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Sicklebush tree flower

These small trees have several common names – ‘sicklebush’ due to the form of the fruit; ‘Chinese lantern tree’ due to the flowers having a similar shape; and ‘Kalahari Christmas tree’ which comes from the German-Namibian name Kalahari-Weihnachtsbaum. However, their scientific name is dichrostachys cinerea. Although native to Africa, India and North Australia, they grow in many dry tropical regions.

Dichrostachys cinerea seed pods

Sicklebush seed pods

Sicklebush Tree Flower

Sicklebush flower

Dichrostachys cinerea seed pods

Sicklebush seed pods

They are quick-growing and long-living deciduous trees with leaves similar to acacias. They have very recognisable flowers that are acorn-shaped, with pink filaments on top and fluffy yellow oblongs below. The flowers are sweet smelling and attract nectar-loving insects. As with nearly everything in Namibia, you should handle them with care as they have nasty spikes along the branches. The sickle-shaped fruit grow in clusters, developing into contorted seed pods that are nutritious and favoured by kudu and giraffe.

They are part of the legume family and, as such, are considered to be nitrogen-fixing plants, often being used to help soil erosion and soil improvement. However, they can be aggressively invasive and spread to create dense, impenetrable thickets especially in areas of overgrazing.

The sicklebush tree has numerous uses. The hard wood is termite resistant and often used for durable fence posts, traditional bows, and tool handles. The fibrous roots are used for basket weaving. There’s a plethora of medicinal applications that range from relieving headaches to treating syphilis and leprosy (I suspect WHO does not endorse these!) It also has anti-inflammatory properties which help with rheumatoid arthritis, gout and haemorrhoids.

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