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What is Kigelia?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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Kigelia is a genus with only one species, Kigelia africana, a flowering tree that grows in tropical Africa. It is commonly called sausage tree because of its long, woody fruit. The fruit is poisonous when raw, but is prepared through roasting, drying, or fermentation for use in cuisine and traditional medicine. Kigelia africana is also grown as an ornamental plant, especially in tropical areas of the world, for its interesting flowers and fruit.

This species can reach 66 feet (20 meters) in height. It is evergreen in areas with abundant rainfall year round, but deciduous, losing its leaves seasonally, in areas with a dry season. The grey bark of the sausage tree is smooth when young, but flaky on an older tree. The wood is light brown to yellow and resistant to cracking.

The tree features waxy, dark green leaves, and bell-shaped, fragrant flowers that range from dark red to reddish orange to purplish green in color. The flowers are velvety on the inside and produce abundant nectar and pollen. The tree is pollinated by birds and bats.

The flowers of Kigelia africana mature into the long, brown berries responsible for its common name of sausage tree. The fruits can weigh as much as 20 pounds (9 kg). Though poisonous to humans, the berries are eaten by mammals and birds, including elephants, giraffes, hippopotami, monkeys, cockatoos, and parrots, who disperse the seeds in their dung. Some animals also eat the leaves.

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Humans have developed many uses for Kigelia africana. In African folk medicine, the berries are used to treat rheumatism, snakebites, syphilis, and ulcers, as well as to ward off evil spirits and tornadoes. The fruit is also used in beauty products and fermented to make an alcoholic beverage. The timber of Kigelia africana is used to make furniture, fruit boxes, and traditional Botswanan canoes called makoros. The seeds can be roasted and eaten, and the roots can be used to make a yellow dye.

Kigelia africana is cultivated well outside its natural range, in places such as Australia, India, Hawaii, and California. It is vulnerable to frost, and requires lots of sunlight and compost. The tree should be watered moderately. It is easy to propagate from seed and grows quickly. The large, fibrous fruit can cause damage when it falls from the tree, and the roots can be invasive, so consideration should be given to the place where a sausage tree is planted.

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