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Kigelia africana (Lam.) Benth. 1849
pronounced: ky-JEE-lee-uh aff-rik-AH-nuh
(Bignoniaceae — the jacaranda family)
synonym: Kigelia pinnata (Jacq.) DC. 1838
pronounced: ky-JEE-lee-uh pin-NAH-tuh
common names: African Sausage Tree, Sausage Tree
This tree is the only species in the Kigelia genus. The name Kigelia comes from the Mozambican Bantu name, and africana, of course, means ‘from Africa’. In the synonym, pinnata indicates that the leaves are pinnate.
It is widespread across tropical Africa, and is mostly found in wet savannah and riverine areas. It grows up to about 20 metres in height, and is evergreen where rainfall occurs throughout the year, but deciduous where there is a long dry season. The bark is grey-brown and smooth on young trees, but peels on older trees. The flowers grow on rope-like stalks, which can be up to 6 metres long, and are pollinated by bats. The large sausage-like fruits are woody berries from 30 to 60 cm long, and hang on stalks from the tree. Some birds are attracted to the flowers, and the strong stems make admirable footholds for them. An individual fruit can weigh anything up to 9 kg. The fruit pulp is fibrous, and contains numerous seeds. In Africa, the fruits are eaten by baboons, bush pigs, elephants, giraffes, hippopotami, monkeys and porcupines, and the seeds are distributed in their dung. I have not seen the cockatoos attack the fruit, but it is reported that they like the seeds.
In Africa, the fruit is used as an aphrodisiac, a disinfectant, and a cure for skin rashes, ulcers, acne, skin cancer and fungal infections. Adolescent boys and girls use the fruit for enhancing growth of the genitalia and the breasts respectively. Women rub an ointment made from the fruit pulp on to their breasts, believing that it firms and enlarges them. It is also rubbed on babies in the belief that it makes them grow fatter. If any reader is interested in acquiring some, I have seen Kigelia ointment advertised on the Internet!
The fresh fruit should not be eaten by humans – it is a strong purgative, and causes blisters in the mouth and on the surrounding skin. Green fruits are said to be poisonous. In Malawi, roasted fruits are used to flavour beer and to aid its fermentation.
Wood from this tree is easy to work and produces a good-quality timber for general use. It is light brown in colour, and resistant to cracking. It is used for making furniture, fruit boxes, and, in Botswana, for making the traditional canoes known as makaros. Oars for the canoes, and also yokes for oxen, are other products made from this wood. In other African countries, uses for the timber include the making of drums, stools and tool handles, as well as for fence-posts. Weapon bows are made from the branches. An interesting use in some places is that smaller branches are hollowed out and used as a device for administering enemas to children.
If you are tempted to propagate this tree, remember that it has a rather invasive root system, so it should be kept well away from buildings, septic tanks, drains and paving. It is unwise to park a car under this tree – a falling fruit could severely damage it!
Caterpillars of the moth Meganoton rufescens use this as a food plant.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2007, 2008
Page last updated 19th January 2018