April 2021

Xirhomberhombe

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Xirhomberhombe

Bernard Stigling
By Bernard Stigling
Field Guide

Xirhomberhombe is the Tsonga name for the large-leaved rock fig, Ficus abutilifolia. On our concession they are fairly common and grow wherever there are rocks. The pale yellowish colour of the bark stands out clearly against the reddish rocks of the Lebombo rhyolite and the lighter granophyre ridges. 

All southern African fig trees are pollinated by a small species of wasp, and the large-leaved rock fig by two known species, Elisabethiella comptoni and Nigeriella fusciceps. These wasps enter the fruit through a small hole in the top to reach the flower which is situated within, whereupon they lay their eggs and also pollinate the flower. 

These fig trees are also what is referred to as ‘rock splitters’, as their roots find their way through cracks and crevices and actually cause the rocks to crack. 

As far as figs go the large-leaved rock fig is by no stretch the biggest, hardly ever growing taller than five metres, however along the eastern bank of the N’wanetsi River, not far upstream from Dumbana Pools and growing on the western cliffs of the Lebombo mountains, there is the biggest rock fig I have ever seen and one of the largest in the Kruger National Park.  

I had always threatened to climb this tree, and one day in late winter when the N’wanetsi River had dried up making it crossable, I decided to give it a go. After scrambling up an almost sheer rock face, I got to a spot where I could access the tree. The bark of all figs are quite slippery, maybe a reason you don’t often see leopards in them, and the drop was about 20 metres down so I had to move very carefully until I found the perfect seat! A few African green pigeons burst through the foliage and flew off as I negotiated the branches and, peering through the densely leaved branches, my view spread far across the Lebombo plains.