The continent of Africa boasts a range of exotic plants, not the least of which are its trees. Ranging from small to towering, African trees may include features such as edible fruits, brightly colored flowers or foliage and versatile lumber in rich grains. The vast array of climates and growing conditions across the continent are home to a variety of trees.
During winter and late into spring, the African tulip tree produces clusters of bright orange and yellow flowers. Because of its dense foliage and average height of 50 to 60 feet, this tree is best planted in open areas where heavy shade is desired. Abundant in Suriname, this fast-growing specimen is hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11. The African tulip tree thrives in hot climates, but foliage may drop with temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Paperback Thorn Tree
The umbrella-shaped paperback thorn tree grows to around 30 feet tall. The yellow bark that flakes away from the trunk like paper gives this tree its name. Blooms, which appear in spring, are white, fluffy and long-blooming. Paperback thorn trees are easy to grow, but the flowers' susceptibility to parasites make obtaining viable seeds difficult. Riverbanks and woodlands in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and parts of Namibia and Botswana host this tropical specimen.
African tree wisteria is a small ornamental tree typically reaching between 20 and 30 feet tall. Flowers are small and round, blooming in shades of violet and blue. Like wisteria plants, the flowers of tree wisteria grow in large drooping clumps. This small, delicate-looking tree is surprisingly hardy, often surviving frosts and drought. The wooded grasslands of South Africa offer ideal growing conditions for tree wisteria.
Wild olive is widely used for furniture, cabinets and even guitars. Part of its usefulness is in its strength and smooth texture. Wild olive is typically 40 to 50 feet tall with a round spread of gray-green foliage. Wild olive grows best in sandy soils along riverbanks.
The common star chestnut is a small tree typically reaching less than 20 feet in height. Branching begins low on the trunk and branches sprout leaves similar to those found on maple trees. Small bell-shaped flowers are bi-colored red and yellow. The star chestnut receives its name from the shape of the woody fruit. The fruit is edible, but the hairs inside the fruit render the texture rather unappetizing. The star chestnut thrives in dry, rocky terrain.
River indigo can range from a shrub formation to a small tree. This thin tree typically stays under 10 feet tall. Blooms grow in cone-shaped clusters in various shades of pink. These attractive flowers may grow on a river indigo as early as its first year. The evergreen foliage of the river indigo gives it year-round visual interest even in areas subject to frost.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Spathodea campanulata: African Tulip-Tree
- African Trees: Acacia sieberiana var woodii- Paperback Thorn
- African Trees: Bolusanthus speciousus- Tree Wisteria
- African Trees: Olea europea ssp africana- Wild Olive
- African Trees: Sterculia rogersii- Common Star Chestnut
How to Draw an African Tree
Although there is no specific species called "African Tree," one of the most distinctly recognizable trees of the African plains is the...