One of the first trees a visitor to KKL-JNF's Gilat tree nursery would meet after walking out of the main office is the Kigelia africana
, commonly known as the sausage tree. And particularly if this visit takes place on May 31, which is South Africa's Independence Day, our visitor cannot fail but to be impressed by the sausage tree's long, large, wrinkled, maroon trumpet-shaped flowers that are velvety on the inside and virtually overflow with nectar. The flowers open at night, when they are pollinated by bats. The tree received its name due to its unique fruits, which look like giant sausages and can weigh up to 9 kilograms!
The short, squat trunk has light brown, sometimes flaky bark and supports a dense rounded and spreading crown (18 m high, 20 m wide) of leathery, slightly glossy foliage. It is a deciduous tree whose leaves fall according to climatic conditions rather than at fixed times of the year.
In Africa, young monkeys sink their faces deep into the flowers to get at the nectar, and duiker, kudu and impala eat the fallen flowers. Elephant and kudu occasionally browse the leaves, and baboons, monkeys, bush-pigs and porcupines eat the fruit.
Kigela Africana tree thriving in Israeli parks. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The tree is found on riverbanks and also in open woodland. In Malawi, roasted fruits are used to flavor beer and aid fermentation. Its wood is used for shelving and fruit boxes, and dugout canoes are made from the tree in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Remedies prepared from its fruits are used to deal with ulcers, sores and syphilis, as the fruit has antibacterial properties. Beauty products and skin ointments are prepared from extracts from the fruit, which is inedible.
The sausage tree first made aliya
to Israel about 20 years ago. It can be seen in parks and gardens, for example, in the Gadera train station, where nets had to be set up in order to prevent the heavy fruits from falling on some unfortunate passerby's head! For this reason, Gilat Tree Nursery Director Pablo recommends planting shrubs around them or removing the fruits if they are grown in public parks or gardens. Sausage trees can be grown anywhere in Israel, and the seedlings are in demand at the Gilat nursery. Although they need irrigation, they can withstand the desert climate, and can be found as far south as the community of Tzofar in the Arava desert.