Tree profile: Sausage Tree

Lab Note #7
Apr 15, 2014
  Sausage tree, the sexy tree

Scientific name: Kigelia africana
Kigelia: after a native African name for the species;   Africana: from Africa
Family: Jacaranda family (Bignoniaceae )
Indigenous names: Worsboom (Afrikaans), Modukghulu, Pidiso (North Sotho), umVongotsi (Siswati); Mpfungurhu (Tsonga), Muvevha (Venda)  




I can’t take credit for the moniker of this one. “Sexy tree” comes from Muthi and Myths, a book by Heather Dugmore and Ben-Erik van wyk that chronicles the cultural myths, uses and importance of indigenous trees. Luckily, several of these are found on my list and across the board the sausage tree is certainly a highlight.  

“The pendulous, sausage-shaped fruit of the sausage tree measures up to half a meter long and can weigh up to nine kilograms. Its erotic crimson flower is velvety on the inside and brimming with nectar. From flower to fruit, Kigelia africana is a very sexy tree.”  



As of this writing, the sausage tree isn’t found in any of my sites and so I have yet to sample it (though, thanks to the recent success of this campaign, I’ve already scouted out a few new sites that look very promising!!). However, I’ve seen it once or twice growing along riverbanks and it’s certainly a very striking tree. The fruit is the first thing you notice, giant watermelon sized pods that dangle on the end of their own long, vine-like stem, swinging in the space below the upper canopy. I haven’t been lucky enough to see it in flower, but from photos they are breathtaking (though by unfortunate reputation, also rather foul-smelling). It seems like most of the trees in the family (Bignoniacea) are uniformly showy and spectacular, and a close relative, the flame tree, is often seen planted along city streets.

  


The flame tree. I bet y'all wish I was sampling this one.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the medicinal uses of the sausage tree are rather sexual in nature. The fruit is ground up and mixed with water to help young men improve their manhood (in this case “manhood” is metaphorical). It’s also rubbed on male genitals (there’s the literal bit) or on women’s breasts to make them larger. The green fruit is used to make a poultice for syphilis. An infusion from the bark is used to wash the head as a way of treating epilepsy. At one point the fruit was chemically analyzed and has actually been found to have strong antimicrobial properties, including antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, so extracts have become popular in cosmetics and lotions. Other indigenous uses include using the fruit to treat sores, ulcers and skin cancer.  


        
 (the one at the end is called "Bust Creme," Which sounds much better in the original French, 'Creme pour le buste')

The fruit is inedible to humans and reputedly poisonous (which doesn’t seem to stop anybody from rubbing it over their sensitive bits), though it’s happily eaten by baboons, moneys and bush pigs. The seeds are edible after roasting in warm ash, and are eaten during times of famine (though who in the world first decided to eat the seeds from a poisonous fruit is beyond me. I guess that’s famine for you). The Malawi use the roasted fruit to flavor and ferment beer (ditto above, I guess that’s alcohol for you). The leaves are browsed by game; the flowers eaten by antelope and pollinated by bats. The sausage tree flower is perfectly formed for this method of pollination. Unlike birds, bats can’t take off from a perch, they must dangle and fall, righting themselves and taking wing before they hit the ground. The sausage tree flower assists in this process by hanging like a pendulum, growing separate from its neighbors to leave ample falling space below. The wood is easy to work with and produces good-quality timber, fruit boxes and shelving. The Chobe and Zambezi tribes make their dugout canoes from it. The fruit is hung around dwellings as a protection from violent storms, hurricanes and tornados. Considering the largest fruit can grow up to 12 kg and can very easily brain a full-grown man from as low as two meters, this is the most ballsy employment of reverse psychology I have ever heard of.  



Cultivation:

The seeds should be sown in September for best results, but since seasons are reversed here maybe that means that they should actually be sown in April in the Northern Hemisphere (Editor’s note: This is an uninformed, though educated guess). Place the seeds in trays of sand and keep moist. The seeds should germinate after 10-25 days. It’s not frost resistant but if protected from cold winds for the first 2-3 years it should survive. The growth rate is about 1 m per year, though slower in colder areas. The root system is invasive and should not be planted near homes or roads. Ironically, it also makes a good street tree (Kigelia africana: a study in illogical contradictions). Bonsai growers take note, the thick stem makes for an attractive feature and it is very successfully shaped.

Sources 
  1. Making the most of Indigenous Trees, Fanie and Julye-Anne Venter
  2. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park, Ernst Schmidt, Mervyn Lotter and Warren McClealand
  3. Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Braam van Wyk and Piet van Wyk
  4. Muthi and Myths, Heather Dugmore and Ben-Erik van Wyk
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