Common names: Red Stickwood, African Almond, Afrikaans: rooistinkhout; Zulu: Inyazangoma-elimnyama, umdumezulu; Xhosa: uMkakase
Just when most exotic trees around us have lost all their leaves, the Prunus Africana sprouts a whole lot of shiny, new ones. They are particularly spectacular as the rising sun catches their under sides and turns the tree in to a magical, sparkling thing of coppers and bronzes and gold.
This tree is the only member of the prunus or plum family that is indigenous to Africa. Unfortunately, Prunus africana is rare and endangered these days. Mostly due to the medicinal value of the bark which results in ring barking. Many indigenous nurseries are trying very hard to propagate plants to ensure its survival.
In KwaZulu-Natal Prunus africana is protected and the midlands mist-belt forests are home to some magnificent specimens of these large, evergreen trees. The dark green glossy leaves have shallowly serrated margins, pinkish petioles, and smell faintly of almonds when crushed. The almost insignificant white flowers are scented and followed by small reddish-brown berries which the birds love.
Traditionally, in Southern Africa, the bark is used to treat chest pains, malaria and urinary complications, while in Europe, extracts from the rind of the fruit have been used for the treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy and bark extracts in patented hair tonics (Hutchings et al, 1996). Apparently up to 5 000 tons of bark are sold to Europe each year. That is a lot of trees!
The fine grained wood is also used to carve ax handles and grinding pestles. If you have the space, why not plant a Prunus africana to ensure this beautiful tree has a future in KZN?