As South Africans celebrate Arbor Week in the first week of September, Wild’s spotlight falls on the Kruger Park’s magnificent trees. Val Thomas of TheTreeApp SA tells us what makes these branched beauties special and where to find them.

Giraffe eating from an Apple-leaf canopy called Philenoptera violaceae. Photo by Mark de Jong.

For Arbor Week, we asked Val Thomas, tree guru and co-creator of TheTreeApp SA, to share her knowledge about the trees that characterise South Africa’s flagship park.

Kruger lovers will know how the sight of a Mopane pulls on the heartstrings. And who remembers seeing the quirky fruit of the sausage tree for the first time?!

A tree-lined road in Kruger, waiting for recognition! Photo by AnnaKate Auten.

Val is currently hard at work on a new app that will help visitors to the Kruger National Park identify the trees they come across. The TreeApp Kruger will have tick lists for rest camps, main gates and official get-out points. Scroll down to find out how you can contribute to this resource.

Can you identify these five iconic Kruger tree species?

The Mopane tree, Colophospermum mopane

Also knows as: Balsamtree, Butterflytree, Rhodesian-ironwood, Turpentine-tree

Iconic Mopane, Colophospermum mopane on the S90, near Punda Maria. Photo by Dave Spencer.

This tree’s butterfly-shaped leaves make it instantly recognisable. In fact, the name comes from the Shona word for butterfly. The tree is host to the mopane worm, a much sought-after delicacy that forms part of the diet of the local people and is the basis of a small but important seasonal business.

Mopane, Colophospermum mopane butter-fly leaves and kidney-shaped pods. Photo by Val Thomas.

The well-known Mopane tree occurs from the south of Satara in dense stands northwards, becoming the most dominant tree of the area. Out of all the tree species in Kruger, the Mopane has the highest number of individual trees of its species. (As anyone who has driven through Kruger’s mopane veld can attest.) When growing on relatively poor soils of the often arid western and northern parts of Kruger, it is a smallish tree. In patches in the northeast between Pafuri and Punda Maria, where rainfall is far higher, it becomes a striking, tall tree in forests that are home to unusual bird species like Arnot’s chat.

Where to spot the Mopane tree?

Mopani Rest Camp, Letaba Rest Camp, Olifants Rest Camp, Punda Maria Rest Camp

The Leadwood Bushwillow tree, Combretum imberbe

Also knows as: Damara-mother tree, Elephant’s Trunk, Ironwood, Ivory tree

Iconic Leadwood Bushwillow, Combretum imberbe on Olifants Wilderness Trail. Photo by Ian Thomas.

The easiest way to identify the Leadwood Bushwillow is by looking at its size. This tree is large with a dramatic and statuesque form and has a grey snakeskin like bark. The Leadwood tree can live for hundreds of years and has one of the hardest woods in the world, hence the name. The wood is extremely resistant to termites and borer beetles, so years after dying the skeleton of the tree remains intact – the dead trees in Sable Dam are among the eye-catching ones.

Leadwood Bushwillow, Combretum imberb, with characteristic grey, snake-skin-like bark. Photo by Claire Patmore.

Where to spot the Leadwood Bushwillow?

Berg-en-dal Rest Camp, Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, Letaba Rest Camp, Lower Sabie Rest Camp, Mopani Rest Camp, Olifants Rest Camp, Orpen Rest Camp, Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, Punda Maria Rest Camp, Satara Rest Camp, Skukuza Rest Camp, Shingwedzi Rest Camp

The Lowveld Milkberry tree, Manilkara mochisia

The striking Lowveld Milkberry tree is distributed from the inlands of Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal to South Africa’s northern boundary and is located all over Kruger National Park.

Iconic, old Bushveld Milkberry, Manilkara mochisia south of Lower Sabie on S28. Photo by Peter Thomas.

You can easily identify this tree by looking at the leaves and the size of the unusually old and large tree. The Lowveld Milkberry has rosettes of dark green, shiny leaves with yellow midveins and arthritic-type intricate branches and twigs – a firm and delicious favourite of Kruger ellies.

Distinctive rosette of dark green, stiff leaves with yellow midveins of Milkberry, Manilkara mochisia. Photo by Peter Thomas.

Where to spot the Lowveld Milkberry?

Mopani Rest Camp, Olifants Rest Camp, Skukuza Rest Camp

The Knobbly Fig tree, Ficus sansibarica

Also known as: Angola Fig, Large-fruited Fig, Zanzibar Fig

Characteristic figs on knobbly woody outgrowths, on the Knobbly Fig, Ficus sansibarica in Olifants Rest Camp, Kruger. Photo by Peter Thomas.

The Knobbly Fig tree was planted in camps by tree-legend and author of The Vegetation of southern Africa, Dr Piet van Wyk, in the late 1970s. You shouldn’t expect to see this huge tree all across the park – it grows only in the higher rainfall areas and areas with deep sand in the far east of Kruger.

Where to spot the Knobbly Fig?

Olifants Rest Camp and Punda Maria Rest Camp

The Sausage-tree, Kigelia Africana

It’s obvious where the Sausage-tree gets its name. Each of the tree’s unusual looking fruit can weigh up to 12kg and takes up to a year to ripen.

Sausage-tree, Kigelia africana, near Hippo Pools, west of Croc Bridge, with the massive fruit hanging on long stalks. Photo by Peter Thomas.

Sausage-trees are large in size and are unusually low-branching, off a huge, thick, short trunk. This tree’s branches are phenomenally spread and when in bloom, you can’t mistake this beauty for any other.

Each individual blossom is a large cup shape consisting of four spreading, deep red, crumpled-looking petals. The opening of the cup is broad enough for bats and vervet monkeys to suck at nectar and cover their faces in bright yellow pollen – pollinating as they do so!

The cup-shaped red flowers with protruding pollen-laden stamens, and the huge sausage-shaped unique fruit of the Sausage-tree Kigelia africana. Photos by Peter Thomas.

Where to find the Sausage-tree in Kruger?

Berg-en-dal Rest Camp, Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, Letaba Rest Camp, Lower Sabie Rest Camp, Mopani Rest Camp, Olifants Rest camp, Orpen Rest Camp, Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, Punda Maria Rest Camp, Satara Rest Camp, Skukuza Rest Camp, Shingwedzi Rest Camp

What is your favourite tree?

Val Thomas needs your help to identify Kruger’s noteworthy trees. Who hasn’t made a pilgrimage to Kruger’s southernmost baobab? Val wants to pinpoint the other trees that are worth a visit, whether a sprawling fig at a picnic site or a lush jackalberry that marks a cellphone reception hot spot.

Send the name of your favourite tree specimen with the reason why you see that tree as significant, the GPS coordinates and a clear photo to [email protected]. You will help improve the app and aid users to identify different trees in the Kruger National Park.

Magnificent sunsets are as much part of a Kruger experience as the wide-spread well-loved trees, throughout the park. Photo by Vincent van Zalinge.

TheTreeApp Kruger

A special edition of TheTreeApp SA, TheTreeApp Kruger is launching in November 2019. This app will enhance tree discovery in the lush greenery of the park. Expect plenty of extra features to help nature lovers discover the park’s tree riches for themselves and identify even more of Kruger’s native trees.

Download TheTreeApp SA

TheTreeApp SA is available on Apple’s App Store or Google Play at R399. You need WiFi solely for downloading the app, thereafter you do not need an internet connection to explore.

Also read: Nominate your best-loved Kruger tree