MARCH 1992


SUBSCRIPTION REMINDER Last year at the A.G.M. we indicated that it would be necessary to raise the subscription rate to meet the ever increasing cost of paper, printing and postages and so with this Tree Life you will find a statement reflecting the annual – subscription as $20,00 per family unit. Please attach your cheque or postal order to the statement and return to the Treasurer or if more convenient cash may be given to any member of the Committee or paid at any outing in the next couple of months.



Tuesday 3rd March  : Botanic Garden Walk at 4.45 for 5 p.m.  Park at the Herbarium where we will meet Tom Muller.

Sunday 15th March : Raffingora. area.  Meg Coates Palgrave has invited us to join her in exploring the woodland on S.S. Ranch. This is where Meg plans to establish an animal, bird and botanical safari business. On the property is a dam, kopje and running alongside is the Mukwadzi River. It sounds very interesting.  We meet at Megs cottage at 10:00 am.

Saturday 28th March :  Walk with Mark.  Meet at the main car park at Mukuvisi Woodland at 3:00 pm.

Sunday 12th April :  N.B. Changed to the second Sunday in the month because Easter falls on our usual spot. A.G.M. at the home of Jim and Ann Sinclair Serui Source, Norton.



Sunday, 1st March 1992 : Khame Waterworks – a new and very attractive venue – all on tar – with a built-in security guard at the end.  We will meet at Grafotype, 81 Plumtree (Mateking Road, Donnington (at 8.30 am) where cars can be left if need be, under lock and key — and proceed along the new Siyi Phambili Road (new for most people) to turn left into the Khame Road and onto the Khame Gaol turnoff (at 15 km) a from here it is 5 km into the “No Entry” road and the security fenced waterworks. Morning only – bring teatime and chairs.  A promise of a full dam, birds (97 species in a morning recently) and lots of interesting trees, rocks and attractive scenery.

Wednesday, 16th March: NOTE – McHEW will be at Hillside Dams as usual, at 5.00pm

Sunday, 5th April : (NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE) We are now going to a newly discovered area of Matopos. Between the Scenic Drive and the Lower Outspan is a beautiul “secret” valley full of trees (and during the recce, 2 kudu and a duiker)- just off the tarred Circular Drive. This can be a morning or all-day outing as you wish.  It is envisaged that during the afternoon we-can retrace “the pace of the ox” to Rhodes Grave from the Lower Outspan. Meet at Retreat (lifts already arranged) at 6.30 am — and bring the necessary eats, drinks, chairs looking forward to this.

WEEKEND, Thursday 30th April –  Sunday, 3rd  May : A really exciting weekend open to Bulawayo and Harare (and ?) members – to be spent at Good Hope Country Club, Turk Mine district. The two main projects during the stay will be Gwampa Forest Reserve and the Mambo Hills/Shangani River area of Endura Ranch.

Good Hope, on Dennis Streak’s Robins Farm is in a perfect setting with bed/mattress accommodation for 6 and 10 people in a farmhouse with beautiful camping spots under deep shade trees (not all indigenous!).  Charges $10 each a night, and availability of braai packs, fires, bar and trees, trees, trees — (75 species in 2 hours on and around one kopje) We need to know numbers (maybe up to 35 people) by mid-April.  4×4’s will be very welcome for Gwampa – the rest on quite good roads.

Arrive Thursday – depart Sunday, if you can drag yourselves away! Phone Ken Blake (61384 Bus) Bulawayo or Maureen Silva.-Jones (739711 Bus) Harare for more information- as they say “Go for it”


On Sunday 2nd March we managed to pack 38 members and keen visitors plus food and chairs into 12 vehicles and set off for the eastern Matopos.  Although the weather was fine in Bulawayo we headed towards some rather ominous storm clouds and by the time we reached the steep winding and rocky gravel road, the escarpment was shrouded in rain and hail and we had some fascinating views of the storm over the Matopos hills.  The Umzingwane River was already in flood over the low level bridge and when the slower half of the convoy arrived we were wondering if they would get through the rising water, but at that point the rain stopped and further on we were able to gather round the site of the 1st Indaba for a most interesting talk by Paddy Vickery where we were transported back to 1896 in the virtually unchanged scenery – checking with an old photograph, the ant-hill is slightly larger and there was no flag of peace on the kopje opposite.

Homalium dentatum. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Homalium dentatum. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

The road wound through natural rock gardens full of Aloe excelsa, A. chabaudii and A.aculeata, watched over by enormous Euphorbia cooperi and Julbernardia globiflora in flower and we were surprised to find the track between mealie-fields, opposite some Terminalia sericea without any difficulty. Judy and Colin Martin and two friends had already arrived at the parking area, where the Lumane River was trickling down towards the falls. We heard that there had been a flash-flood the previous night. The trees gave us plenty of shade and we saw many of our usual Matopos specials. Croton gratissimus, Euclea natalensis, E. divinorum and E. racemosa, Grewia flavescens,  Heteropixis dehniae, Maytenus heterophylla, and subs. .puberula, M.senegalensis and Veronia subuligera lined the pathway and as we” clambered over rocks we came across various figs, some in heavy fruit – Ficus cordata, F. glumosa, Ficus ingens and F.sur. We gathered at the top of the falls and discussed leaves which we had been unable to identify on the way. Those which caused an argument or were a complete mystery were sent to Maureen for her usual expert identification – others, like , Albizia versicolor,  Allophylus africana, Antidesma venosum, Homalium dentatum, Trema orientalis , Acokanthera rotundata, and Margaritaria discoides we agreed upon. We found several additional trees on the way back, Brachystegia huillensis with its holly-like leaves, Dodonaea angustifoli (leaves very large and shiny, Calodendrum capense in flower on the opposite bank of the stream and Strychnos usambarensis, Pavetta eylesii and Tapiphyllum velutinum.  We had our lunch in the shade, overlooking a green park with a back-drop of Pterocarpus rotundifolius, Brachystegia glaucescens and great rocky kopjes.

Cyathea dregei. Photo: Petra Ballings. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Cyathea dregei. Photo: Petra Ballings. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Then the convoy re-formed and we were taken by Bruce Macdonald to a tributary of the river to see the tree ferns Cyathea dregei.  Some of the large ones had disappeared or died off, but there were quite a few younger ones flourishing under the trees along the banks. Most of us managed to plough through the thick sand and negotiate the many tangled roots of Ficus sur near the pools of water, and it was there that we held our brief AGM with all the present incumbents re-elected, sitting under what was later identified as an enormous Olinia vanguericides which had fallen across the river.  Our next gathering point was at Diana’s Pool where we went down to show the orbicular granite rocks to the people who had not been with us on our previous visit. We identified a fruiting Diospyros kirkii and Mimusops zeyheri over-hanging the rocks; and on the hot climb back we saw some Albizia tanganyicensis, Olax dissitiflora and Faurea saligna  and  with a total of 118 trees identified and some new ones learnt, it was a very successful and enjoyable day.



-Betty Blake


As Ian was in Matopos with Girls College, Margaret took on the task of entertaining us.  Entertaining?  With a quiz?  Why do minds so blank at examination time?  We had a good example of this;  inside a circle of 25 trees, all said to be easily recognisable! After the initial shock it became quite fun trying to put various trees into their families and the prize bars of chocolate helped.

Thank You Margaret for all your effort — it was entertaining and informative!

The Matabeleland Branch committee comprises: chairman – Ken Blake; Secretaries – Margaret McCausland and Clem van Vliet; Treasurer – Betty Blake; Committee Member – Geoff Archer – all democratically elected . . . or else!

And while I have the stage (as usual!) I would like to thank Maureen Silva-Jones and Vida Siebert and their merry band of helpers for regularly producing the issues of Tree Life of great interest to members and for holding the Society together nationally. We were thrilled at our February outing to be joined by Jeanette Schur of Fort Rixon, Irene Bawden of Shangani and Colin and Judy Martin of Esigodini, all of whom read about the meeting in Tree Life.  We also heard that the ever-young Eileen McBean of Borradaile in Marondera Joined in the Tsindi Ruins outing, as Charles (after his trip to Australia) would say, “Good on yer, Eileen!” – and Cecilia Manson in the Vumba also follows the activities with great interest – maybe we will get an on-the-spot article from her? -and Meg in her wanderings keeps tabs on our doings!

I would also like to thank Fiona Dawe of the atlassing project, who makes us realize that there is more to Zimbabwe, than our own backyard!

-Ken Blake



Polysphaeria lanceolata. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Polysphaeria lanceolata. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Thanks to school holidays in the Eastern districts I recently made some exciting ‘finds’.  To Alison’s horror I got her up at 4.30 am to be up the Chimanimanis before the real heat.  As it was we found ourselves doing the nasty pull from Southern Lakes up to the Saddle at  Midday. Against of the rocky outcrops on the Saddle (6000 ft) we found a stunted tree with distinct SAPOTACEAE characteristics.  It had a white milk, long brown hairs, on the growing tip and fleshy, bright orange fruit, half a centimetre in length on the branches.  It was identified as Afrosersalisia kassneri which Coates Palgrave describes as being apparently a rare tree of low altitude rain forest. Tom’s specimen in the Botanical Gardens has recently died so he was pleased to get some fruit.  Incidentally, the illustration in Coates Palgrave lacks venation (Vitellariopsis ferruginea and Rytigynia sp. No. 1 illustrations likewise).

We visited one of the Hildebrand farms in the Burma Valley just before Christmas.  The Mozambique border runs along their farm boundary.  At the edge of their banana plantation, a firebreak had been slashed and amongst the regrowth was a different looking RUBIACEAE.  Amazingly, it was in flower although there was only a foot or two of plant. This turned out to be Polysphaeria lanceolata, which has not been collected in this country before although the distribution map shows it extending from the coast to the Zimbabwe border.

-Tessa Ball

This is a modest account of two very exciting finds being previously unrecorded from these areas, and we would all like to say “CONGRATULATIONS TESSA”.



BURSERACEAE (The Myrrh family).  It is good to be back after a long ‘break’ sitting exams. This month the Tree Society looked at the Commiphora sp growing in the Botanical Gardens, as well as a few other plants. The Commiphora are shrubs or trees with a smooth or papery bark.  Most of the ones we looked at in the Botanical Gardens had compound leaves (some tri-foliolate) with a terminal leaflet (imparipinnate).  Most species of Commiphora produce aromatic resins. C.myrrha of Arabia and C.malimol produce the fragrant substance myrrh used in medicine and as incense. The species looked at were :

C.africana (C.pilosa) cccuring at medium to low altitudes in dry types of woodlands. It has hairy tri-foliolate leaves and a green bark it can be used to make an insecticide particularly effective against termites, and its fruit is used extensively as a remedy for stomach aches.

Commiphora mossambicensis. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Commiphora mossambicensis. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

C.mossambicensis has a brown bark and large rough leaves which can be tri-foliolate like apricot leaves. It is found on escarpments. This tree also exudes resin. C.schimperi has leaves which look like those of C.africana but are not hairy. The bark is green and sometimes has papery flakes. C.zanzibarica has big shiny leaves and has a pale grey smooth bark not common to the Commiphora.

C.mollis has a dark greenish to grey bark.   C.marlothii has a green bark which peels and is often called the paper-bark Commiphora. C.edulis has an ordinary tree bark i.e. very pale grey and rough leaves which have 2 — 4 pairs of leaflets with, a larger terminal leaflet.

C,angolensis has a dark green bark which occasionally peels in small papery flakes. The leaves are  tri-foliolate.  C.caerulea has a smooth blue green bark and its leaves are small, pointed tri-foliolate.  C.karibensis has pointed leaves and is often confused with C.caperulea , its bark is smooth silvery grey to dark grey.  C.pyracanthoides  (glandulosa) has a greyish bark which often peels to expose the green inner layer.  It transplants well i.e. an instant plant.

The Commiphora sp are difficult to distinguish when looking at the leaves only one needs to look at the bark as well. Apart from the Commiphora few other plants were looked at, those were :

Trichilia emetica which is briefly deciduous has round fruit and smaller leaves and grows along the Zambezi River as well as in the east of Zimbabwe.  It is sometimes difficult to differentiate it from T.dregeana which occurs in the Eastern Districts, but these two species do not occur together and do not fruit simultaneously. The fruit of T.emetica is stalked and its leaves are smaller and rougher than T.dregeana.  Thank you Tom and Kim.

-Fran Mutape



New Erewhon – in the Arcturus District on Sunday 16th February 1992, home of the Henriques family, and the day started off on a sad note as only a short while before our visit, our host, Lionel Henriques had passed away.

Our condolences to the family.  I only met Lionel once, some years ago and I retain fond memories of that brief acquaintance.

New Erewhon, and within this context the old one was in the Raffingora district, but -pause – what strange language has spawned the word Erewhon?  Esperanto maybe? No it is a backwards of NOWHERE, and it is the title of a novel by Samuel Butler written in 1872 about a fictitious country of more or less the same literary genus of UTOPIA.  In Erewhon it was a crime to be ill, and you were considered sick if you committed a crime.

Fiction, Sam Butlers work maybe, but there was nothing imaginary about the scramble up the hill behind the homestead. The path led us ultimately to the beacon near the 5 000 foot contour where we enjoyed a wide vista down both the Mapfeni and Chinyika Valleys. To the north the great dome of Ngomokurira was the highest point on the horizon.

Being still in the Mapfeni catchment area, my thoughts went down river to last November when we went to The Meadows, the wine farm where we tasted the vintage.  I seem to have forgotten. Did we see those very large trees before the wine or did they just get larger after we drank it. But, to come back to the present we did not see any large trees this trip, bar one, in fact as we scrambled up-wards we went through pretty uniform low regeneration, quite patently from sometime this century.

Now in circumstances like this, it is a very definite failing of mine to try and equate the present day stages of succession, age, species composition and population densities, and link this data to what we know (or guess) about the history of the place.

I have done this for many years, it helps to pass the time when walking across country and there is no time to stop and examine individual plants.  It is a very imprecise exercise, rather like adding two plus three and getting seven and a half.

So all the way up, my subconscious was running along in terms of clear ellineg on this hill, early years of the twentieth century, to fuel the nearby mines. Then we reached a level stage on the ascent and here was this huge huge Acacia sieberana.  Size wise this tree outclassed all its neighbours, indeed all others of the same species we had ever seen. So inevitably comes the debate : How old is this creature‘? Dick and Phillip went for two centuries. Initially I was cautious, influenced by my pre-conceptions of clear felling about 90 years ago.  Very practically, Vera pointed out that we might be looking at parallel growth of two trees, touching and fusing together. Then we looked around further. We found habitation site, make a guess, last occupied mid nineteenth century, the big tree germinated and grew up as the settlement was abandoned, so now postulate an age of about 150 years.

Obsessed now by this former habitation site, it had been occupied by a man of property, judging by the size of the goat kraal, I then went into a bit of a trance and saw the ghost of a tree. I think it was Brachystegia glaucescens, it was the indaba tree of the past and its position was marked by the living Ficus thoningii  stems which had originally germinated and grown on the tree’s limbs and trunk, and then as the old indaba tree died and disappeared, these figs assumed the shape of free standing trees in their own right.

Tinospora caffra. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Tinospora caffra. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Scrambling up, and over both the figs and the giant acacia, was a robust if rather thin stemmed liane. This was Tinospora caffra, member of that rather shadowy family, MENISPERMACEAE, members of which are mostly lianes, with worldwide only a few trees, none of which we have here. Outstanding on the way up because of its relative size was one specimen of Osyris lanceolata, we understand this to be at least a partial root parasite.

Standing conveniently close together were Rhus longipes and so we were able very easily to see the differences between these two trifoliate plants, until next time that is. Of  interest was Grewia stoltzii, not one we see very often. I used to think the Mukuvisi colony had maybe been introduced in kraal manure. Now I think otherwise, obviously bird spread this species is moving steadily westwards across Harare. Near my ghost tree I found a youngish Pappia capensis, tugging at my sleeve as though, quite rightly, to stake a claim to any vacancy for an indaba tree, that might be in the offing.

Past the big Acacia, we went out of the low forest canopy and into the midday sun. The country changed to Savannah and we made a bee line to the little colony of Philippia .  Our local representative of the Erica family.  This colony, small in numbers though it may be is in a dynamic condition with young plants in evidence, but its small size makes it fragile and threatened. Oh how nice it would be if we had a central government authority which could recognise such sites of special scientific interest and frame legislation as is done elsewhere.  Nearby, a solitary Monotes engleri stands, overlooking the Phillipia as one on sentry-go.

Here also we saw one Psorospermum febrifugum with bright red Christmas berries a little late. Tumbling over this was Cyphostemma cirrhosum with near ripe grape like fruit, really looking quite like the close relatives in the catchment area down river.

As we moved down towards lunch time, I silently went up the little hillock above the ericas, a jumble of granite boulders with many mountain Acacias, that is to say Brachygtegia glaucescens .  I laid my hands on their trunks, tried to commune with them. Yes, the vibes said Yours ghost tree up there, was one of us!

After lunch we went and had a look at Binga Swamp Forest. The Tree Society old stamping ground, but that’s another story, another day, there are ghosts there also.

-George Hall



It is many months since I have been-in an appropriate state of mental equilibrium to write woodland notes! So why now ? Well, the answer is thanks to Sylvia Mccracken who has organised a very useful guides training programme.  Each week experts come and talk to both long standing Guides and aspiring new ones. The resulting stimulation to ones mind, and the interaction of ideas between individual guides, thus brought all together for the first time in years, is good, and also efficient for the woodland enterprise.

This is the third formal training exercise we have embarked upon, and the best so far. A vote of gratitude to Sylvia.

As a spin off from this I have been over to the Blatherwick Road side a couple of times and had a good walkabout. Again, the first time for years.

Basically, the environmental scene over there is mildly encouraging, with no room for complacency however. We are losing mature trees. Musasa Munondo and others, these are going out through senility, but regeneration below the old ones is good , and species diversity continues to improve. On these recent walks I chalked up my first ever record of Dioscorea in the woodland .  Also I found again the little community of juvenile Garcinia buchananii.  Last  seen in 1985.  It has grown well since then. On a temitaria I located the second Tarchonanthus camphoratus in the woodland.  The range of this plant is impressive, one of only 3 found naturally in the woodland and on the Cape Peninsula. As though to prove a point, T.camphorata is growing on the ocean edge splash zone, permanently wet almost with salt spray, right at Cape Point.

The Makabusi River is going through an interesting period of evolution – is use of that word correct, can a geographical feature evolve? Well – change then – so much silt is building up on the former reed beds below the main rocks that all being well we will soon see tree growth, Sesbania is there already.  On the rocks Sesbania and several species of grass, taking advantage of reduced river flow because of drought are colonising the rock faces, one mature Sesbania macrantha has blown over and one may see how the lateral root system grows flat across the rock surface.  With its so very efficient and large nitrogen fixing nodules, rapid growth, and ability to grow in almost sterile soil S.macrantha is a good candidate for being one of the first pioneers to grow on the moon when they build the first glasshouse domes up there.




The writer hopes that the Gaels who read “Some Trees in the Republic of Ireland” were curious to know the answers to the questions; recourse to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Here is a tailpiece to the spiel on trees in the Isle of Erin, a contributor to “Ireland of the Welcome” has this to say about a master craftsman in Darrow:  ‘Finbarr O’Brien works in wood as well as stone.  I saw a wonderful hawk of his in striped mahogany with a powerful beak and piercing black eyes of inlaid bog-oak.‘  This is a far cry from Zimbabwe but interesting nonetheless. Here, the eyes could be made of Dalbergia melanoxylon. Gilbert White, in his humble way, adds local colour to this very topic in “Natural History of Selborne”. (This small book is worth its weight in any currency).  See White’s letter L1X (Roman numerals) to The Hon. Daines Barrington, it begins with ‘The fossil wood buried in the bogs of Wolmer Forest is not yet all exhausted; … etc etc

The Scene at Tinto, February 1992 : The meagre rains have augmented the dwindling amount of water in the dam near the house. It is a new experience to hear the sound of irrigation on the crinkled leathery leaves of full grown tobacco in the land surrounding our small quartz hill.  At night when all is quiet this sound reminds us of ‘the music of the river‘ at Listowel County Kerry where shallow water rushes over-pebbles. The tobacco is bourgeoning, should we not be watering food plants and young woodlots – will the emphasis ever change.

Maerua angolensis. Photo:Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Maerua angolensis. Photo:Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Maerua angolensis occurs in the catchment and please will V.N. who reported on the Thetford walk, tell us more about this tree being renowned as a source of water. Water is a sensitive subject whilst the upper high prevails.

Never before have we seen the summer-flowering Acacias so spectacular in bloom, this is emphasised by the absence of tall grass, the vlei margins  are green and deep yellow with Acacia amyhethophylla.  White-clothed limbs of Acacia gerrardii in glades or solitary, reach upwards and outwards against the background of other trees. Further afield the A.karoo in the watercourses near the Great Dyke present a sharp colour contrast with bright green leaves, yellow blossom and black bark, there seem to be many more of these trees this year in their preferred environment, perhaps it is, as with other Acacias, their flowers have remained perfect in the absence of rain (which mate the stamens) and rendered the trees more conspicuous. Recently the heavy scent of A.karoo has filled the air along the A1 road between the Mpinga railway crossing and almost to the summit of the Great Dyke Pass.

Although most trees and shrubs are flowering and fruiting as is their wont, there is a feeling of emptiness in the countryside this season, it is the shallow-rooted plants which have taken the brunt of the drought. There is more bare earth. This is a topic which has not featured in “Tree Life”. Instead of looking at woodland and veld, it is revealing to look into it- at ground level.

Woodland at Grassroots Level

A walk in undisturbed woodland and veld is a rare pleasure these days, the sight of  climbing plants and wild flowers is memorable.  Often our walks are in places where the environment has been altered, the signs are there for all to see.  Consider the growing conditions for plants on each side of a boundary a few strands of wire may make all the difference.

Good and bad woodland are a minute away, along the boundary of adjoining farms.  There is a no go area of woodland guarded by Jesse Rottweiler where there is a good cover of annual and herbaceous plants between the trees, seedlings become established in the plant litter, which is rarely destroyed by fire. Woodland in  good heart like this, has not deteriorated during the last decade when less than average annual rainfall has been the norm.

Beyond the fence there is a fireguard and beyond that, paddocks and lands. The initial burn along the boundary was fierce but since then the vegetation has becomeweaker and foliage does not shade or physically protect the ground. The pitter patter of calves‘ feet rucks up moist soil which they pulverise when it is dry, this is washed or blown away, water cannot penetrate the compacted soil now exposed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The bare patches increase, join up and become sheet erosion.  Other bad signs along the fire guard are erosion pedestals and erosion pavements, these may occur where different soil types meet, hereabouts dolerite clay, granite sands and quartz gravels are juxtaposed. Where grass tufts or tree roots bind the soil each has a vertical sided pedestle which has been made higher by run off taking the loose soil away, down to the water courses which become shallower and shallower with silt and which eventually cease to flow. The frequent occurrence of dams prevent these watercourses from being flushed out, surface water seeps away. Elsewhere litter is trapped between the tufts of grass forming alluvial deposits called litter fans, these are not difficult to find, they are a symptom of deterioration.

The transect line in Operation Catena showed that the following plants were fire resistent and/or fire-tolerant: Dichrostachys , Monotes, Terminalia, Combretum, Lannea discolor, Pseudolachnostylis, Julbernardia, Brachstegia boehmii and B.spiciformis, Periocopsis and the small shrubby Annona custard apple .

-Benedicta Graves




Mussaenda arcuata, Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of ZimbabweAfzelia quanzensis. Photo: Rawdon Goodier. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe