Indigenous leadwood tree
Scientific name: Combretum imberbe, Bushwillow group (390)
The tree deciduous shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 30m tall; trunk commonly crooked, up to 100cm in diameter; the bark surface is whitish to pale grey or dark grey, with deep longitudinal wrinkles and irregular sloping cracks; crown spreading, rounded and rather open; twigs glabrous, sometimes spiny at tip. In South Africa Combretum imberbe trees of over 20 cm in bole diameter are selectively felled on a large scale for their timber, whereas smaller-sized trees are commonly cut for firewood.
Several parts of the tree are used for medicinal purposes. Powdered roots or leaves and decoctions from roots and leaves are taken to treat diarrhoea. On the other hand, a leaf decoction is applied as an enema to treat constipation. A root infusion is drunk to treat schistosomiasis. Bark powder is applied externally against leprosy. Tea made from the roots or leaves is drunk to treat coughs and colds, and the smoke of burnt leaves is inhaled for the same purposes. A leaf decoction is drunk to relieve chest pain. A root maceration is taken to treat stomach-ache. The roots are used to treat infertility in women. The tree yields an edible gum. The bark has been used for tanning leather. The tree is claimed to have protective power, and several plant parts are used in ritual ceremonies. Combretum imberbe is useful as an ornamental shade tree.
The wood is used for fence poles, mine props, railway sleepers, mortars, walking sticks, inlay work, toys and turnery. Because of its durability, it is commonly used for the main supporting poles of huts. It is popular for sculpture and lathe work, whereas it is also used to make heavy, extremely durable furniture. The wood is favoured for use as firewood and for charcoal production; it burns slowly and with great heat. The ash from the wood has a high lime content, and is sometimes used as toothpaste and as a substitute of whitewash used to decorate walls of houses.
The foliage is eaten by livestock, for it contains protein.