Saturday, 31 January 2009 20:07

Buffalo Thorn

Written by  Sue Oxborrow
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Ziziphus mucronata Ziziphus mucronata WikiMedia Commons User JMK

Where to find it:

Ziziphus mucronata is found in various parts of the Magaliesberg mountain range – from the wooded thickets on the scarp slopes as well as on the lower scree slopes, down to the river areas and on to the plains dotted with rocky outcrops. On the dip slope side of the mountain (that’s the Brits side) this tree is found at the foot of the dip slopes and in the kloof openings.

General description and features:

The bright shiny dark green leaves of the Buffalo thorn give it a distinctive appearance. The leaves have three pronounced veins arising from the leaf base and a toothed leaf margin around the upper two-thirds of the leaf. The leaves are deciduous and start to fall in early autumn.
One can identify the Buffalo thorn during the winter months by the presence of its berry-like fruit. The glossy fruit ripens from March to September and is reddish-brown in colour when ripe. Look out for the small, yellowish-green star shaped flowers during the months of October to April. You will find them in small clusters at the leaf base. During their flowering months watch for butterflies, bees and other nectar loving creatures that will come to these flowers in search of nectar.
The hooked and straight brown thorns grow on the angles of the branchlets and probably get their “wag-‘n-bietjie” status from this two-pronged approach of protection!
Growth height of this single trunked tree varies on average between 3 to 10 metres and can even reach up to 17 metres in certain conditions. The canopy is open and spreading. The root system is not aggressive.

Trunk and bark:

The bark is smooth and reddish-brown on the young branches. The more mature branches and the trunk are dark grey to brown. The trunk is deeply fissured and grooved as are the older branches. The fissures are longitudinal (running from bottom to top).

What people use this tree for:

The San people use the extracted juice from the Buffalo thorn as a mixing agent for arrow poison. For their poison, they use the larvae of a beetle, Diamhidia nigroornata, that feeds off the leaves of the Commiphora africana/Hairy corkwood/Harige kanniedood.
The wood of the Ziziphus mucronata is fairly dense and makes long burning firewood. The wood is also used to make fencing posts but does have a probability of warping. Kitchen utensils are also made from the wood – a warped wooden spoon is not as disappointing as a warped fence post though!
The fruit is edible – once dried and ground into a meal, it can be cooked as porridge – apparently it has a sweetish taste! For the more adventurous, the seeds can be roasted, ground and made into a “bush coffee”!

The ‘provider’ for other creatures:

The Buffalo thorn is browsed by stock animals as well as antelope (such as kudu, eland, sable, impala, klipspringer, nyala, black wildebeest, steenbok, springbok, Sharpe’s grysbok and the Damara dik-dik). Giraffe and warthog also eat the nutritious leaves and fruit. Look out for the Chacma baboon and Vervet monkey who may visit this tree for the ripe fruit. This tree is highly regarded as a fodder tree, particularly in the drier regions of the country. The flowers produce large amounts of nectar and are favoured by bees much to the delight of beekeepers!  Four types of butterfly larvae feed on the leaves. The butterflies are – the Black pie, Common dotted blue, Hintza pie and the White pie.
Several species of birds frequent the Buffalo-thorn to eat the ripe fruit and the numerous insects attracted to the star-shaped flowers. Look out for the Grey lourie, Burchell’s coucal, Meyer’s parrot, Helmeted guineafowl, Swainson’s, Crested and Natal francolins.

How to grow your own Ziziphus Mucronata:

This is a very hardy tree – resists frost and drought. The average growth rate of this fast growing species is between 4 to 6 metres in four years.
The Buffalo thorn will grow from seed – success rate of seed germination is about 75%.
Here’s how to grow your own… First thing is to get some seeds from a friend’s tree! Pure river sand in seedling trays are the best option to sow the seeds. Keep moist once you have planted the seeds and give them a thin covering of river sand. Germination takes between 2-3 weeks. They will transplant quite easily into black nursery bags if care is taken not to damage their long delicate roots.
(Tip: When ready to plant the sapling into the ground, position a 50mm size x 1m length of plastic piping vertically near to the sapling, leaving +- 5cm above ground level. When watering around the sapling, also pour water into this pipe, as it will encourage the roots to grow downwards looking for the moisture below. Keep the ground around the sapling well mulched with dry leaves, etc. to assist with water retention above ground.)
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 a Ziziphus mucronata?
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?
Have the Vervet monkeys visited to eat the fruit?
Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter. 1996. Making the Most of Indigenous Trees.
Joan van Gogh& John Anderson. 1988. Trees & Shrubs of the Witwatersrand,
Magaliesberg & Pilanesberg
Val Thomas and Rina Grant. 1998. SAPPI Tree Spotting, Highveld & the Drakensberg.
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