Terminalia prunioides, commonly known as Purple-pod Cluster-leaf or Lowveld Cluster-leaf, and in Afrikaans as Sterkbos, is a striking tree in the landscape during mid summer.
It is a small to medium sized semi–deciduous shrub like tree, usually multi stemmed, and seldom growing taller than six metres on Ingwelala. It is striking at this time of the year because of the beautiful reddish-purple fruit that represent its ripened state. The flowers that precede the fruit are small slender spikes which are creamy white in colour, producing a somewhat unpleasant odour. Pollination is insect dependant.
The Purple-pod Cluster-leaf grows between altitudes of 30 metres to 1400 metres. It occurs naturally where annual rainfalls vary between 450mm and 900mm. Preferred soils are sandy saline and in low altitude rivers, deep alluvial soils.
The Purple-pod Cluster-leaf is widespread throughout the Lowveld, and occurs as far north as Ethiopia and Kenya and westwards in Namibia and Angola. As the Afrikaans name, 'Sterkbos' suggests, the wood is very hardy, used for building material in traditional huts and because the tree is never too, large the wood is also used for crafting small pieces of furniture. Agriculturally, (rural) the wood is used for making handles and implements. It is used for fence posts and is borer-resistant. Although the wood pieces are small, it makes excellent firewood and can be used to make good quality charcoal. The wood is yellow in colour.
In terms of a food source, the tree produces an edible gum. In Somalia it is used to relieve postnatal abdominal pains. Game, especially elephants and giraffes, eat the leaves and new shoots. Elephants also ingest the bark. Brown-headed parrots enjoy the fruit and no doubt aid with seed dispersal. Sociable spiders are partial to building their nests on the Purple-pod Cluster-leaf.
The name, Terminalia prunioides, is from the Latin 'terminalis' meaning 'ending' and refers to the growth habit of the leaves which are crowded at the end of the shoots. 'Prunioides' is from the Latin ‘prunus’ meaning ‘plum’ which is the plum-red colour of the fruits.
Text by John Llewellyn. Information obtained from:
- Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. - Schmidt, Lotter and McCleland, 2002.
- Agro Forestry Tree Database on the internet.