What is a Sausage Tree?

Mary McMahon

The sausage tree or Kigelia pinnata is a unique tree which is native to tropical regions of Africa. Alas, this tree does not actually produce sausages, but its distinctive fruit does closely resemble the meat product for which it is named. It is not uncommon to see these trees planted as ornamental trees in many parts of Africa and Asia, as their rich red flowers are showy, beautiful, and highly aromatic.

Some shampoos contain sausage tree extract.
Some shampoos contain sausage tree extract.

In nature, the sausage tree can get to be up to 60 feet (20 meters) tall. The trees have simple pinnately compound leaves and they produce flowers on extremely long stalks. The flowers are shaped like bells, and they grow in small clusters which droop towards the ground. Their scarlet coloring is typically concealed during the day, with the flowers opening in the cooler evening temperatures to attract bats and insects with their sweet nectar, thus encouraging pollination.

The sausage tree is native to the tropical regions of Africa.
The sausage tree is native to the tropical regions of Africa.

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When pollinated, the flowers on a sausage tree will develop into fruit. The fruits are actually technically berries, and they are shaped like elongated gourds; at a casual glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this type of tree really was bedecked with giant sausages, perhaps curing for future consumption. In areas with an extended dry season, sausage trees will drop their leaves to conserve energy; otherwise, they remain evergreen.

The fruit of the sausage tree is not palatable to humans, but it is popular with many African animals, as are the flowers. African women have traditionally rubbed the pulp into their skin to prevent blemishes, and the fruit is used in some skin preparations in Africa and abroad; it appears to have several compounds which do indeed promote healthy skin. Sausage tree extracts are also used in shampoos and other body care products.

The one food use of the fruit is in beer; several African tribes had traditionally added the fruit to their fermenting grains for beer, claiming that it speeds the fermentation process and adds a unique flavor.

Like other plants in the Bignoniaceae genus, the primary use of the sausage tree is as a purely decorative addition to the garden; the uses of the plant are more like a pleasant side benefit rather than a reason for cultivation for most gardeners. If you ever happen to be in Africa, you may want to express interest in seeing a sausage tree, as these unique trees are much more impressive in person than they will ever be in text.

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Discussion Comments


I live in the Florida Keys and have a huge Sausage Tree. It's fun when people passing/walking by stop to admire it. Some even take pictures, and if I'm outside, usually strike up a conversation about it.

I shouldn't say I have this tree, even though we've lived here for decades, the tree was here before us and will be here for a long time after we're gone. There is also a beautiful specimen at the Ford/Edison homes in Ft Meyers, Fl.

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