Tree of the week: Boscia albitrunca – Shepherd’s tree – Witgat – Xukutsi

Boscia albitrunca is a small to medium-sized tree reaching a mature height of 7 m. This species is widely distributed in the drier parts of Southern Africa. In South Africa, its distribution stretches Limpopo, Gauteng, North-West, Swaziland, the Free State, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

This semi-deciduous tree is characterised with an attractive dense, round to spreading crown. The leathery, grey-green leaves are spirally arranged in clusters. It produces yellowish green flowers that are heavily fragranced in Spring. When the tree is in bloom it attracts birds and butterflies. The bark is smooth and whitish grey becoming dark grey and flaky when trees are mature. Roots of this tree have been reported to have medicinal use as an all-purpose medicine.

The shepherd’s tree is a protected tree in South Africa, it grows well on sand to loamy soil and is also common on dry open woodlands. This tree is well adapted to dry conditions, high summer temperatures as well as short periods of frost.

When grown as a shade tree in the landscape, the shepherd’s tree should be planted away from buildings and underground utilities as its root system is invasive. Its growing system in the garden differs from that in its natural habitat hence it requires frequent pruning to produce a neat crown.