The Sjambok Pod in all its Glory

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In gardens all over the world nature is at work crafting a patchwork quilt of vibrant colour during the springtime and it is no different in our own back yard here at Thornybush. From September to November every year the bushveld comes alive with a cornucopia of vibrant shades as shrubs, grasses and trees adorn themselves with blossoms in a surprising array of pink, yellow, white and purple.

One of the most noticeable of these is the Sjambok pod, Cassia abbreviata, which bears a host of bright yellow crassia-like blooms from early spring, with each burst of colour lasting only about 6 weeks.

This deciduous tree is a striking specimen even without these loose sprays of yellow blossoms. It is a large tree, growing up to 10m in height with a neat round crown and rough brownish-grey fissured bark. The leaves are composed of pairs of dull green leaflets borne on a single pinna and are easily recognisable.

The most noticeable feature of the Sjambok pod are the sizeable whip-like seed pods for which it is named. Other names for this tree include the 'long-tail cassia' in English, the Numanyama in Tsonga and Monepenepe in Setswana.

Growing up to a metre in length, these large pods only ripen a year after flowering and are much favoured by baboons and monkeys although browsers rarely touch them. The large seeds which are contained within are a feast for collared barbets.

Folklore and medicine

Local folk once believed that adding the bark to a cooking fire before a hunt will ensure success, and various parts of the Sjambok pod are also used in traditional medicine. It is believed that chewing the roots and bark can assist with constipation, diarrhoea, backache and skin ailments, while inhaling the smoke from burning twigs cures headaches. Scientific studies have revealed that bilharzia and blackwater fever can be treated with extracts from the root and bark of the Sjambok tree.

Sjambok trees are found throughout east Africa, with the subspecies bereana growing as far south as Mpumalanga, and you can look for them in open woodlands close to water. Termite mounds are often found in the vicinity of these trees.

If you can tear your attention form the abundance of new born calves, fawns, cubs and foals of the springtime during your next game drive, keep a look out for these handsome specimens or ask your ranger if they can point one out to you.


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Thursday, 15 November 2018