Shepherd's Tree (Boscia albitrunca)

Scientific Name: Boscia albitrunca

Common names: Shepherd's tree, Wit-gat boom (Afrikaans), Motlopi (Twana).


Description: As the specific name 'albitrunca' suggests, the light coloured trunk of this tree is it's most diagnostic characteristic. The trunk is stout and un-branched with pale yellow bark flaking at places, exposing the ashy white fresh bark underneath. The leaves are oblong and leathery olive green and the berries pale red. It is a semi-deciduous tree, and could grow up to 6 m in height. It is widely distributed through the drier areas of Southern Africa, with high concentrations in Namibia and Botswana. The Shepherd's tree is often referred to as the "tree of life", as nearly every part of it could used or eaten by humans or animals.

Medical uses: A cold infusion is made of the leaves and used for inflamed eyes in both humans and cattle.

Superstition: In Botswana there is no restrictions on cutting the tree down, but even roads has been detoured around a big tree, as it is of such valuable source of nutrition. It is believed that if the berries of the tree wither before the sorghum crop is ready to be harvest, the crop will fail or be very weak. Some of the Namibian tribes belief their ancestors was born from the tree.

Nutritive uses: Nutritionally this tree is immensely important in the dry regions of Botswana and Namibia. The fruit is eagerly eaten by all animals, and even humans in times of scarcity. Domestic and wildlife eat the leaves, and this is seen in the umbrella shape of the tree. An substitute to coffee and even sugar could be made from the tab roots, and even a type of porridge could be made from dried pulverised roots. Powdered root is very effective in keeping milk and butter fresh for more then 2 days.

Other uses: The larvae of two butterflies commonly found in the Moremi Game Reserve of Botswana, the 'Brown-veined White' and the 'Queen Purple-tip', feed on the leaves of the Boscia.

Interesting Facts: In the Namibian Kalahari and Namib desert regions where the Shepherd's tree is common, it is not an good idea to sit in its shade. The reason is that all animals, wild and domestic will frequent the shade, and many ticks prefer to make their home in shade of the tree, to get away from the sun's heat.

Credits: Christian Fourie.