While it grows all in many of the more arid areas of South Africa as well as in Botswana and Namibia, I most readily associate the evergreen Shepherd’s Bush (Boscia albitrunca) with the Eastern Cape. The bare whitish-grey trunk and dense rounded crown are both attractive and distinctive, making this tree easily recognisable in the bush. If you look at the picture below, taken in the Great Fish Nature Reserve, you should notice the white trunk standing out from the rest of the trees.
One generally comes across a single Shepherd’s Bush as they tend not occur in groups. Their neat, seemingly ‘clipped’, crowns are the result of herbivores browsing the leaves.
The genus name Boscia is in honour of a French professor of agriculture, Louis A.G. Bosc (1777-1850), while the specific name is a combination of albi (white) and trunca (trunk), and refers to the whitish trunk of the species. Sometimes the trunk appears very white, such as this specimen.
As you can tell, not all Shepherd’s Bush trees have a single stem.
They are often referred to as the ‘tree of life’, as nearly every part of the Shepherd’s Bush can be used by humans and animals. The fruit is consumed by people and animals; the leaves are particularly nutritious for animals; the wood is used to make utensils; and various parts of the tree are used in traditional medicine. The dried roots can be pounded to form a powder that is used to make a drink said to be a suitable substitute for coffee. The Boers commonly called this ‘kommetjie gat’ (cup of coffee) when they were unable to source proper coffee during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). A kommetjie refers to a small basin, bowl or mug. Due to the high regard for its nutrition as well as the many cultural beliefs relating to it, Shepherd’s Bush trees are rarely felled outside of protected areas except to provide feed for domestic livestock during times of drought. This practice may, however, have a detrimental effect on the trees in the long run.