The Buffalo Thorn tree (Blinkblaar wag-'n-bietjie)
Bark of the Ziziphus mucronata
Ziziphus mucronata branches
Characteristic Zig - Zagging of young branches
Blinkblaar Wag 'n Bietjie
One hooked and one straight thorn
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Ziziphus mucronata - Buffalo Thorn - Blinkblaar Wag-'n-bietjie
The Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo thorn) is usually a shrub or small to medium sized tree, it has simple leaves, which are alternate or in tufts, not biloped; blade prominently 2-7 veined from base. Latex absent. The thorns of the buffalo thorn are in Pairs, reddish brown, one straight, one bent. (Note: dont confuse with the Haak 'n Steek - which is the Acacia tortillis or Umbrella Thorn which also has one bent and one straight thorn)
The fruit of the Buffalo thorn is almost spherical about 1cm in diameter, sometimes bigger. Turning from red, to shiny russet-brown when ripe. Persistent on the tree, even when the tree is leafless. The Mesocarp floury (Jan-July) (Roodt 1998)
Species name: mucronata refers to the pointed leaves.
- The Afrikaans name of Blinkblaar Wag 'n bietjie comes from 'blinkblaar' in reference to its shiny leave and 'Wag 'n bietjie' which when litteraly translated means 'wait a while' because of the thorns, if you get caught, you will have to wait a while!. Note the true Wag-'n-Bietjie tree is the Acacia caffra Common hook-thorn, Cat thorn (English)
- The English name of Buffalo Thorn is so called because it is said that when a buffalo is defending itself from lins it can reverse into a Buffalo Thorn, protecting that flank and then only has to defend the front
Importance in African Culture: Ziziphus mucronata
- The wag-'n-bietjie is important to African's, beacuse the young twigs zig-zag, this indicates that life is not always straightforward.
- The Two thorns that are found at the nodes are also important because the one that faces backward represents where we come from and the one facing forward, represents where we are going.
- Its presence of the Ziziphus mucronata is said to indicate the presence of underground water.
- The genus of Ziziphus mucronata has historical and in Biblical importance, as Christ's crown of thorns when he was crucified is said to have been made from Ziziphus spina-christi Willd. This is a species which closely resembles Ziziphus mucronata but which grows from central Africa northwards (Palmer & Pitman 1972). Looking at the thorns it is easy to imagine this.
- In many parts of South Africa as well as Botswana, the local people believe that the buffalo thorn will protect you from lightning and anyone standing under one in a storm would be safe.
- Another belief is that if it is felled in summer, a drought, hail or lightning will certainly follow.
- The Zulu name of umLahlankosi which means "that which buries the chief" is significant because Zulus and the Swazis use the buffalo thorn in connection with burial rites. It was once the custom that when a Zulu chief died, the tree was planted on his grave as a reminder or symbol of where the chief lies.
Features of the Buffalo Thorn (Blinkblaar wag-'n-bietjie)
- Branches divide into fine twigs that are slightly zigzagged.
- The large round red berries are conspicuous.
Animals uses for the Ziziphus mucronata
- Giraffes are known to be especially fond of the leaves of this tree.
- Leaves eaten by Giraffe, antelope, cattle and goats.
- Fruit eaten by small antelope, baboons and monkeys, Warthog and Green Pigeons
- Caterpillars of many butterflies feed on the tree.
- Fruit and leaves are high in nutritional value although not very palatable eagerly eaten by antelope, monkeys, baboons and especially birds (Roodt 1998)
Human uses for the Buffalo Thorn (Blinkblaar wag-'n-bietjie)
The Ziziphus mucronata has many human uses, one of them is that you can make coffee from the roasted seeds. I have personally done this and used it on some willing "victums" on a safari game drive. It does actually taste a little like cheap coffee, and I would use it as a substitute although to make the coffe from the buffalo thorn is pretty labour intensive.
- Fruit is edible and used to make porridge and meal.
- Edible but not very tasty fruit. Fruits are sold in rural markets in Zimbabwe. (van Wyk & Gericke 2000)
- Seeds can be roasted as a coffee substitute.
- Traditional medicine – stomach ailments, skin ulcers and chest problems.
- A paste of the leaves to treat boils and glandular swellings.
- Fresh leaves are chewed or pulped, applied directly to wounds, boils and sores to reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing. (van Wyk & Gericke 2000)
- Burial tree of the Zulu’s and the Sotho. Trees planted to surround the body and branches used to attract ancestral spirits from one dwelling to the next.
- The flour-like mesocarp (pulp), mixed with water, is an excellent thirst-quencher (Roodt 1998)
- A flour can be prepared from the pulp. (Roodt 1998)
- As with most wild fruit, a beer can be made and allowed to ferment. (Roodt 1998)
- The leaves are chewed as an aphrodisiac. (Roodt 1998)
- Ben-Erik van Wyk & Nigel Gericke 2000 Peoples plants – a guide to usefull plants of Southern Africa ISBN 1 875093 19 2
- Veronica Roodt 1998 Trees and Shrubs of the Okavango Delta ISBN 99912 0 241 2
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