Mopane Tree

© Shem Compion

Name

Mopane (Colophospermum mopane)

Description

The mopane tree characterises the landscape in which it grows for the most part of the year, its new green leaves turning a variety of autumn colours later in the season. It is known for its kaleidoscopic appearance and butterfly-shaped leaves – two small leaves growing from one petiole. Most mopane trees are multi-stemmed, spreading upwards in a V-shape with a sparse, rounded crown. The bark of the tree varies from light to dark grey with distinct vertical fissures. Younger stems are a darker grey in colour, whereas older stems are lighter. These trees can measure up to 25 m in height, particularly in alluvial soils. Mopane shrubs, known as ‘mopane scrub’ or locally as ‘gumane’, grow where the soil is poorer.

Mopane Flowers and Fruit

The mopane tree blooms from December to January, and carries fruit from April to June. Its flowers are small, barely noticeable and a yellowish-green in colour. They grow near the twig terminals in small hanging clusters. The fruit of the mopane tree is a green flat, rough pod resembling the shape of a kidney. New pods are green in colour, containing a singular, wrinkled flat seed with sticky resin glands.

Where they are found

The mopane tree can be found in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Field Notes

The mopane tree is home to the mopane moth (Gonimbrasia belina). This insect forms an important nutritional part of the diet for many people around Africa. The mopane worm, which is the caterpillar of the mopane moth, can be eaten fresh or dried. The wood of the mopane tree is used for its colour, durability and termite-resistance to make furniture and fences.