Field guide to common trees and shrubs of East Africa, by Najma Dharani
Introduction by Najma Dharani: This Field Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs of East Africa is not a botanical textbook, but a selective field guide to the more common trees and shrubs, indigenous, naturalized and exotic, that you will see in the region. It is designed to help the plant enthusiast identify prominent species that can be observed, studied and enjoyed in gardens and parks, along roadsides and in easily accessible parts of the countryside.
East Africa, a region embracing Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, is one of the richest areas on the African continent in terms of its flora and fauna. This natural wealth is, to a very large extent, the product of the enormous diversity of habitat and climate. Broadly speaking, rainfall is both generous and reliable at the higher altitudes; the air is cool and the vegetation lush. By contrast the lowland areas tend to be hot and dry; the climate is both hot and humid along the coast and in the basins near the big lakes. Climatic and ecological variety creates ideal environments for a great many different species of plants (and, of course, animals and birds). In East Africa, indeed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, trees fulfil important social and economic functions. In rural areas, the forests serve as the principal sources of energy, providing fuel wood and charcoal, and they go a long way toward meeting the needs of farmers and herders. They also yield materials for building and for many other domestic purposes. Trees have profound significance in religious belief and ceremony, and their various components are central to traditional medicine. Indeed the forests are precious, fragile (and irreplaceable) repositories of ingredients basic to the treatment of a surprising number of human ailments.
The wider world has only recently (belatedly) begun to appreciate their value, and their potential, in this respect. Indigenous trees and shrubs are part of East Africa’s legacy. Not only are they natural resources and things of beauty to be admired, but also symbols of life. Today much of the forested land has been cleared for agriculture, and to fuel industry. There is an urgent need to cherish what remains, and to try to return at least some of the land to its original, pristine condition.
How Field guide to common trees and shrubs of East Africa is arranged:
Najma Dharani divided this guide into four parts, or chapters, namely Trees, Shrubs, Palms and Mangroves. The divisions are somewhat arbitrary, since palms and mangroves are trees, and many shrubs grow to tree-like proportions (indeed, depending on climatic, soil and other conditions, a species may well be a tree in one area and a shrub in another). But to the non-technical but reasonably well-informed layperson (and it is for the layperson that the book has been written and designed by Najma Dharani) these are fairly definite, visually delineated groupings: a shrub is smaller than a tree; palms belong to an obviously distinctive family; mangroves are confined to a particular habitat and are exclusive in form and habit.
The species accounts within each part are arranged in alphabetical order (scientific names from A to Z) and are consistent in style, each specifying the English and the more prominent African common names where these are known, the family to which the plant belongs, and whether it is indigenous to the region or exotic. This is followed by a summary of the main characteristics of the plant’s major components (bark, leaves, flowers, fruit and so on), and ends with a description of its various uses. Each entry is illustrated with one or more photo-graphs or illustrations.
Although the Najma Dharani's book is intended primarily for the layperson, the use of technical terms is unavoidable. Botany is a science that has its own vocabulary, even its own language. The glossaries and diagrams on pages 308-317 will enable non-expert readers to find their way around. Other helpful features include the vegetation map on page 5; the family descriptions (pages 8-24) and the Index (pages 318-320).
Trees and traditional medicine:
Medicinal plants are an important part of the daily lives, and the cultural heritage, of many East African peoples. The use of plants in the treatment of various diseases, as a specific antidote against magic, and for religious ceremonies, has been an integral element of African society for centuries. The East African herbalist, often referred to as Bwana Mganga (‘Medicine Man’) is an important and highly respected figure within the society. Knowledge of medicinal plants is normally passed on orally from one generation to the next.
Unfortunately, a great deal of valuable information can be lost or distorted if a medicine man dies without revealing such knowledge. In preparing these chapters, it became clear that there is a lack of detailed documentation on the significance and application of curative plants in East Africa. Such documentation is an urgent priority in view of the fragility of oral-tradition knowledge and the rapid pace of urbanization (and the consequent erosion of tribal culture) in this part of Africa.
This book contains information about medicinal plants and their uses, but it should not be regarded as a guide to self-treatment. The notes on traditional medicine at the end of each entry are quite brief and do not provide information on diagnosis or dosage. Rather, they are intended to show the versatility and usefulness of the plants. Keep in mind that many of the plants described are highly toxic and may cause severe allergic reactions or serious poisoning. Neither the author Najma Dharani nor the publishers can be held responsible for the consequences arising from incorrect identification or inappropriate use of a plant. Do not attempt self-diagnosis or self-treatment; always consult a medical professional or qualified practitioner.
cymose: an inflorescence where the first flower is the terminal bud of the main stem; later flowers develop as terminal buds of lateral stems.
dicotyledonous: plants with two embryonic seed leaves and leaves with net-like veins.
dioecious: male and female reproductive organs (flowers) on separate plants.
drupe: a fleshy, permanently enclosed (indehiscent) fruit whose seed or seeds are enclosed by a hard, stony coating (for example, peaches).
merous: part of a set (a five-merous corolla has five petals, for example).
monocotyledonous: plants with only one embryonic seed leaf, parallel-veined leaves, fibrous root system and flower consisting of parts in threes or multiples of three.
monoecious: male and female reproductive organs in separate flowers on the same plant.
racemose: an inflorescence where flowers occur along the main stem, the older ones at the base.
xerophytic: adapted to arid conditions.
zygomorphic: having only one plane, which can be dissected so that the two halves are mirror images of each other.
A family of dicotyledonous trees and shrubs (see Key words, page 7), often with resinous bark. Its members are mostly tropical but some are found in temperate regions. In some species the resin is an important source of tannin, and in others it is used for gum, mastic, turpentine and varnish. The leaves are simple or compound, usually alternate, the flowers small and regular with three to five sepals, three to five petals, three to ten stamens (occasionally many) and the fruit commonly a drupe (see Key words, page 7). Genera that are represented in East Africa include Anacardium, Mangifera, Rhus, Schinus.
This dicotyledonous (see Key words, page 7) family includes many spectacular tropical trees, shrubs and lianes (lianas), often poisonous or producing important medicinal drugs. Most species also produce a milky white latex that may contain rubber. The leaves are almost invariably simple and entire, often arranged in opposite pairs; leaves are glossy; the flowers regular; calyx of five free or almost free sepals; the tubular corolla is five-lobed and there are five stamens, their anthers free or slightly touching. Members of this family in East Africa include Acokanthera, Adenium, Carrissa, Nerium, Plumeria, Thevetia, Tabernaemontana.
Cordia africana (C. abyssinica, C. holstii)
Local names: Makobokobo (Swahili); Mukebu (Luganda); Mringaringa (Chagga)
A large, deciduous forest tree with rounded crown and often crooked trunk, growing to 15 m in height; widely distributed in wooded grassland, forest and riverine areas at altitudes of 1200-2100 m. Very common throughout East Africa, and very attractive in flower.
Bark: Pale brown; rough and fissured with age.
Leaves: Large; oval; up to 16 cm in length; apex tapering and base rounded; dull dark green above, paler below; veins prominent below; young shoots, leaf stalks and underside of leaves covered with soft brown hairs.
Flowers: White; showy; funnel-shaped; sweetly scented and attractive to bees; in dense terminal masses.
Fruit: Yellowish; round; about 1 cm in diameter, held in a hairy cup-shaped calyx. The seeds are enclosed in sweet, sticky flesh.
Uses: The heartwood is reddish brown; light; durable; used in the making of furniture and beehives; also as general timber and fuel. The fruit gum serves as a glue; the fruit is edible.
Traditional medicine: Fresh juice from the bark is applied to the affected area to treat broken bones.
Local names: Lulukwet (Kipsigis); Muroha (Kikuyu); Malende (Kamba)
A big, rounded tree, growing 6-15 m in height, widely distributed in highland forest, forest margins and evergreen bushland on rocky slopes, at altitudes of 1500-2500 m.
Bark: Rough; grey; peeling in oblong scales.
Leaves: Compound; crowded at the end of branches in large, rounded clusters; usually 5-7 leaflets; leaf stalk up to 6 cm in length; leaflets dark shiny green; margin serrated; apex pointed; veins conspicuous above. Each leaflet is about 30 cm long.
Flowers: Greenish yellow; inconspicuous; packed along thick flower spikes up to 30 cm in length; the spikes are crowded and arise from the tip of branchlets.
Fruit: Crowded very closely along the flower spikes; small and fleshy.
Uses: The trunks of these trees are hollow, and feature in the construction of beehives. The wood is soft and often used to make doors.
Traditional medicine: Some local communities use a bark decoction to clean the uterus after childbirth.
This is an extract from the book: Field guide to common trees and shrubs of East Africa, by Najma Dharani.
Book title: Field guide to common trees & shrubs of East Africa
Author: Najma Dharani
Random House Struik
2nd edition. Cape Town, South Africa 2011
Softcover, 15x21 cm, 320 pages, throughout colour photos
Dharani, Najma im Namibiana-Buchangebot
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