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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Horn Pod Tree (Diplorhynchus condylocarpon)

Family Apocynaceae
This tree is reported to be fire-resistant and apparently even withstands repeated burning. In the wild it is known to attract insects such as butterflies and bees as well as birds. It is one of the favourite browse plants of the black rhino and is also heavily browsed by elephant. The fruits are eaten by small antelope and apparently the favourite food of rhinos.
Distribution and habitat
The horn-pod tree is distributed in tropical Africa in Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique and in southern Africa in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa (Limpopo, North-West, Gauteng and Mpumalanga Provinces). It grows in warm, dry, frost-free situations, on rocky slopes and in deep sandy soil in open woodland.
Diplorhynchus condylocarpon grows as a shrub or small, deciduous, multistemmed tree up to 8 m high, with a grey-brown to blackish bark. The trunk is covered with small knob-like outgrowths (lenticels) and becomes scaly with age, cracking into small segments.

It has a wide-spreading, sparse crown with long, slender, drooping branches and shiny, opposite leaves. The leaves are light to dark green, leathery and smooth, 30-70 x 19-50 mm.

All parts of the plant contain milky sap. The flowers are white to cream-coloured, very small and fragrant, and are borne in terminal sprays. They usually appear with the new leaves from September to December. Two hard, woody, dark brown fruits (follicles) with pointed tips and speckled with white dots (lenticels) develop from some flowers. The fruits ripen between March and September and carry 2-4 compressed, winged seeds.
Uses and cultural aspects
The plant contains milky latex, which forms a soft, rubber-like substance sometimes used as bird-lime. It is also applied to the hides of drums to improve the quality and tone of the sound. The latex has even been used to repair the cracked sump of a car and punctures in bicycle tyres. It is also used as a remedy for screw-worm. Some tribes use it as a glue to stick feathers onto their arrows.

Leaves are used in traditional medicine. The Wemba tribe chew the leaf together with those of some other plants, breathe into the ears and nostrils and place the chewed material on the forehead of a patient to relieve a headache and an upset stomach. Roots are also used in traditional medicine. A strong suspension of the roots has been used to relieve blackwater fever. An infusion of the root is recorded as a treatment for diarrhoea.

Some tribes even plant the tree because of its aroma and use it as a snake-bite remedy and an emetic. The vapour from the fruit and roots boiling in water is inhaled to relieve a chronic cough and pulmonary tuberculosis. The latex has also been used as a wax for removing hair.

The wood is pale brown, fine-grained, hard and quite heavy and is suitable for making various small carved ornaments and utensils such as spoons. If large enough trunks can be obtained, it is even used for making furniture. The wood is said to be very attractive when polished. Branches are used for assegai and arrow shafts and for fuel. In Zambia, the outer bark is used as a substitute for tobacco and pounded bark as a wound dressing. The wood is also used for making strong fire-sticks.
In the past, the horn-pod tree has also been used for its bark fibre from which a cloth was woven or knotted (into pieces as large as blankets), known as gupo. These were traditionally worn by women in Zimbabwe.