The Leadwood is a protected tree in South Africa.
The magnificent leadwood is a medium to large, semi-deciduous tree, which grows up to 20 m in height. Combretum imberbe is the tallest of all the South African combretums. It has a spreading canopy and is extremely slow growing. The snakeskin-like bark is one of the main features that make identification easier throughout the season. Dead branches and shoots often remain on a matured tree. The colour of the trunk is pale grey to white. The leathery leaves are arranged opposite each other. The flowers are yellowish cream-coloured and have a sweet fragrance. They are produced from November to March. The leadwood produces 4-winged fruit, which are yellowish green and turn pale red when mature from February to June.
The leadwood can be found in all the bushveld regions and in mixed forest in southern Africa . It is widespread in Lowveld areas and grows along streams and rivers. Combretum imberbe is widespread in northern Namibia . It is also found in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North-West Province, Mozambique, and into tropical Africa.
The leaves are eaten by kudu, impala, red lechwe, grey duiker, elephant, giraffe and the last two eat the branches as well. The presence of leadwood in some areas can indicate to farmers that the grazing is good. Look out for rodents because they enjoy the seeds, while livestock pose a threat to early life stages such as seeds and seedlings.
Uses and cultural aspects
Parts of this tree are used by various tribes in a number of ways: smoke that comes from the burning leaves has been used to relieve coughs, colds and chest complaints. The flowers can also be used as a cough mixture. The leaves are believed to have magical powers. For treatment of diarrhoea and stomach pains, root decoctions are used. A combination of roots and leaves are taken against bilharzia. Root bark that is boiled in water is used for tanning leather. The gum that exudes from damaged areas on the stem is edible and forms part of the diet of the Bushmen. Leadwood ash is used as a toothpaste. The wood is very hard and tough, and burns very slowly with intense heat. Africans used this wood to make hoes before metal was discovered. The trunk was used to build an enclosure ( kraal ) and grain stamping mortars and these days it is used for furniture and sculptures. The tree has special cultural and religious importance to the Ovambo people of Nambia. The leaves and fruits are used in white magic.