September 2005



Saturday 3rd September: Botanic Garden Walk. Subject ‘This and That’. Mark will be standing in for Tom who is still on leave. Meet in the car park at 10.45 for 11 a.m.

Sunday 18th September: At this time of year we like to visit the Marondera area where the amazing Msasa spring flush is so vivid. Arrangements have been made to revisit Ruzawi School where, again, Bucks and Maureen Williams have very kindly agreed to be our hosts.
Because of the fuel crisis, please phone Mark or Maureen to confirm that this trip is still on and to arrange lifts. We will be sharing transport where possible so that we can get to this lovely venue which is set in unspoilt woodland.  We will meet at 9.30 a.m. Bring a chair and your lunch.

Saturday 24th September: Mark’s walk this month is to the Blatherwick Road side of the Mukuvisi Woodlands, the walk along the river is always full of interest. We will meet at 2.30 p.m.

Sunday 2nd October: Something different this month. “Show and Tell Members’ Evening”.  This will be a social evening at Adele Hamilton Ritchie’s house.  The idea is to bring along a few slides or computer images of botanic interest, or a specimen of any interesting or puzzling plants, or even a book. We will discuss your contributions or you may like to speak about them yourself. Adele has a slide projector and Mark a LCD projector. This should be a fun get together, not too demanding on our precious fuel.  Please bring and share something to eat and drink.
Time – probably about 6 for 6.30, but it will be confirmed in the next Tree Life.

Tuesday 4th October: With the longer evenings our Botanic Garden Walk moves back to Tuesday evenings. 4.45 for 5 p.m.



Please contact Jean Wiley or Gill Short for details of the next Matabeleland function.



Jim discovered that we could stay at the Mahenya lodge on an island in the Save River for $300,000.00 per room per night and self-cater. So we put together a party of eight couples to fill the eight rooms, all of which look onto the river under a canopy of dense riverine forest trees and bush.

We left Harare early on Thursday morning in a convoy of four vehicles and stopped soon after Chivhu on the Zaka road for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. We drank in the vista of golden grass waving in the wind, the sense of space, and being out of the city did so much good for our souls. It is a very good road as long as you keep your eyes open for stray cattle and goats and donkeys. The country side is fascinating with granite kopjies, grassland and many trees which flashed by as we headed south and then east to the Jack Quinton Bridge. Immediately after the bridge we followed the Save river for 43 km of rough gravel road to Chilo Lodge, where we checked in and were able to fill the vehicles with fuel. The views from the  lodge of the river and gorge are stunning.

Adenium multiflorum. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Adenium multiflorum. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Very little time to look at trees but the Sabi stars Adenium multiflorum were stunning in full flower and a Gyrocarpus americanus, the propeller tree, was in fruit with its propeller pods waving in the breeze.

Mahenya is 5 km further down the river and to get to the lodge we had to cross the sandy bed of the river. The point where you dip onto the river bed is lined by two huge Trichilia emetica trees. The lodge is situated on an island about 4 km from the confluence of the Save and the Rundi rivers.

Cyclone Eline in 2000 completely flooded the island, but they have renovated it all and we were very comfortable. The kitchens are well equipped with deep freezes and fridges, ice making machines and an excellent cook whose services we employed for the duration of our stay. We were warmly welcomed by the staff at Mahenya who were delighted to have a full house for a few days.

Cordyla africana. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Cordyla africana. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

The lodge is shaded by a dense canopy of trees and when you go down the path to your room you wind your way between huge lianas, shrubs and the solid trunks of large trees which is a bit foreboding. The trees include Trichilia emitica  Kigelia africana, Cordyla africana, Ficus sur and F. sycamorus, several Acacias and Diospyros mespiliformis and Kigelia africana. One of the lianas was a Capparis tomentosa. Shrubs included Ziziphus pubescens, which is unarmed .

We only finished lunch at about 4 p.m. so spent the rest of the time unpacking and watching the birds by the river. A Grey Heron kept a stately vigil for hours, standing on a rock. Wagtails paddle in the shallows and tiny White-fronted Plovers skitter about; the babies cannot fly and run flat out over the sand when chased.

In the evenings we sat in a circle round a slow burning Mopane log which gave off terrific heat. The game guides came round to plan the next day’s activities. Seven us elected to go on the early morning walk in Gonarezhou. Obert was our guide and he collected us at 6.00 a.m. and took us by landrover across the large stretch of sand and narrow river into the park. It has been a very dry year and the Tambahata Pan was completely dry. The road to the pan goes through Tamboti bush and Mopane scrub that has been devastated by elephants. Spirostachys africana, the Tamboti tree, stands out with the leaves beginning to show their autumn colours. There are patches of green, the cucumber bush Thilachium africanum, and Capparis tomentosa. By the pan are some magnificent Nyala trees, Xanthocercis zambesiaca, in full fruit, Diospyros mespiliformis and several Acacia, particularly A. nigrescens and A. robusta.

Walking in single file, keeping our voices very low, we wound our way through some magnificent Adansonia digitata with White-backed Vultures resting in the branches, Long-tailed glossy starlings, green pigeons, Brown-headed Parrots, Meyer’s Parrots and Little Bee-eaters flitted about in the cool morning air. Across the pan we saw impala, zebra, a family of warthogs made for cover with their tails erect, Ground Hornbills stalked about the pan and baboons climbed down from the trees to inspect the ground for the fallen fruit of the Ilala palm Hyphaene natalensis. The impala wererutting so there was quite a lot of activity and they glowed golden in the early sunlight.

Hyphaene natalensis. Photo: Colin Wenham. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Hyphaene natalensis. Photo: Colin Wenham. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

It is quite spooky walking among the Ilala palm groves, which have been seriously trampled by elephants. We learnt a bit about elephants from markings in the sand, the smoothed side of a termite mound used as a resting place, where they sleep propped up for a couple of hours. Elephants eat for about 18 hours a day and consume 200 kilograms of plant material. We came across a set of perfect foot prints in the fine sand and Obert explained how you can find out the size, sex and age of the animal. He measured the circumference of the front foot and multiplied that by 2.5, so that elephant was 2 and a half times his rifle at the shoulder, she was a female and about 35 years old.

We came across some mongoose burrows and learnt that 60% of their diet is snake. Obert tells us they keep the heads and use them as protection; when danger approaches they take a snake head and pop down a hole and poke the snakes head up and down. We were not too sure how true this is!

Then we found a hyena’s den in an old termite mound and we heard the litter of pups but could not see them.

Shortly after returning to the vehicle we spotted a young male elephant and later a group of 9 beautiful Nyala, a male, females and babies. A hare sat wide-eyed under a bush and an elephant shrew with his prehensile nose scuttled across the road.
We returned to the lodge for breakfast and a morning consolidating what we had seen.

That evening we were back in the park for a late afternoon game drive. It was magic being in the bush; we saw a fair amount of game and wound our way through the Ilala palm forest, where we saw some elephant but did not have the excitement the other landrover had, finding themselves in the middle of a herd of elephant cows and calves. They were mock charged and a couple of the girls returned to camp wide-eyed from the experience. The guide was quite relaxed as he knew it was only a mock charge and not the real thing.

Kigelia africana. Photo: Bill Clarke. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Kigelia africana. Photo: Bill Clarke. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Several of the men tried their luck fishing for bream at the confluence of the Save and Rundi rivers. They were successful and caught enough fish to have for breakfast next day. We accompanied them the second day and enjoyed sitting on the bank sketching a huge Kigelia africana whose roots had been exposed by the banks eroding.

On another early morning walk on Sunday we stopped in an open grassy area studded with beautiful specimens of Faidherbia albida, several other Acacias, and Tabernaemontana elegans was very prevalent and were quite heavily in fruit.

We skirted a huge herd of buffalo, keeping our distance, but able to see them grazing and moving slowly, never once disturbed by our presence.

When we got back to the vehicles we set off in search of the elephant we had seen walking off in the distance. We found some among the Ilala palms and were able to watch them undisturbed for quite a while.

We were interested to note there were blue plastic traps set up in random spots and one day we came across the Government team who were checking up and recording any evidence of Tsetse fly in the area.

That afternoon we walked along the river to where the Mahenya people bring their Ngoni cattle down to drink. There were several herds of these hardy, sprightly, multi-coloured cattle, which looked in good condition.

Clive Stockil and Lin Barrie joined us one evening and Clive spoke to us about how the Camp Fire Project works and told us that the Mahenya project is the one real success story in the country.

In 1981 the Shangaan thought they could move back into the Park from where they had been moved 45 km up the Save River. They thought they could get rid of the animals, then there would be no visitors and they could move back. Poaching got out of control and the troops moved in and people were killed and wounded.

Clive was asked to interpret at meetings between the elders of the tribe and the Commission, where the tension was very high. But they have reached agreement where the people are allowed 5 elephant a year; they get the meat and trade the ivory and skin. Camp Fire pays the community direct and gives 15% to the council. Funds also come from the lodges, and fees for the Park and from game if they are culled or hunted.

Monday morning dawned all too soon and it was time to head back to Harare. Mahenya is a lovely spot and well worth a visit, and although remote, the roads are fair and the rewards great.

-Ann Sinclair



This was Tom’s last Botanic Garden walk before he departs for summer in Europe and today’s subject was “Rare trees”, i.e. tree species which we don’t often see on our regular outings around Harare. A common thread with many of these species is that they tend to be forest species and also they generally occur in the isolated and unique habitats in Zimbabwe such as the Chirinda Forest, the Haroni-Rusitu area, and the Burma and Honde valleys.

Sterculia appendiculata. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Sterculia appendiculata. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Sterculia appendiculata, the Tall Sterculia, is certainly rare in Zimbabwe, occurring only in the lowest reaches of the Mazoe River as it exits into Mozambique. Outside Zimbabwe, it occurs in Mozambique, Malawi and northwards to Tanzania.

Like most other Sterculia it has large palmately-lobed leaves like a maple, no petals (what appear to be petals are petal-like calyxes) and fruits of several carpels (2-3 in this case), which split open to reveal brown seeds with a yellow basal aril. The name ‘Tall Sterculia’ is not quite apt as it attains 40 metres in height.

Tom mentioned that typically it has a tall unbranched bole, branching above. However, here in the Garden, as with many low altitude trees, there is more branching from lower down. The species is deciduous but the leaf change occurs quickly. The bark is smooth and grey.

On next to Bridelia atroviridis, the Rare forest Bridelia. This is widespread in tropical Africa, extending to W Africa, NE Africa and south to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. However, with us it is confined to medium and low altitudes in forests in the SE of Zimbabwe (for example at Kiledo Lodge). However, it does not occur at Chirinda Forest. Like many forest trees it has a long-acuminate leaf tip.

Erythrophleum suaveolens. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Erythrophleum suaveolens. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Erythrophleum suaveolens is the Forest ordeal tree. In fact, this one we have seen on Tree Society outings (although not near Harare) as it occurs by the main road in the Burma Valley. It is a species of stream sides and evergreen forest. It has large 2-pinnate leaves with large leaflets, which (and this is the unusual part) are arranged alternately. This arrangement is only found in the genera Erythrophleum and Burkea.

The generic name Erythrophleum means ‘red sap’, after E. suaveolens, which for this reason is sometimes known as the Redwater tree. In Zimbabwe, the genus has two species; the other one is the savannah species, Erythrophleum africanum, which occurs so characteristically in Kalahari sand habitats.

Combretum coriifolium is one of the rarest species of Combretum, occurring in forest in the Rusitu valley in Zimbabwe and in Mozambique, where it is also rare. It is a climbing shrub, which somewhat resembles Combretum molle. It has been identified by the characteristic scales on the underside of the leaf.

Hippocratea goetzei is a rare climber with scaly bark, occurring in the Burma Valley. Its habitat is rocky places, especially in the wetter areas near the base. It is on the Red Data list as Vulnerable and it is also reported from the Chirinda Forest and other outliers.

Dichapetalum madagascariense is a rare gigantic liane occurring in forests in the E districts. So far it has only been recorded from the Haroni-Makurupini forest, where, according to the Red Data List, there are a low number of individual specimens. Certainly it is a remarkable contrast to the other 2 species of Dichapetalum which occur in savannah areas in Zimbabwe, namely D. cymosum and D. rhodesicum, both of which are small shrubs or suffrutices.

Pleiocarpa pycnantha is a rare understorey tree of evergreen forests tree that has leaves in whorls of 3, rarely 4. In Zimbabwe it is found in the Chirinda Forest and in the Haroni-Rusitu area. The family it belongs to is the Apocynaceae and it has the characteristic milky latex, white flowers and the compound fruit with 2-5 carpels.
Englerophytum natalense (the Forest stem-fruit) is very local in Zimbabwe, occurring in the Waterfalls forest just outside Chipinge and also near the White Horse Inn in the Vumba. This species has markedly discolorous leaves: silvery-white beneath and dark green above. The flowers are borne in small clusters in the leaf axils.

Blighia unijugata. Photo: Meg Coates Palgrave. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Blighia unijugata. Photo: Meg Coates Palgrave. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe

Blighia unijugata is a rare tree in the Sapindaceae. Once again, this occurs in the SE part of Zimbabwe, specifically Haroni-Rusitu. Like most species in this family, the leaves are compound and paripinnate, but perhaps the most striking thing about the species is its orange seeds enclosed at the base within an aril. Furthermore, the fruits are pear-shaped and narrowly winged.

Tom also mentioned that Blighia seeds itself all over the garden, so perhaps it won’t be long before it starts turning up as a weed in Harare!

Ficus vallis-choudae is an extremely rare fig (Endangered on the Red Data List). Tom estimates that there may be no more than 20 trees left in Zimbabwe and these occur at low altitudes in the Haroni-Rusitu area. Although the environment is very different from their native habitat, the trees in the Botanic Gardens are large and flourishing. This is a fig species with true buttresses, again suggesting modification to forest environment.

  • The leaves are relatively broad and noticeably 3-veined from the base, resembling to some extent those of Ficus sur, which supports its English name of False cape fig. However, vallis-choudae bears its figs on the new stems and not in massive woody branched clusters on the old wood.
  • The fig with the name Tom most enjoys is Ficus bubu. Tom mentioned that this is a very widespread species in tropical Africa, extending from W Africa right across the Congo Basin. Here it is extremely rare, occurring in small quantity in the Haroni-Rusitu area.

Remaining with the Moraceae (the fig family), we looked at Milicia excelsa (formerly Chlorophora excelsa), the Mvule. This is now very rare in Zimbabwe; it is virtually extinct in the Haroni-Rusitu area while at the Tjolotjo cliffs site by the Runde river in Gonarezhou there are only a handful of trees remaining.

On its side, however, is the fact that it is widespread in tropical Africa, so from an international perspective the position is rather less serious. Although none were present at this time, this species has flowers which are borne in unisexual spikes; the male spikes are much longer than the more squat female spikes.

On next to the palm, Borassus aethiopum. This and the genus Hyphaene are the only palms with palmate, as opposed to pinnate, leaves. As a guide to separating the two, it was noted that the leaves of Borassus are much larger than Hyphaene, the plants of Borassus are taller and also Borassus has a ‘lump’ in the trunk. Borassus is much cultivated for its fruit and Tom believes that this species may well be introduced in Zimbabwe; it is common in the Rusitu valley.

Canthium ngonii was named for the late John Ngoni who worked at the National Herbarium. It is now a rare species from the zone where rain forest borders on to woodland. It occurs in the Rusitu, Chimanimani and Burma Valley areas where its existence is severely constrained by the lack of a suitable habitat.

This has been a long account and even this has been somewhat selective. We actually dealt with more species than are shown here. As usual our thanks go to Tom for sharing his expertise with us; we shall miss him on his European trip.

On a final note, summarising these rare species was helped considerably by the Red Data List [1], which was edited by Janice Golding and compiled by local experts: Bob Drummond, Tom, Werner (on the orchids), etc. This is well worth obtaining and contains a wealth of useful information.

-Mark Hyde

(ed.) (2002) Southern African Plant Red Data Lists. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 14. SABONET. Pretoria.


THE PETHERAM FILES  Continued…..File 5 Tuli

This file was labelled Tuli, and contained a collection of notes on the Tuli Circle that Dick Petheram had gathered from various sources. Included in the notes below is an item taken out of File 1.

The note below was not taken from Dick Petheram’s file. It first appeared in The Outpost, the Regimental Magazine of the British South Africa Police, and was re-published in 1953 in the book Blue and Old Gold (Howard B Timmins), which contains a selection of stories from The Outpost. It was written under the nom de plume W.N.S. and is reproduced here with very minor editing.

I recently had the opportunity of spending a night at the old Tuli Police Camp, on the Shashe River. I had always wanted to visit Tuli, for some of my contemporaries had been stationed there, and many were the stories I had heard about the district when I was a trooper in Gwanda nearly a score of years ago. Tuli, the one-man station, miles away in the bush, teeming with game. Tuli, where the Pioneers entered the Colony. Lions. Game poachers. Elephants.

I had often tried to visualize Tuli when I listened to these stories, and it was very much as I expected it to be. A clearing on a rise above the river. Whitewashed buildings surrounded by whitewashed stones. The BSAP has always had a passion for whitewash, I recalled, and surely it, like red tape, is indestructible? It may fade, but, be praised, it never dies. There they were, those white buildings, almost as if they had been vacated only the day before.

The Camp stands, more or less I should think, as it was left. The quarters echo to the tread, and there are bats in the gabled roof. The wooden walls are of dark cream, and all the doors and window fixtures are painted that dark brown so beloved of the Public Works Department of its day. One saddle rack still protrudes from a wall. Most of the windows contain glass, and even mosquito gauze. At some time or other a bullet had been fired through one of the windows, probably by one of the past inmates in an attempt to alleviate his ennui.
There is ample evidence of past occupation. Two home-made tables; a gnarled bench of ancient vintage, with clumsy steel legs; a solid gabled meat safe, heavily varnished; and, pinned to a wall, a sepia print of Viator’s Bridge, Mill Dale, Derbyshire, with the following words of George Macdonald printed below:

Bands of dark and bands of light Lie athwart the homeward way
Now we cross a belt of light
Now a strip of shining day.

I walked out of the building on to the earth veranda. I do not know who planted the rubber hedge surrounding the quarters, but he will be interested to hear that it is no longer a hedge but a plantation, and the succulent green fingers now reach at least 20 feet.  I went to examine the bathroom. Two taps protrude into the empty room from two drums, H & C, outside. One day the bathroom roof will fall in, for the pole supports are riddled with termites, and here whitewash is losing the battle against nature. There is, of course, no bath, and the one window lacks glass, for an indigenous bush has thrust its tentacles through it until it reached the roof. An enterprising bird has weaved its nest in one of the top branches. A wise little bird, finding a man-made roof in this jungle of mopane.
The kitchen is nearby. The Bonnybridge Dover stove, complete with three out of four hotplates, still stands firmly on all four legs, even if hornets have nested in the chimney, and the tin spout connected to the stove is in danger of disintegration.

Many are the times when the Bonnybridge must have been polished until it shone, for you know how exacting officers can be.

I went over to the store next to the African police lines, but found the door secured with a heavy Yale lock, so I was not able to discover what treasures it contained. Disappointed, for I was in an inquisitive mood, I went over to the stables and found a small store next to it, containing the following assorted bric-a-brac: some spade handles; a dustbin that was once painted a rather frivolous light blue; two solid water-cart drums, complete with tap attachment; the femoral bones of some large animal; some weights; a part of an old paraffin lamp; two brands; a bucket encrusted with whitewash; and a brush.

I walked up to the black kopje at the back of the Camp, on the slopes of which there are two mounds. On one of them there is a piece of rusted tin, with the following words embossed with holes:


Below me lay the Camp—and beyond it the river.
In the center of a whitewashed stone square in front of the quarters stands a rather insignificant steel flagpost, surrounded by a circular pattern of small stones. At first glance this appears to be as well scuffled as if an inspection was imminent, but on closer examination it was apparent that the ubiquitous impala had used this cleared space as a dormitory on more than one occasion. I also noticed skulls, so lion had been here, too. And everywhere were the gargantuan droppings of elephant.

I went down to the river. Many people had told me about the pool on the Shashe, below the red cliff, near the big baobab. It is no longer there, for this river, like the Limpopo and the Umzingwane and the Umtshabezi and all the rivers in these parts, is silting up and drying up. All there is in the Shashe now is a thin stretch of water, not flowing, and in parts stagnant. Soon it will dry up completely. But the big baobab is there, proud and erect. There were some small parrots chattering in the branches, and a large leguaan that I disturbed in the reeds immediately sought refuge in a hollow in the baobab’s trunk. Here, at the big tree, the Pioneers paused and carved their names in the soft wood, and many of them perpetuated their names in spent cartridge cases. For it was from Fort Tuli, south of the river, that the Pioneer Column pushed its way up north on its adventurous mission.

I walked across the sandy river to the other side, where there is the small kopje that was Fort Tuli, and near it the cemetery. Elephant have trampled on the graves, and impala have huddled together among the ruins. I counted about 22 unidentified graves. On one nameless grave I noticed a small green bush, a patch of brightness in the harsh and arid atmosphere. It was almost as if someone had just planted it there, as a tribute to high endeavour.
I walked over to the old Fort, which rises above the sea of brown mopane bush. It had been very wisely chosen, and provided protection from attack on all sides. To the north lay the Shashe, a ribbon of sand fringed with fig trees, and beyond the river the promised land.

When I returned to the Police Camp the sun was setting, and I watched it from the front veranda of the old quarters. Just below me, to the west, was the sandy bed of this once mighty river, bending sharply to the south. And above it a sea of mopane, the leaves bronze in the sunset; and as the sun dipped over the horizon the table-shaped kopjes stood silhouetted against the pink sky-like sentinels.

Here, in the valley of the Shashe, there had been other sentinels, guarding a fort on an African hill. It was then that I remembered, when I had climbed the fort that afternoon, that I had been surprised to find the remains of a huge eagle at its highest and southernmost lookout. It was a large warrior of a bird, with brown wings and an undercoat of pure white. A most noble bird, a symbol of courage. And as I stood in the hot sun it seemed almost as if the eagle had chosen this place in which to die, as a silent tribute to those people who had given their lives to make this beloved country of ours.

May their souls rest in peace.
TULI,  BEIT BRIDGE,  June, 1952.

Tailpiece (or Talepiece?)
Dick Petheram’s Tuli file included brief extracts from the report of the Rhodesian Schools Exploration Society’s Tuli Expedition of May 1959. Among the extracts was this account of an interesting event:
Mr. Drummond [Leader of the Botany Section] was responsible for the event of the day when his campsite caught fire. Bimu, the cook, with admirable presence of mind attempted to quell the flames with the first bottle at hand, which unhappily turned out to be preserving alcohol.



Clerodendrum eriophyllum. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of ZimbabwePlectranthus esculentus. Photo: Bart Wursten. Source: Flora of Zimbabwe