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An iconic tree, the camel thorn, is almost synonymous with Namibia and South Africa. The dead wood is much revered as the best possible 'braai' or BBQ fuel as it produces hot coals and adds a wonderful flavour to meat. Protected, this tree must not be chopped down without a permit.

The camelthorn tree, Acacia erioloba, seen across Namibia, was given its name in 1760 by Jacobus Coetse Jansz. He chose the name after seeing giraffe browsing on the juicy leaves at the top of the tree. Camelthorn trees have long white thorns and their leaves grow high above the trunk, however the leaves are just the right height and flavour for a giraffe, and their rubbery lips and specially adapted tongues are perfect tools for browsing from the tree.

In the Dutch derived language of the early European settlers, a giraffe is a ‘kameelperd’ or ‘camel-horse’, stemming from the Latin name for giraffe, Camelopardus, hence the word ‘kameel’ from ‘giraffe’ and ‘doring’ from the thorns. The word ‘kameeldoring’ translates into camelthorn. The tree was described by Burchell, some 50 years later. The tree, a member of the acacia family, was initially so strongly associated with the giraffe, that is was first named Acacia giraffae.

So pervasive and familiar is the camelthorn in Namibia, that it featured in the popular song, the ‘Südwester Lied’, the unofficial anthem of Namibia sung during the years before independence. In this song, the country was described as being as ‘hard as camelthorn wood’.

The camelthorn is a much loved tree in Namibia. Not only is it a friendly, familiar sight and a good shade tree, but its wood is hard and excellent for barbecues, known as ‘braais’ in Namibia. The smoke from the coals imparts a particular flavour, much loved by people of Southern Africa, to food cooked over them.

Yet beyond a handy meal for a giraffe, and the smoke and the aroma of meat on the braai at sunset, the camelthorn is a very useful tree to other inhabitants of Namibia.

One of the most interesting things about the camelthorn is its seedpods, hard grey half-moons which fall from its branches. These pods are cracked open, and the seed and powdery substance which surrounds the seeds, are eaten by animals as an additional source of nutrition, particularly during times of drought. A large camelthorn tree can produce up to 500 kg of pods in a season. A nutritious porridge can be made from the seeds for human consumption, and the powder of the pod is said to be useful for treating ear infections. The pods grow between December and April.

Its shade is also very welcome. The large spreading canopy provides a welcome rest area for animals during the midday sun. However the bark often makes an excellent place for ticks waiting to find a host, and travellers should be warned not to lean against the trunk of a camelthorn, particularly in very dry areas. The canopy and the strength of the branches make it a very suitable choice for weaver birds who build their huge communal nest in its branches.

The camelthorn is very slow growing, but can reach heights of up to 17 m. It prefers dryer environments, and in order to reach water, it has been known to produce a tap root that reaches a very great depth, in one case, in the Kalahari, up to 46 m, making it almost impossible to transplant.
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This photograph is copyright of Rosemary Walden - © Rosemary Walden 2012. All rights reserved.
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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Rosemary Walden (SnapRJW) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2806 W: 84 N: 6959] (31631)
  • Genre: Luoghi
  • Medium: Colore
  • Date Taken: 2012-04-12
  • Categories: Natura
  • Esposizione: f/22, 1/160 secondi
  • More Photo Info: view
  • Versione Foto: Versione Originale
  • Date Submitted: 2012-07-22 11:03
  • Preferiti: 1 [vista]
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