(= Acacia caffra)

A small to medium sized deciduous tree with a soft and feminine appearance. It is a good choice to plant in lawns, as its open canopy allows enough light through to allow the grass to grow up to the stem. Drought and cold hardy, Senagalia caffra is a suitable tree for most gardens.

Senegalia caffra (Common Hook Thorn), growing in a park outside Klerksdorp, (NW).

Senegalia caffra (Common Hook Thorn), growing in a park outside Klerksdorp, (NW).

 

Family:                       MIMOSACEAE    (Thorn-tree family)

Name Derivation:

Senegalia  – From Senegal, a country in w Africa.

Caffra – from Kaffraria, a former name for a region in the Eastern Cape

Common Names:           Common hook thorn (Eng), wag-‘n-bietjiedoring (Afr), motholo (Nso), umtfolo (Swa),   mbvhinya-xihloka (Tso) morutlhare (Tsw), muvunḓa-mbaḓo (Ven), umnyamanzi (Xho) and umtholo (Zul).

SAF Number:                  162                         Z Number:            174

Form:                                Small to medium tree, soft and feminine in appearance.

Size:                                      5 – 8m (-14) by 4 – 8m

Flowers:

  • Creamy-yellow caterpillar- like spikes or catkins, up to 14 cm long, that darken with age.
  • Loose terminal clusters.

Flower colour:               Creamy-yellow, darken with age

Fragrance:                      Flowers are pleasantly scented.

Senegalia caffra (Common Hook Thorn), flowers are scented and born on loosely clustered caterpillar-like spikes.

Flowering Months:         Sep – Nov, but may flower at any time of the year, seems partly rain dependent.

Foliage:

  • Deciduous.
  • Leaves are bipinnate, fern-like and drooping (giving the tree a soft, feminine look).
  • Leaves are light green with pairs of pinnae each with many leaflets.
The drooping, soft fern-like leaves help give Senegalia caffra a gentle, feminine appearance.

The drooping, soft fern-like leaves help give Senegalia caffra a gentle, feminine appearance.

Thorns:

  • Vicious hooked thorns in pairs or single, just below nodes.
  • Mature trees may have very few thorns.
The sharp, curved thorns of Senegalia caffra are usually paired just below the leaf nodes.

The sharp, curved thorns of Senegalia caffra are usually paired just below the leaf nodes.

Fruit:

  • Long (17 cm), slender, pointed and slightly recurved pods.
  • Pale brown and in clusters that remain on tree even after opening.
  • Sep to Jan.
Senegalia caffra has long, slender, pointed and slightly recurved pods. The pods are slightly indented between the seeds.

Senegalia caffra has long, slender, pointed and slightly recurved pods. The pods are slightly indented between the seeds.

Bark:

  • Older stems have rough, dark brown and fissured bark

In the Garden:

  • A good tree for small and large gardens, hardy and attractive.
  • Its open crown allows enough light through to allow lawn to grow under it.
  • Senegalia caffra adds value to wildlife friendly gardens, attracting insects, butterflies and birds (and browsing game).
  • A good security tree for pavements while young, its thorns make it very difficult to climb.
  • Very suitable and often used for bonsai.

 

Although they mostly flower in spring, Senegalia caffra will often flower in response to good rainfall,even in winter.

Although they mostly flower in spring, Senegalia caffra will often flower in response to good rainfall,even in winter.

Soil Needs:

  • Will grow in most soils when planted with lots of compost and some bonemeal.
  • Thrives in deep loam or clay.

Planting spacing:

  • May be planted as a specimen tree, in a bed or in a lawn.
  • Plant 5 – 6 m apart to create a woodland effect.
  • Plant 3 – 4 m apart for a security hedge.

 Care:

  • A low maintenance garden tree.
  • Feed and water regularly for first  2 or 3 years to get up to a metre growth per year.
  • Respond well to pruning.

Cold Hardiness:              Very frost hardy, but protect for first 2 or 3 winters in cold districts.

Water Requirements:    Can survive long periods of drought.

Light Requirements:     Full sun or partial shade, more sun than shade.

Roots:                                Quite aggressive.

Birds:

  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • Flowers and seeds are eaten by many birds.
  • Thorny branches are favourite nesting sites for some birds.

Butterflies:

  • In Gauteng a possible larval host to Thorn-tree blue, Velvet-spotted blue, Topaz-spotted blue, Black heart, Mashuna hairtail, Talbot’s hairtail, Black-striped hairtail and Black-tipped scarlet
  • Elsewhere possibly larval host to Mirza blue, Natal spotted blue, Little hairtail, Otacilia hairtail, Dark-banded scarlet, Purple gem and Brilliant Gem.
  • The larvae of Amakosa rocksitter and Von Son’s playboy are said to use the seedpods (to pupate in?).

Bees:     Flowers attract bees

Medicinal:                         Bark, leaves and roots have medicinal and magical uses..

Poisonous:                       May cause prussic acid poisoning (geilsiekte) in stock.

Notes of interest:

  • Hard and insect resistant, straight stems are used as fence poles.
  • Wood works well to make attractive furniture, but pieces are mostly small.
  • Flowers, pods and leaves eaten by giraffes, kudus, impalas, reedbucks, duikers and especially black rhinos.
  • Bark used for tanning.

Natural Distribution:

  • WC, EC, KZN, Swa, M, L, G, NW, extreme northern FS, extreme eastern Bot and isolated populations In NC and Zim.
  • Endemic to southern Africa.

 

Natural Habitat:              Woodland and wooded grasslands, often along water courses.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2017.