A large shrub or small tree with attractive and novel bi-coloured flowers that are followed by interesting, intertwined pods. Dichrostachys cinerea can easily be pruned into shapely, single stemmed trees. May be thickly planted along boundaries to form an impenetrable security hedge. 
Dichrostachys cinerea may be grown as a small, thorntree-like tree or as an impenetrable shrub.
Family:                               FABACEAE            (Pea family) Sub-family:                       MIMOSOIDEAE    (Thorn-tree sub-family) Name Derivation:

  •  Dichrostachys – of Greek origin, from ‘di’, two, ‘chroos’, colour and ‘stachys’, spike, referring to the bi-coloured flower spikes.
  • cinerea – ash coloured (referring to the Indian subspecies).

Common Names:           Sicklebush (Eng), kleinblaarsekelbos (Afr), moretse (Nso), lusekwane (Swa) ndzenga (Tso), moselesele (Tsw) murenzhe (Ven) and ugagane (Zul). SAF Number:                  190                         Zim Number:            213

The attractive flowers of Dichrostachys cinerea are pink or mauve (rarely white) above, and yellow below.
Form:    A shrub or small, thorn- tree like tree. Size:                                   2 – 6 m by 2 – 5 m. Flower:

  • Distinctive pendulous flowers are spikes that are pink or mauve on the top part and yellow below.
  • Borne along the branches.
  • Quite spectacular in flower.

Colour         (White) pink to mauve above, yellow below. Flowering Months:      Oct –Feb. Fragrance:                      Flowers are scented.

      Foliage:

  • Deciduous or semi-deciduous.
  • Leaves are bipinnate, light green, soft to touch and resemble those of some Thorn-trees.

Thorns:

  • Long, tough spines that are modified branchlets.
  • The spines are known to penetrate even tractor tyres.

Fruit:

  • Seedpods are distinctly curly and hang in twisted clusters.
  • Pods remain on the tree for quite a long time.

Bark:

  • Bark is dark red-brown or grey, rough and fissured.
Dichrostachys cinerea leaves are soft and bi-pinnate, much like some Thorn-tree leaves.
The ‘thorns’ of Dichrostachys cinerea are vicious, modified branchlets.
The flowers Dichrostachys cinerea will attract attention in a garden.
In the Garden:

  • Its attractive lantern-like flowers and interesting branch patterns while leafless make for a good feature plant.
  • Selective pruning will result in a well formed specimen tree.
  • Planted closely together, Dichrostachys cinerea can be effectively used as a security hedge.
  • A good choice for wildlife friendly gardens, attracting insects, butterflies and birds.
  • Good bonsai subjects.
  •  Water-wise.
Soil Needs:

  • Plant with plenty of compost and bonemeal, in most soils.

Care:

  • A low maintenance garden tree.
  • Moderately fast growing, 600 – 800 cm in a year, feed regularly.
  • Prune selectively to create a well shaped single stemmed tree.

Cold Hardiness:              Cold hardy. Water Requirements:  

  • Very drought  hardy.
  • Water-wise           

Light Requirements:     Full sun. Roots:        The roots are not aggressive. Birds:

  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • The thorny branches are used as nesting sites by some birds.
The fruit of Dichrostachys cinerea are pods in characteristically inter twined and twisted clusters.
The bark on older Dichrostachys cinerea trunks is rough and deeply fissured.
Dichrostachys cinerea is a host plant for the Satyr Charaxes (Charaxes ethalion ethalion), that is not found in Gauteng.
Butterflies: The larval host to the Satyr Charaxes, as well as 3 moth species. Medicinal:

  • Used in traditional medicine to treat many ailments from body pain to backache, toothache, syphilis, leprosy, elephantiasis and more.
  • Chewed leaves are used to treat snake bites and scorpion stings.
  • Also used as a purgative, diuretic, styptic and even an aphrodisiac.

Poisonous:                       Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

 

  • Pods, leaves and young twigs are eaten by stock and many game species.
  • Dichrostachys cinerea readily encroaches overgrazed and trampled pastures.
  • Make good charcoal as well as fire wood for braais.
  • Rope is made from the inner bark, tool handles from the wood.
  • Two subspecies are recognized in southern Africa, africana and nyassana, but are hard to differentiate.
Natural Distribution:

  • KZN, Moz, M, G, L, NW, northern NC, Bot, Zim and Nam.
  • Outside southern Africa the distribution extends through Africa, the Middle East, India, south-east Asia and Australia.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, Nama-Karoo, thicket, savanna-bushveld, savanna-Kalahari, savanna-lowveld and savanna-woodland.
Dichrostachys cinerea in savanna-bushveld habitat in the Waterberg.
Links to other members of the MIMOSOIDEAE   (Thorn tree sub-family) To go to the “plant blog” click on the plant name below the picture.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2011 & 2018.