Mopane Tree – Colophospermum mopane
The most common tree on The Plot is the Mopane. These beautiful trees have a distinctive butterfly-shaped leaves which gives it its name as Mopane means butterfly in Shona.
The Mopane is best known for the Mopane Worm, which is the caterpillar of the Emperor Moth, Gonimbrasia belina. These caterpillars are rich in protein and are a much sought-after delicacy by people and they are eaten either roasted or dried.
In Botswana we see temporary camps set up along roads where people harvest them. It is a major income for many and I have been approached on many occasions by people seeking Mopane worms after a previous posts on this. So much so that I have removed my post.
It is not only the host tree to the Mopane worm, but to the juvenile stage of a sap-sucking insect (related to leaf-hoppers) known as the mopane psyllid, Arytaina mopani. This sweet-tasting, wax covered insect, known as Mopane manna, is picked off the leaves by humans, monkeys and baboons.
A small, stingless bee, known as ‘mopane flies’, are also linked to the Mopane Tree. They are best known for their attraction to the ones eye and nose moisture. They live in hollows in the trunks of the trees where they do produce some honey.
In autumn the green leaves turn into a kaleidoscope of red, orange and yellow colours making the bush look like it’s on fire.
In the hot summer months the leave folds together during the heat of the day and exposes the smallest possible surface area to the sun to reduce water loss through evaporation.
Game animals, particularly elephants, enjoy the protein-rich leaves and pods; however the tree releases tannins, making it unpalatable, if an animal feeds on it for too long.
The wood of the Mopane tree is one of the hardest in southern Africa. This does make it difficult to work, but makes it termite resistant and hence used as fencing poles and structural poles for structures.
The tree is found as single or multiple stemmed trees; however, it is also found as a bush and is locally referred to here in Botswana as “gumane”.
The seed pods which are kidney in shape do not split open and germination occurs within the pod.
Other uses of the Mopane Tree are:
- Mopane twigs have been chewed as tooth brushes,
- Bark to make ropes and for tanning leathers
- The leaves can be used to stop the bleeding and to accelerate healing of wounds.
- The hard wood was used to make railway sleepers and as props for mines.
- Ash from the wood has high phosphate, calcium and lime contents and is used as fertilizer and to make whitewash.