Leadwood - skeletons of the veld
Combretum imberbe Afrikaans : hardekool
Leadwood is a member of the combretum family which is a group of about 500 species of mainly trees and shrubs that occur throughout the world in tropical and subtropical climates.
Of those found in southern Africa, there can be little doubt that the Leadwood is the most impressive- even when dead the tree persists,seemingly indestructible, bleached grey skeleton reaching skywards like some giant, twisted claw.
This imposing and long-living tree- one has been carbon dated at over a thousand years old- does unfortunately have an Achilles’ heel, for it is not resistant to fire and once alight blazes away to complete destruction.
Older trees are particularly susceptible as often their trunks and larger branches are hollow, causing a chimney effect during fire. The wood burns slowly and is extremely difficult to extinguish . There are well-documented instances of the coals of a tree still smouldering days and even weeks after a fire has passed through the veld.The Leadwood is understandably prized as a fuel source. Even the ash is useful for it has ahigh lime content and can be used to make whitewash. The gum that exudes from damaged areas on the stem is edible and forms part of the diet of the Bushmen.
Root bark is boiled with water and used for tanning leather. A decoction made from the roots allegedly cure diarrhoea and an infusion made from the root bark is used to treat bilharzia. Green leaves are placed on hot coals and the resultant smoke inhaled to relieve coughs and colds. Coughs are also treated with an infusion made from the flowers.
The Leadwood is more for the game farmer as it is hardly utilized by cattle for browsing. The young leaves are more readily eaten by elephant, giraffe, kudu, impala and grey duiker. The leadwood tree is regarded as an indicator of good grazing and sweetveld.
Bushveld trees: Malcolm Funston
Making the most of Indigenous Trees: Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter
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