© Geoff Nichols
Afzelia quanzensis is a very attractive, medium-sized, deciduous tree, with bright green leaves that turn to an attractive yellowish colour in autumn. Its upright crown also complements its beauty, and the somewhat drooping branches resemble a eucalypt from a distance.
The pod mahogany is a medium to large, deep-rooted tree, that may grow up to 35 m high, with a large spreading crown. Its somewhat straight trunk may be up to 1 m in diameter and has a grey-green or creamy grey, smooth bark that is beautifully patterned with raised rings that flake off irregularly, leaving circular patches.
The new leaves, which are alternating, are usually copper-coloured and attractively glossy. They become dark green as they age. They are up to 300 mm long and are divided once, with 4-7 pairs of leaflets. Flowers are sweet-scented, borne in erect clusters, and are green with pinkish red petals Large, brown, woody, flat pods, 170 mm long, are produced in late summer. In autumn they split open to release distinctively black seeds with scarlet arils. There may be up to 10 seeds per pod.
© Geoff Nichols
Afzelia quanzensis is widespread. It grows in low altitude woodland and dry forests, usually in deep sand. Its distribution stretches from Northern KwaZulu-Natal, through to Limpopo, Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries. It is also found in Somalia.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Afzelia was named in honour of Adam Afzelius of Uppsala, who lived in Somalia. The specific name quanzensis refers to the Cuanza River in Angola, w here the tree was first found.
Afzelia quanzensis is a member the subfamily Caesalpinioideae (the Bauhinia subfamily). Members are characterized by alternate paripinnate leaves with usually opposite leaflets. Stipules that are rarely spiny are always present, especially in young growth. The flowers are relatively large and showier than those of other subfamilies.
Uses and cultural aspects
The light red-brown wood of the pod mahogany is hard and has a good grain. It has been used for building, making plywood, furniture, panelling and for flooring. Furniture made from this wood is traded under the name chamfuti. Wood is termite and borer resistant and can therefore be used for corner poles for fencing. The largest specimens of this species in South Africa have been felled and cut up for railway sleepers.
Seeds of this tree are in great demand for ornaments and charms. They are often used as necklaces or made into trinkets and sold as curios.
A root infusion provides a remedy for bilharzia and for certain eye complaints. An infusion made from roots and bark is believed to bring huntsmen luck if they wash with it. This infusion needs to be steeped overnight to be effective. Powered bark mixed with one's own body oil is believed to ward off attacks and bad luck.
Eland and grey duiker browse the leaves of the pod mahogany. Elephants eat bark and leaves. The sweet-scented flowers attract a number of insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds. Seeds are popular with rodents. Hornbills normally open freshly split pods to feed on the fresh arils. In the process, they discard seeds, which drop on the ground where they either germinate or are eaten by rodents.
Larvae of most charaxes butterflies feed on the leaves of this tree. These include giant, large blue, blue-spotted and golden piper charaxes.
Growing Afzelia quanzensis
Seeds of Afzelia quanzensis germinate easily, usually with a rate of up to 80%. Sow in a seedling tray filled with a mixture of river sand and compost (5:1). Press into the mixture, cover lightly with soil, and keep moist. Germination may take two to three weeks. Seeds that are as old as ten years may still germinate if stored in a cool, dry place. Seedlings may be transplanted once they reach a two-leaf stage. They should be kept protected for the first two seasons in cold areas, as they are frost sensitive.
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Van Wyk, A.E.. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Venter, F. & Venter, J. 1996. Making the most of indigenous trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Mhlonishwa D Dlamini
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden