The Combretum imberbe is a very tall, high-branching, majestic tree that grows very slowly. It is a long-lived tree (up to 1000 years) and even after it dies, the Leadwood stays impressive with its pale trunk and soaring branches. The wood is extremely hard and heavy and takes a long time to decay, making this a wonderful lookout tree for all kinds of wildlife.
The tallest of all the South African combretums, the semi-deciduous Leadwood can grow to a height of 15 to 20 m. The bark is sometimes light grey, but can be dark grey to black and is unique with its pattern of horizontal and vertical ‘cracks’ forming a network of rectangles. The canopy of the tree is spreading and the small, oval leaves are greyish green on both sides. The leaves are eaten by many animals including kudu, impala, giraffe and elephants. Fragrant yellowish flowers are carried on a slender spikes on the axils of the leaves and appear from November to March. The 4-winged fruit ripens to a pale red from February to June.
The Leadwood is fairly drought resistant, but is slightly frost sensitive. Although the species is not very suited to urban gardens, being slow-growing and with eventual great size, the Leadwood is very useful in game reserves and on farms. The trees thrive on the banks of rivers or lakes and make a great addition to rest camps.