Examples of useful trees found in Africa

These examples are not suggestions of what to plant if they don’t already grow in your area. They are just examples of how trees can be made use of. If these trees do not grow in your area there may be a tree which can do the same things and does.

If you bring a tree into your area which has not already grown there for a long time it can spread very fast and become a weed. Sometimes, it may grow over people’s farmland and stop them using it. There are other good reasons for using trees from your area. For more information on this, you can look here.

There are lots of things to think about when choosing a type of tree to plant.

It is important to think carefully before cutting down trees if you don’t know how rare they are. This can also apply to trees on this list. They might be endangered.

Some of these trees may have many different names. Not all of these names can be listed for each tree.

Trees or their fruits can be poisonous. You should only do eat or use something from a tree if you are certain that it is safe to do so.

The countries that each tree is found in and the climate and soil it prefers are a rough guide only. A glossary of unusual words in this list can be found here.

PAPERBARK THORN/ACACIA (VACHELLIA/ACACIA SIEBERIANA)

Countries this tree is found in: across sub-Saharan Africa

Climate and soil type it grows well in: prefers acidic soils of various sorts. Often grows on low ground or riverbanks in dry areas.

What it looks like: can be 3-25m tall. Has rough, yellowy bark and some spines. Leaves are slightly hairy and have many small leaflets. The flowers are whiteish and the fruit brown.

What it can be used for: the flowers are good for bees so hives are often put near it. Tannin for leather-working can be found in the bark and seed-pods. Fibre can be got from the bark and the sap can be used to make ink. The wood is good for firewood or charcoal or for woodworking. It is termite-resistant. The pods and leaves can be used to feed animals but the leaves can be very poisonous at some times of the year. Sometimes they can kill animals.

Other good things about it: it is drought and frost resistant and coppices well.

APPLE-RING ACACIA/ANA TREE (FAIDHERBA ALBIDA)

Countries/regions this tree is found in: much of west and east and some of southern Africa

Climate and soil type it grows well in: by rivers or on flat land. Prefers well-drained sandy soils and long summers.

What it looks like: trees are large and have spreading branches. Bark is rough and brown or smooth and grey and young branches are white or grey. Flowers are white and fruits come in orange to brown pods.

What it can be used for: seeds are edible. Leaves and pods can be fed to animals. The wood is good for fuelwood and can be used to make things although it rots easily if not well-seasoned.

Other good things about it: coppices well. Is nitrogen-fixing.

MUSTARD TREE (SALVADORA PERSICA)

Countries/regions this tree is found in: across much of Africa

Climate and soil type it grows well in: prefers alkaline clay soils.

What it looks like: small tree with a crooked trunk and cracked bark.

What it can be used for: the young stems can be used as toothbrushes. The leaves may make good fodder for animals.

Other good things about it: very drought-resistant and coppices well.

WHITE THORN (SENEGALIA POLYCANTHA)

Countries/regions this tree is found in: tropical Africa from Senegal to parts of South Africa

Climate and soil type it grows well in: often close to rivers or woodland at heights of up to 1400m above sea level.

What it looks like: large tree with yellowish prickly bark which gets smoother and greyer with age. Tree has spines, leaves with leaflets and yellow or cream flowers.

What it can be used for: Some people think that the roots may repel dangerous animals because of their smell. The gum of the tree can be used to make sweets or glue. Tannin for leather-working is found in the bark.

Other good things about it: grows quite fast

BAMBOO

Countries/regions this tree is found in: parts of west and east Africa

Climate and soil type it grows well in: well-drained soils

What it looks like: hollow, grass-like stems (it is really a grass)

What it can be used for: the wood can be very strong. Parts of the plant can also be eaten. It can be used to stop erosion of poor soil.

Other good things about it: grows very fast and can grow in many climates and soils. Can grow in very poor soils.

SEBASTIAN WRIGHT

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