March 2022

The Leadwood Tree

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The Leadwood Tree

Solomon Ndlovu
By Solomon Ndlovu
Assistant Head Guide

This tree used to be one of the most common trees in the Lowveld. It is a very slow growing tree and its dense wooden remains have been recorded to stand for 100 years after death.

When we take a drive in the Kruger National Park we will often see some dead trees that look like skeletons - they have been standing for many years, and most of them are leadwood trees. In most cases they have been killed by drought, but we have experienced elephants pushing these trees over.

Elephants destroy many trees but when it comes to leadwoods they only destroy them when they are younger because they cannot push them down past a certain size.

This tree is hard and heavy, so much so that if we drop the wood in water it sinks to the bottom. For its strength people have used it in many different ways in their homes and properties - fencing poles, furniture, firewood, and building support. Before the villages got electric power it was the most preferred wood for firewood because it burns for a long time, and it was used to cook and boil water in the mornings for kids going to school, making it easier not struggle to make a fire in the morning because the wood would still be burning.

This reduced the number of leadwood trees dramatically outside game reserves. We are very grateful to our national parks and government for the protection of nature and our environment.

It is so incredible when driving in the park to see these ancient big trees that are protected and have been around for many years and survived big storms and dry seasons. It makes me think that if they could tell stories they would have a library to draw on from all they’ve witnessed.

When looking to identify the tree, the bark looks like crocodile skin, and we can identify it with its hard bark, twigs and hairless leaves. Its heartwood is dark brown and close-grained. Because of its horizontal branches that form a good canopy, this tree is used by many different animals and birds. It creates a good shade for animals, and we have seen leopards resting on branches.

It also creates a good rubbing post for buffaloes, elephants, and warthogs after wallowing in the mud. When you see a leadwood tree that has mud on it, walk closer and have a look - sometimes we find ticks that have been suffocated by mud from the animals, and after using the tree as a rubbing post the ticks are left on the tree. Some of these leadwood trees become very prominent being used as a rubbing post and start to look shiny and smooth.