Vachellia (Acacia) karroo
The Sweet Thorn is a cosmopolitan tree, occurring in almost every corner of South Africa and beyond our borders as far as Angola and Zambia. Depending on the depth and water content of the soil where it grows, the Sweet Thorn may be shrub-like in appearance or grow to a tree 5 to12m high. The formidable paired thorns, or spines, are often longest on younger plants and may be as long as 17cm!
The bane of hay fever sufferers all over the country, masses of yellow pom-pom flowers are produced during the summer months. These flowers are pollinated by a large variety of insects. Sweet Thorns are hardy, thanks to their deep en extensive root systems, live for up to 40 years, and does become invasive in areas suffering from overgrazing. The IUCN lists the Sweet Thorn as being of least concern.
The Sweet Thorn is an integral part of the history of many South African cultures, with uses as wide-ranging as traditional medicine, a coffee-substitute, bee farming, fodder for game and stock, fencing, tanning of hides, making ropes, and even needles! Even its name is suggestive of the sweet and tasty gum exuding from wounds on the trunk and branches, prized not only by humans but also animals like the lesser bushbaby.