Camel Thorn

Vachellia (Acacia) erioloba

The Camel Thorn is an iconic tree of many arid Southern African landscapes. These trees grow in deep, dry, sandy soils in South Africa (Northern Cape, North West, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo), Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and parts of Angola and Zambia.

Camel Thorns can grow to 18 meters high, with a widely spreading crown and a tap root that can grow up to 60m deep in order to reach underground water (young trees grow very slowly above ground until their roots reach a reliable supply of ground water). The thorns are paired, often swollen and up to 6cm long. Flowers (clumps of small, yellow balls) are borne from late winter through summer. Camel Thorns are estimated to live to around 250-300 years old.

The wood of Camel Thorns is highly regarded both for lumber and as firewood but as it is a slow-growing species it has been declared a protected species in South Africa in order to prevent it being exploited to extinction. The seeds can be roasted and make a reasonable substitute for coffee. Various parts of the tree is used in traditional medicine to treat ailments ranging from head, ear- and toothache to tuberculosis and gonorrhea, even rabies in dogs. The English name of this tree derives from its Afrikaans name, Kameeldoring, in reference to the leaves and seedpods being a favoured food source for the giraffe (kameelperd), as it is for many other herbivores, both wild and domesticated. Humans also prepare the pods as a porridge.

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