April 2021

A burst of yellow

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A burst of yellow

Damin Dallas
By Damin Dallas
Assistant Head Guide

Driving along the banks of the ever-impressive perennial Sand River, it’s hard not to take note of the incredibly large trees that line the banks, trees that include jackalberries, natal mahoganies and sausage trees. While these tend to be the most well-known and pointed out species, there exists a smaller tree species, one that at the moment is bursting with life. While driving along the banks of drainage lines or through open woodland thickets, there is a sudden pop of bright yellow amongst the reds and oranges of the autumn colours.

The monkey pod (Senna petersiana) is a multi-branched shrub or small tree with a rounded crown which can grow up to seven metres tall. Identification can be achieved by noting the grey-brown, rough and fissured bark. Leaves are once-divided compound with 6 – 12 leaflet pairs. Leaves are shiny and dark green in colour with the upper surface being hairy. Flowers are poppy-like with yellow petals and are sweetly scented. The fruit pods are slender and are either straight or curved, hanging from the branches of the tree. 

Multiple uses for this species exist in the wild and for both stock animals and humans. Traditionally it is believed that root-bark is ground up and given in a soup to a lazy hunting dog which will make it lean and hungry and therefore more eager to chase down prey. Various parts of the tree are used widely in traditional medicine as a purgative laxative to treat constipation, stomach-ache and intestinal worms. This is achieved by drinking a decoction of the roots. Leaves and roots are also believed to have antimalarial properties and so are used to treat malaria. 

The sweet fruit palp is extracted and enjoyed raw by children and the seeds and fruits can be made into an alcoholic drink. The wood is light and can be used to make tool handles as well as fuel. 

The species is a favourite amongst elephants, keeping these trees cropped down to very small sizes and hence why it is very rare to find one that has reached its full growing potential in an area where elephants roam. The tree also plays an important role in the ecosystem, being only one of very few species preferred as a food source to the caterpillar of the African migrant Catopsilia florella butterfly.

With the long summer days coming to an end and the onset of winter, many wild flowers have died giving way to rusty coloured leaves and yellowing grass. It’s with much joy to see the burst of bright yellow within the fading autumnal earth, although only lasting for a few days…