPPI Tree Spotting Lowveld.
Lynette Davidson & Barbara Jeppe. 1981. Acacias. A Field Guide to the Acacias of
Southern Africa.
Vincent Carruthers. 1990-2000. The Magaliesberg.
Braam van Wyk & Piet van Wyk. 1997. Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa.

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