Special trees of the Singita concession

Kruger National Park | March 2020

For anyone interested in botany, Singita Kruger National Park’s (SKNP) concession is a treasure trove. Having worked in adjacent areas of the Kruger National Park and surrounding game reserves for the last six years, coming to SKNP was like a new world opening up to me. I remember being completely overwhelmed seeing the granophyre ridges covered with Lebombo euphorbias and dotted with pod mahogany trees on my first drive around the concession. Having been at SKNP almost continuously since the 1stof February has allowed me to explore many corners of the concession to see and discover some interesting trees.

When driving past the granophyres on Border Road you can see a big wooden banana or mountain mahogany tree (Entandrophragma caudatum) growing on the corner right next to the road. These have large fruits resembling a skinny version of a baobab fruit that peel open like a banana when it’s ready to release its winged seeds.

Then there is the quaintly named fluffy-flowered jackal-coffee (Empogona kirkii) with its multi-coloured fruit and pretty pink or white flowers.

There are also several trees named after the Lebombo mountain range like the aforementioned Lebombo euphorbia (Euphorbia confinalis), Lebombo cluster-leaf (Terminalia phanerophlebia) and Lebombo ironwood (Androstachys johnsonii). As far as we know, the latter is only found in one area of the concession in a small pocket north of where the N’wanetsi River cuts through the Lebombo mountains into Mozambique. Far north in the concession there is however a tributary of the N’wanetsi river called the ‘Msimbitsaneni’, which means place of the Lebombo ironwoods in Xitsonga, an indication that these trees may have been more common in this area in the past!

Other interesting trees I have seen here are the wing-leaved wooden-pear (Schrebera alata) which has beautiful pink and white flowers, the bushveld white-ironwood (Vepris reflexa) – the leaves of which smell like citrus when crushed, the yellow firebush (Hymenodictyon parvifolium) and green apple (Monodora junodii). The green apple takes its species name – junodii – from the famous Swiss missionary Henri Junod, who wrote, Life Of A Tribe, the first book describing the language and culture of the Vatsonga people.

Every tree is like a work of art with its sometimes complex backstory. There’s the visual attraction, the beauty of the tree as a whole, the flowers and its smell, the fruit, the look of the leaves of some as they change through the seasons and also the various forms of life that associate with the trees. Then there’s also the ethnobotanical aspect – how indigenous people have been using the trees through the ages. With SKNP’s floral diversity, there’s enough to keep one busy for a lifetime! There are many facets to nature, and it’s important to sometimes stop and smell the African ‘roses’.