Sunday 15th January. M’torcha Mountain on the Braunstein’s farm in the Mutorashanga area. The recce to this venue was really exciting, producing a good variety of trees on the kopjie as well as around the base. There are fascinating pools on top of the mountain for the energetic to explore, caves and a great deal of interest for all. Allow about 1½ hours driving time to arrive at 10 a.m.
Tuesday 3rd January. Botanic Garden Walk at 4.45 for 5 p.m. We will meet Tom in the public car park of the Gardens and continue where we left off in November with Rubiaceae.
Saturday 21st January. Mark’s walk will be around the Domboshawa Cave and should be very interesting after the rain. . We meet as usual at 3.00 p.m.
Tuesday 7th February. Botanic Garden Walk.
Sunday 1st January. Our annual social at the lovely home of Tom and Mary Raub, 19 George Road in Khumalo. Time 12.00 noon onwards. Please phone Margaret McCausland or Sharon Brennan if you intend to come. This is always a bring and share, so our two committee members can advise you on your contribution.
Monday 2nd January. To Mazwi Nature Reserve. A morning or all day visit – as you wish. The usual rendezvous at Girls’ College for a prompt 8.30 departure.
Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th February. A visit for botanical enthusiasts to Buchwa for Harare and Bulawayo members. Accommodation for twenty people at $60:00 per person per night (This will entail sharing as there are 10 two bedded rooms). Dinners will be catered at $30:00 each but we shall take our own light breakfasts and portable lunches. There are no cooking facilities. Please phone Margaret or Ian McCausland on Bulawayo 41946 after 5 p.m. if you are interested. First come first booked, but we stress that this is a trip for the botanically obsessed.
Regretfully it has become necessary to increase our annual subs. The cost of paper is going up substantially and the production cost generally for Tree Life is escalating. The new rate which is effective from the 1st April 1995 will be $40. It is very difficult to forecast, but hopefully that level can be maintained for a while at least.
Barwick kopjie, 20th November 1994.
How do our wonderful committee find such a wide variety of lovely places to visit? Sunday 20th was one of the loveliest places of all, magnificent boulders, an easy walk and a really good variety of trees. In fact so much to see and enjoy that we ran around like excited children wanting to look at everything, whilst the littlest member solemnly marked off Protea angolensis and Psorospermum febrifugum.
The Protea were fairly numerous, some with flower heads, still holding their brilliant rust-coloured silky-haired seeds, others having shed them, their leaves broad and bluish-green. Terminalia sericea not yet in sickening-sweet flower abounded, Strychnos spinosa we were to see everywhere, with fallen fruit of dull gold offering refreshment to aficionados. Robbie’s Christmas Berry had not flowered yet, so the “Holly berries” would not be ready for Christmas after all.
Maytenus senegalensis with pink petioles and blue-grey-green foliage, Maytenus heterophylla with light green variable-shaped leaves were seen in the base area on top and halfway up the kopjie. Maytenus undata with glossy dark green, almost round and very serrated leaves, were not the only members of the Celastraceae to be enjoyed that day.
But then came a new special for me – Heteropyxis dehniae – in graceful clusters here and there, flowers dried and barren – a result of the fierce heat and strong winds just at flowering time? I was given crushed leaves to sniff, pleasantly aromatic yes, but to me no more lavender-fragrant than the other tree that has “lavender” tacked on as a common name.
A little further on as we started upwards, leaning over a large rock was the biggest Commiphora mossambicensis we have seen, presenting branches at eye level so that leaves could be picked and crushed to detect Meg’s favourite spicy pepper smell. “Its hard work marking off these cards, Mum” said Robbie, and decided to take time to enjoy butterflies and beetles as well. Then came Bequaertiodendron magalismontanum (Englerophytum magalismontanum) leaning out from a rock, the rusty hairiness of the undersides of the leaves adding to the attraction of its foliage – surely a must for landscape gardeners! NOT as easy to grow as the books suggest, so I have found. And nearby another of its commonly found companions, Diospyros natalensis, with tiny dark-green leaves. Leaning out from under rocks was a common feature of the trees we saw, Hymenodictyon floribundum found it a good spot to escape fire damage, their leaves well-grown but still blushing slightly and looking almost succulent – these were really good sized trees and must be a fine sight in winter. Higher up on a rocky plateau we came across Rothmannia fischeri another of the Rubiaceae, that displayed the inter-petiolar stipule and opposite leaf growth very clearly. To me also a useful diagnostic guide was the dark maroon bark of the straight young – last year’s growth – branches.
And nearby a young Ochna puberula not the first we had seen, but notable for being in full bud – a day or two later and we would have, maybe, seen a rare sight of it in full bloom. Tetradenia riparia and Margaritaria discoidea somehow survived in equally difficult environments – why are the latter so difficult to propagate – is it another example of unsynchronised flowering between male and female trees leading to sterile seed?
And everywhere the graceful strength of Brachystegia glaucescens gave light shade so that the day was much cooler than expected. These really are trees that call out the artist in us, their flaking bark giving the trunks added interest, their branches twisting to hold foliage up to the sky, foliage that in spring flush is more than equal to the Msasa. And their pods navy-black when ready to split and explode, a useful famine food for the monkeys. Their dappled shade on the roof of the kopjie provided the right environment for the little orchids that we saw clinging tightly to a sheer rock face, although nearby there were score marks looking as Robbie remarked, for all the world like harrowed lines “as if a tractor had been getting the lands ready for tobacco” – guess what Robbie’s dad does!
Also in a crevice so small one could not imagine it holding any soil or much compost a small Plectranthus (?) was blooming, its royal purple spikes a delightful contrast to the grey granite, and the brilliant green and rust lichens we had seen a few paces back.
We had somehow lost all contact with the main party and began to think we might be lost, so started down with less time to look at trees, but memorable again for me were two more ‘firsts’. A Garcinia buchananii in fruit – Nino has often told me that these are good to eat IF properly ripe, confirmed by Dave and Andy. These fruit were still green and young – when would they be ready I wonder? And for the first time the leaves cracked and yellow sap appeared – perhaps in the past our specimens have been too dry? A little further down the other totally new –to me– tree was Catha edulis, its leaves glossy light green, and very finely toothed. Andy told of someone chewing the leaves to test their narcotic reputation and ending up with a fierce headache. I found I could recognise it from the photograph in van Wyk’s Field guide to The Trees of the Kruger National Park and brought home a specimen to study. Nearby on a small rocky plateau grew a fine Securidaca longipedunculata, still partly in flower – but dehydration began to push us on, so that we hardly took time to notice the Ficus thonningii and later Ficus sycomorus, on our way. And then Robbie said “I can see our car Dad” and we were safely back after all.
There was just so much to see and after lunch a new spot to explore that to list all would take forever. But yes, Maureen was right, and we did see Vangueria randii in full bloom, growing on an apology for a termite mound. Vangueriopsis lanciflora also laden with long pointed buds and some with petals curling backwards already, whilst nearby Vangueria infausta were still young, but their leaves definitely hairier almost like felt. Elephantorrhiza goetzei were seen everywhere, their fresh young seedpods purplish green and evenly knobbed over the seed. Cassine aethiopica puzzled us briefly and in a narrow crevice between boulders an old twisted trunk proved to be Stem-fruit partly covered by Rhoicissus revoilii, its trifoliate leaves grey-green and rusty-haired underneath providing interesting contrast. And then with clouds building up we all decided that it would be best to leave the paradise, before the roads became even more demanding – Antbear and termite holes had to be negotiated – we called it a day to remember and left for home.
Perhaps one of the best parts of the day for me was to see young Robbie’s parents carrying on the tradition of encouraging the children to ENJOY the bush in all its many facets. One calls to mind the young Haxens and the scorpions, the Hyde boys keeping up with collecting stones and beetles, and so on. How many of us owe our joy to the beginnings our parents made? My father did not know any scientific names, in fact mostly used the Zulu names (he ran with his father’s Zulu herd boys in long ago days). But he brought us home wild flowers, showed us the wild Ginger, the ground orchids in the Copper belt woods. Showed us the Wild Violet, Pink Jacaranda, Protea (I now think it must have been Protea angolensis), and told us how had used the “trunks” of the wild bananas to teach his sisters to swim – (Ensete?).
The seed was planted in childhood and now gives us untold pleasure. So how about tagging some grandchildren along on suitable outings (lucky you who have them close enough) and encourage the tradition to grow?
In that light, it was a real pleasure for us to go out to Greystone Park Nature Preserve and meet Mr. Fairlie, the chairman of the association that is trying to run the Preserve, to be a recreational study area, for the benefit especially of schools. He takes his little boys out and in September they collected 14 different wild flowers to draw. So we felt very pleased that Tree Society is to have a share in providing trees to plant for National Tree Planting Day. But first they have a great deal of work to do – the area is almost smothered with exotics and Rob Burret is putting many hours into going out there to personally remove some. Can anybody give him some help? I am sure he could do with some. He has been co-opted on to the Greystone Park N.P committee, so is a good liaison between them and us.
They have had the area surveyed by members of the Botanic Gardens and National Herbarium staff, who have given them recommendations. And if you are interested to see the potential of the area, look out for Mark Hyde’s botanic interest walk there; he and several of our members have visited the preserve recently.
Also for tree planting day we have had a request from Borradaile Trust in Marondera for trees to replace the Cupressus trees which they are taking out, specifically indigenous trees. A good idea – and we and another member who grows many varieties for the love of growing them, support it enthusiastically. Perhaps we can finalize plans on that at our December meeting? We get so much pleasure out of the trees and out of the meetings with like-minded people that it will be good to give pleasure to others, especially if it encourages an interest in indigenous trees and plants generally.
BOTANIC GARDEN WALK: 6 DECEMBER 1994
Part 4 of the Rubiaceae walk was postponed and in its place we had a look at some of the Ficus group. Some of the features to look for included: the leaves, (size, alternate and simple) and the stipule covering the growing tip. The shape and size of the tree can also be a useful guide.
Initially we looked at figs in the low and mid altitude forest section. With Ficus lutea the tree is large and wide spreading, with large deep green leaves clustered at the ends of the branchlets on chunky petioles. Most often found in forest fringes. Another large low spreading fig was Ficus bussei (Ficus zambesiaca) a resident of the alluvial soils in the Valley floor. The leaves in this case were smaller and spear shaped and slightly hairy, with the fruit growing in the branchlet arms or axils. Possibly the most attractive fig was Ficus fischeri (Haroni fig) which grows In the Haroni/Rusitu area. A tall smooth grey trunk covered in lenticels supported a high crown; the lower branches just close enough to examine the large obovate leaves and really slender petiole. This tree had surprising quantities of latex! Ficus sansibarica and Ficus chirindensis most noticeable feature was not the spread of the branches but the knobby remains of last year’s fruit, which on Ficus chirindensis resembled a worm emerging from a cocoon. Last of the big ‘Fig leaves’ was Ficus vallis-choudae also from Haroni/Rusitu. A fast growing species producing a large spreading tree in 10 years with a buttressed bole.
Figs with different features to the above were firstly Ficus exasperata, tall and smooth barked. It has the true reputation of being “once felt never forgotten” as the coarse leaves are covered in stellate hairs. The specific name refers to this feature. Ficus capreifolia differs from the norm in that male and female flowers are found on separate plants. This fig grows in really dense, thickets along alluvial riverbanks where it consolidates the soil. A few small fruits were seen in the leaf axils, although Piet van Wyk mentioned that he had seen very large fruit in Northern Namibia. (The thickets of this fig near Sanyati would resemble Jesse minus the spines!). The sycamore fig has the well-known features of clusters of fruit close to the branches and a yellow trunk. An interesting point is that the same Ficus sycomorus cultivated in Israel required the importation of African fig wasps to make its seed viable.
A most enjoyable and informative walk – thank you Tom. It was also a great pleasure to have Kim and Piet van Wyk with us and to share their knowledge.
GOING WEST FOR NORTH (on a twelve-day dash through Namibia)
When I first learnt that I would be visiting northern Namibia I assumed that it would mean a flight to Windhoek and a road trip up to the north. But no. It was a flight to Katima Mulilo on the Zambezi and a road trip westwards to the north. If that sounds crazy, look at your map! I took a domestic flight to Victoria Falls and then an Air Namibia flight to Katima Mulilo. This second flight took off at 3 p.m., nearly two hours late, but we arrived at Katima Mulilo at 2.30 p.m. No, I hadn’t been imbibing! It was just that, at that date (29 August) Namibian time was one hour behind ours, but that was adjusted five days later by putting the clocks forward an hour.
The first night was spent in Katima Mulilo at a lodge on the banks of the Zambezi and the next morning, after a tourist inspection of the famous baobab loo – described in an earlier note – we set off westwards down the middle of the Caprivi Strip to Rundu in Kavango, our party comprising two Brits, one Australian and me. The Brits were working as ODA volunteers in Namibia’s Directorate of Forestry and the Australian and I were there to provide project advice.
The vegetation of Caprivi is much the same as that of north-western Matabeleland, dominant species being Baikiaea plurijuga (Zambezi teak), Pterocarpus angolensis (Mukwa), Schinziophyton rautanenii (Ricinodendron rautanenii) (Mugongo), Burkea africana (Mukarati). Guibourtia coleosperma (umtshibi), Erythrophleum africanum (ordeal tree, Umsenya) Terminalia sericea (silver tree) Terminalia prunioides purple-pod Terminalia), Combretum zeyheri (large-fruited Combretum), Baphia massaiensis (umbondo), one or two Commiphora spp., Albizia versicolor (poison-pod Albizia), various Acacia spp., and so on.
Rundu is 520km from Katima Mulilo – 110km of full-width tar to the Kwando River (which becomes the Linyanti and then the Chobe) 190km of mainly good, but very dusty, gravel to the Okavango River, and 220km of tar to Rundu. What I was unprepared for was the absence of gallery forest along these two major rivers. And when I commented on this to Pieter Horn, a senior officer in the Ministry of Agriculture in Rundu, he confirmed that the original gallery forest had gone completely, except along a short stretch of the Okavango some distance east of Rundu. The Okavango forms the boundary between Namibia and Angola for a distance of some 350km and Pieter Horn’s aerial photographs showed an absence of trees for all but 10-15km of this distance. Imagine; an important perennial river in tropical Africa with nothing but open grassland right up to both banks!
Through the whole length of the Caprivi Strip there was a gradual but perceptible reduction of tree size as we travelled westwards into progressively drier country – annual rainfall at Katima Mulilo is 700 mm (the highest in all Namibia) and about 550 mm at Rundu. Southwards from Rundu Baikiaea and Guibourtia thin out and eventually disappear, but Burkea, Pterocarpus, and Schinziophyton remain as important components of the dry forest and in Bushmanland (rainfall around 450 mm) Burkea becomes the dominant species. There is a 400 000-ha forest reserve in Bushmanland covered with a rather open forest of Burkea africana and Pterocarpus angolensis (Mukwa), but only the latter is exploited commercially – nearly all of the timber going to a factory in Windhoek that specializes in custom-made furniture. I saw Acacia erioloba in the valleys in this forest area, but the species is not depicted as occurring here in Coates Palgrave’s distribution map, which simply means that no one has got round to collecting herbarium material of the species from this area. This is true of many species whose distribution ends much too precisely on the South Africa, Botswanan or Zimbabwean borders and it is obvious that Namibia has a long way to go in the compilation of a comprehensive Flora. One professional botanist, Dr Mike Muller, has been making valiant efforts, but what is one man in Namibia’s 823 000 square kilometres – more than twice the land area of Zimbabwe?
From Rundu we moved via Bushmanland to Grootfontein (pronounced with a hard G) where we were involved for three days in the nursery phase of a number of species trials and from there to Okaukuejo, the main camp in the Etosha National Park, where we spent one night. It was on the trip to Okahandja, along excellent gravel roads through ranching country, that we saw stockpiles of mopane roots awaiting transport to Windhoek and overseas. Dead mopane roots are gathered from the top of the ground and are sold to processors in Okahandja and Windhoek, who sandblast all bark off them to leave the white wood of the roots. Their weird “driftwood” shapes are much in demand in South Africa and Europe for use in rustic ornaments and dried-flower arrangements. There has been some concern that the collection of mopane roots may be environmentally damaging, but there seem to be no real grounds for these fears; the roots are simply picked up from the ground, not dug out, and only dead and dry material can be sandblasted effectively.
The National Park’s camp at Okaukuejo is excellent and it has a very good restaurant – and draught Windhoek Lager! We were gone after an early breakfast next morning cooked by the two Brits, the Aussie and the Zimbo doing the washing up and we travelled eastwards along the southern edge of Etosha Pan to the Park’s camp at Namutoni. The dominant vegetation for much of our 150km route was Acacia nebrownii, the water acacia, which is supposed to be an indicator of underground water. This shrubby acacia was in full flower at the time (4 September), the golden-yellow balls and the (usually) single pair of pinnae with only 3-4 pairs of leaflets making it easy to identify. You’ve never seen anything so incongruous as giraffe nibbling at the leaves of this species somewhere near their ankles!
What with the 60km/h speed limit and the frequent stops to look at game, it was lunch time when we arrived at Namutoni hoping to eat in the restaurant. But it was firmly shut in spite of a notice proclaiming that it was open every day from 1330 to 1430. So we did the best we could with what we had brought along – bread and cheese and some rather warm Liquifruit. Namutoni Camp was reconstructed and enlarged from an old German fort that had been partly destroyed by Owambo warriors in 1907, an impressive looking place but no lunch! So we continued on to join the main road from Tsumeb to Oshakati, stopping for a while outside the Etosha Park boundary to study a white-backed vulture sitting (? on eggs) in a large nest.
Much of the road north-westwards was through scrub country – Acacia, Terminalia, Combretum – with every now and then a fine-looking Acacia erioloba (Camel-thorn) in flower. Incidentally, in a scientific paper in the most recent Commonwealth Forestry Review, Acacia erioloba was referred to as Acacia giraffae var. espinosa Kuntze (syn. Acacia erioloba E. May.). One of the authors of the paper was Dr. Richard Barnes of the Oxford Forestry Institute who has been involved in intensive exploration and seed collection in southern Africa of seven Acacia spp. – Acacia albida, Acacia erioloba Acacia karroo, Acacia nilotica, Acacia senegal, Acacia sieberiana, and Acacia tortilis – and he is well aware that the old name for Acacia erioloba was Acacia giraffae, but that the description for the old name was based on hybrid material. Neither Tom Muller nor Bob Drummond knows anything about the resuscitation of the specific name giraffae – so one wonders what is afoot among the botanists in UK.
About 60km or so to the southeast of Ondangwa the main road enters the oshana system of Owambo in north-central Namibia and there is a dramatic change in the vegetation, much of it man-induced over a very long time-span. Suddenly Hyphaene petersiana (vegetable ivory palm) becomes the dominant species over extensive areas, almost forming forests and Sclerocarya birrea (Marula) and Berchemia discolor (bird plum, munyii) become very prominent. The oshana is a fascinating region of broad, flat, more-or-less parallel watercourses that are seasonally flooded from Angola and drain into the Etosha Pan. The watercourses (oshanas) may be more than a kilometre wide, carrying nothing but grass throughout the year, but the low, flat ridges between the oshanas carry the woody species mentioned above, or fairly extensive tracts of pure mopane where the soil is unsuited to the others. Of course the rural people live on the ridges. The Coates Palgrave distribution maps of vegetable ivory palm and Marula do not reflect the true position in north-central Namibia, but this is undoubtedly due to inadequate collections of herbarium material from that region.
The Owambo chiefs will not permit any cutting of female palms and only limited tapping of male trees for palm wine and as a result the palms are proliferating in the oshana. Berchemia and Sclerocarya are preserved as important fruit trees and many of the Owambo villages have one or two specimens of each immediately outside the village stockade. It is probably a case of locating the village near the trees rather than planting the trees near the family village, but a considerable amount of planting is done – as at Iiheke yanakele, “the place of the good wells”.
The other member of the “big four” in the oshana is mopane, which is harvested, often very judiciously, for poles and coppice shoots of various sizes for an array of uses. Much of what might look like a low and fairly useless scrub mopane is, in fact, carefully harvested for small-sized material for the latticework between the main poles in Owambo dwelling huts.
To the northwest of Oshakati, at the Ogongo Agricultural College, I saw a good specimen of Acacia hebeclada ssp. hebeclada (candle-pod acacia) full of creamy-white to yellowish-white flower balls. This is a very distinctive subspecies with woody pods that are held upright. About 8-10km further northwest from Ogongo is Ombalantu, whose claim to fame is the little chapel in the hollow of a large baobab – also mentioned in an earlier note.
The trip from Oshakati to Windhoek, which took all of a very long day, was broken briefly at Okashana Agricultural Centre, where Albizia anthelmintica (Worm-cure Albizia) and Lonchocarpus nelsii (Kalahari apple-leaf) were both in flower, the latter with lilac-coloured, pea-shaped blossoms. Lonchocarpus nelsii is much more common in Namibia that is its larger cousin Lonchocarpus capassa (rain tree), which is so well known throughout Zimbabwe. Also at Okashana I saw – and chewed – a salt-bush (? Atriplex). The site is saline and you could taste salt quite strongly in the salt-bush. Terminalia prunioides very common here.
It was well after dark when we got into Windhoek and the next day-and-a-half were spent mainly in meetings at the offices of the Directorate of Forestry (a much more fancy title for the department than the reality of Namibian forestry warrants!). But we did have a visit to an abattoir-effluent site where Acacia erioloba was common enough to form forest canopy in places and also to see the factory where Bushmanland Mukwa finishes up as custom-made furniture.
Namibia is a huge country with enormous distances between centres, which meant that our Brit. drivers seldom travelled at less than 140km/h (legal limit 120km/h) and often more. The rear seat of our twin-cab Toyota was not comfortable over long hours of cramped sitting and the speed and the discomfort contrived to prevent me from seeing as much of the Namibian flora as I would have liked. It was disappointing not to see the desert and its unique Welwitschia mirabilis, or Parkinsonia africana (the southern African cousin of the Jerusalem thorn Parkinsonia aculeata), or the two desert acacias, Acacia montis-usti and Acacia robynsiana, but I wasn’t sent there to go poking about in the desert. Hopefully, though, there will be another opportunity sometime, a less dusty time and a more leisurely schedule for taking it all in.
THE TREE SKIRT
This little Christmas story appeared In the Readers Digest, December 1993.
During our busiest pre-Christmas period at the craft manufacturer where I work, I received the laundry-test results of one of our Christmas products: an appliquéd tree skirt. It was found to bleed dye when it got wet. Worried that this could ruin carpets, I wrote down some consumer-care instructions. A short while later, our label printer came to my office and asked if I was sure about the wording:
PLEASE TAKE CARE TO LIFT SKIRT BEFORE WATERING TREE.
THE DESERT DATE TREE, HERO OF THE SAHEL
Even in the most arid conditions, the desert date has much to offer; fruit, wood, oil, leaves and flowers. It is a species which deserves attention from researchers.
After the droughts of the nineteen-seventies and eighties, the Sahel looked like a graveyard for dead trees. The shea, acacia and locust bean had all succumbed to lack of water. “All but one, the desert date, Balanites aegyptiaca“, points out Hubert Gillet, Assistant Director of the Paris Natural History Museum. “It can live longer than other desert trees, more than 100 years, and it is the most resistant to drought.”
Nature has given the desert date a whole armoury of weapons against the conditions it has to endure. The species, which rarely exceeds 10 metres in height, is widespread throughout the Sahel. Its leaves are thick and tough, with a glossy coating that provides protection from the dry air. Its double root system acts vertically and horizontally, finding water up to seven metres below the surface and within a radius of up to 20 metres from the trunk. This root system also helps the tree to resist the sandstorm damage that can uproot other species. Should the leaves fall photosynthesis continues through the branches and spines and is enough to ensure the tree’s survival. And, as a further example of its amazing adaptability, a coating of sand surrounds each root, maintaining an insulation layer of air which helps to even out temperature fluctuations and reduce evaporation. From the top of the tree to its roots, the desert date is well adapted to survive the extreme conditions of the desert.
The tree is thought by some to be the home of spirits, and sacrifices may be offered in its shade. However there are many other reasons why the desert date has long been revered by local people. Like Acacia albida, the desert date comes into leaf before the beginning of the rainy season, turning green in March or April.
The leaves provide valuable fodder and are a godsend for the livestock, which have little else to eat at the end of the dry season. The tree’s spines make it essential that the herdsmen take the precaution of collecting the forage themselves before giving it to the animals. But these spines have a use as pins, for surgical sutures or as muzzles. The desert date has other useful attributes: the wood is hard enough to be used for mortars, tool handles and even roof frames, since it is also resistant to damage by termites.
The desert date is also valued for its fruits. These used to be referred to as “slave dates” because they are of poorer quality than true dates, but they now enjoy more respect, a reflection of the current hardship of life in the region.
According to Marie José Tubiana, a research scientist at the Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques (CNRS) “shepherds and children suck the raw fruit, but it can also be cooked in order to extract the sugar which can be added to porridge or used for making sweetmeats. There are many different local recipes.” Another use has been recorded by Paul Creác’h, a pharmacist who worked for the colonial army in the 1930s.
In the hungry season or during food shortages, when the store of millet had been exhausted, women mixed the date fruit pulp in a mortar with a few handfuls of millet. You can still often see this being done today. Creác’h also noted the medicinal qualities of the leaves and bark, which were used as a disinfectant or as a treatment for rheumatism or jaundice. Even today, sucking desert-dates is strongly recommended for anyone suffering from a chill.
According to Marie José Tubiana “it is the qualities of the kernel which is most important.” This has an oil content of 40-60% and is a richer source of protein than groundnuts, cottonseed or sunflower. The oil, which is difficult to extract, has to compete today with groundnut or cottonseed oil, but it is highly prized by certain tribes, which appreciate the value of its nutritional and medicinal qualities.
Acknowledged with thanks to Spore No. 50 April 94
ANDY MACNAUGHTAN CHAIRMAN