A leadwood tree is certainly one of the most iconic trees, found in the Kruger National Park - the light grey bark with a “little blocks” appearance stands out from all the other trees.
If you use a bit of imagination, the outer bark reminds one of a Nile Crocodile’s (Crocodylus niloticus) skin, only much paler.
It is one the heaviest woods found in Southern Africa - the wood from this tree even sinks in water!
There is a joke in the bush that this tree is known as the 3,000-year-old tree - it takes 1,000 years to grow, 1,000 years to die and 1,000 years to decompose back into the ground (ok, that’s not really true, but it does take a couple of years to grow and die). Some specimens have indicated being about 1,000 years old, and the dead specimens still standing for almost 100 years, before falling down due to natural elements.
On your Kruger safari, you will see a lot of dead trees around - and even though there is no bark present, the trees almost look like perfectly-sculpted displays for those picture-perfect iconic sunsets or perfect perches for a lot of the bigger bird species, like vultures and eagles. Chances are very good that these are old Leadwood trees.
Like most plant species, the Leadwood also has some medicinal uses. One of these uses is found in burning fresh leaves from the tree and then inhaling the smoke to assist with relieving coughs.
In previous years, the wood from a Leadwood has been used for railway sleepers, due to its strength and the fact that it isn’t influenced by termites and woodborrors. However, it has since been put under the Protected Tree Species list of the National Forest Act.
Due to the weight of these trees, they’ve even been used to make hoes to help shape soil when preparing for a new planting season. This was clearly not an easy way of making a hand tool though, as the wood is dense and difficult to work with. Once someone masters the technique of making these tools with the hardwood though, it would probably last a good couple of years.
Leadwood is also considered to be one of the trees used with the Bushmen in very early days, when they still lived a very nomadic lifestyle. The coal produced from this tree is long-lasting and burns slow.
Another plant, called Baboon’s tail or Black Stick Lily (Xerophyta retinervis), was used to transport these coals. This plant has dark stems that grow out from the top of the plant, in the shape of a fountain.
Once these leaves have died, the new leaves at the top continue the growth, similar to a palm tree. The Baboon’s tail is fire resistant, and by removing the top parts of the dead leaves and hollowing it out, you can easily put coal inside and carry it with you until your next resting spot for the night - and that way, you wouldn’t have to place too much focus on making the fire for that night. All you’d need is the proper fuel to use with the coal you carried!
The ash of the Leadwood has a very high lime content. For this reason, it was traditionally used by local people as a toothpaste when mixed with water. And it’s not only for your teeth - it could be used as a whitewash for a wall or anything else you’d like to get a white effect on.
For a lot of the local cultures, this tree is seen as a very sacred tree - it’s even believed that one of the reasons it is able to reach such an old age is because the ancestors spirits live on inside the tree.
Leadwood, is a very slow growing tree and is believed to grow only about 0.33mm per year - compared to other species, this is extremely slow.
With this in mind, on your next Kruger safari, be sure to take a moment to picture how ancient that big Leadwood tree is when you drive pass it and how many incredible things that tree must have encountered throughout its lifetime!
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