• Buffalo Thorn

    Posted on December 5, 2012 by Gavin in Our spectacular nature, Trees.

    Ziziphus Mucronata

    English: Buffalo Thorn

    Afrikaans: Blinkblaar-waag-‘n-bietjie

    Zulu: umPhafa


    Ziziphus mucronata is a small to medium sized tree that grows to about 10m in height with the maximum size recorded at around 20m tall. It has a spreading crown with drooping branches and often has branches low down. The young stems are reddish brown and zigzagged. The bark is pale, rough and cracked, often peeling in strips. The spines are in pairs, one hooked and one straight, and are very strong and sharp. The leaves are green, shiny and ovate with finely serrated edges, 30-90 x 13-50mm.


    The Buffalo Thorn is found throughout the summer rainfall region of sub-Saharan Africa. It is usually found in areas that are dominated by thorny vegetation in both tropical and temperate regions. In the bush veld the tree is small and deciduous and in the coastal forests they are large and evergreen.

    What we humans can use it for:

    • The fruit can be eaten and can also be used as a coffee substitute.
    • The fruit can also be used to make a beer if fermented properly.
    • The branches are used for natural fencing and the pale yellow wood is used to make implement as well as used as fuel.


    Medicinal uses:

    All these functions listed below can be accredited to the peptide alkaloids and anti-fungal properties that are found in the leaves, bark and roots.

    • A decoction of the roots can be used as a painkiller as well as dysentery.
    • Respiratory and septic swelling of the skin can be treated by a decoction of the bark and leaves.
    • Sores, wounds, boils and swollen glands can be treated by a paste of the roots and leaves.
    • By having a steam bath with the bark of this tree helps to purify and improve the complexion.



    Traditional beliefs:

    The young twigs of Ziziphus mucronata are zigzagged which is believed to indicate that life is not always straight forward. The spines on the Buffalo Thorn are paired, one facing forward and one facing backwards which represents where you come from (backward facing spine) and where you are going (forward facing thorn).

    A twig or branch from this tree is believed to attract, catch and carry spirits of the deceased and is still used today as a means of bringing a deceased family member back from the place of death to its final resting place. The family member that was sent to fetch the spirit has to treat the branch of this tree as a human being. He/she has to buy a ticket for the spirits public transport as well as to talk to the branch telling it about the trip back.

    Importance in nature:

    • The leaves and fruit are eaten by many animal and bird species. Giraffes are very fond of the leaves and impala are often found under the trees eating the dead leaves that have fallen.
    • The nectar found in the green to yellow flowers are said to yield a very good honey.
    • It is a food plant for many butterfly species in the subfamily Lyncaeninae (blues).

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