Meet the Trees of Namibia – the Candle-Pod Acacia (Acacia Hebeclada Subsp. Hebeclada)

FROM August to October a many-stemmed shrub or small tree will become quite visible because its numerous, upright branches will be thickly covered with pale yellow to cream ball-shaped flowers.

Some of the sausage-shaped, woody, erect pods often remain on the tree for many months making these plants easy to identify even in the dry season. The thorns grow in pairs. Young thorns appear somewhat hooked, more mature thorns are straight and only the dark tips are somewhat curved, a characteristic easier to feel than to see. The shrub has the feathery leaves typical of all acacias.

The candle-pod acacia is quite common and occurs very wide-spread in Namibia, except for the true desert areas.

Its growth form can vary considerably. As a many-stemmed shrub it frequently forms dense thickets. The branches often extend horizontally from the trunk and then grow straight upwards. In eastern Namibia the branches may arch upwards and then down to the ground to create a considerable distance from the stem to form shady lairs frequented by large predators. In the northern parts of Namibia the candle-pod acacia may also become a tree up to 5 m high.

On very high ground, e.g. east of the international airport, the candle-pod acacia forms large islands of erect branches only about 30 – 50 cm high but flowering and fruiting. The roots of this tree have been found at a depth of 34 m in sandy soil.

Uses: the wood is very tough. One of the indigenous names means ‘only fools attempt to chop down this tree’. As the trunks are not very thick, the wood can only be used to fashion small articles like tool handles. The leaves and the pods are very nutritious and are browsed by cattle and game. The shrub also produces an edible gum.

When dry, the seeds rattle inside the woody, sausage-shaped pods, which are then used to fashion rattling ornaments worn during traditional dances.

Traditional medicinal uses: the leaves are chewed and the juice swallowed to treat stomach disorders. A tea may be prepared from the pounded leaves for the same purpose.

The so-called Kalahari truffles (Terfezia spp.), known as “n’abbas” in the Kalahari, are frequently found under candle-pod acacias in sandy areas. Their outside appearance is rather like that of a somewhat lumpy potato. At the end of a good rainy season they are often on sale along roads and in Windhoek. They also grow in the deep sandy soils of northern Namibia.

A closely related sub-species of the candle-pod acacia, aptly named the weeping candle-pod acacia (A. hebeclada subsp. tristis) because it has hanging pods, only occurs north of 19degS latitude.

The Chobe candle-pod acacia (A. hebeclada subsp. chobiensis) has much more robust pods and is mostly confined to the Caprivi.

Source : The Namibian