The Sausage tree is a medium to large, semi-deciduous to deciduous tree that is beautiful when in flower. This African tree is easily recognised due to the large, sausage shaped fruits hanging from its branches. It is a sacred tree for many communities and is usually protected on farm lands where other trees are cut down.
Growing from 2.5 to 18 m in height, the tree has a dense, rounded to spreading crown and features smooth, grey brown bark that starts to flake on older trees. The individual leaves are opposite compound with 1 terminal leaflet and have a hard texture.
During early spring, dark-red, trumpet shaped flowers appear in long drooping sprays. The blooms have a strong, unpleasant smell and open at night, attracting fruit bats that act as pollinators. In addition, insects and birds flock to the nectar and buck and monkeys feast on the fallen flowers.
From December to June, huge grey-brown fruits resembling sausages are carried from long stalks. The mature fruit can be up to a meter long and weigh up to 12 kilograms, which can be dangerous if one happens to stand in the way of a falling fruit! Although poisonous to humans, the fruit is commonly eaten by monkeys, baboons, bush pigs and porcupines. This is an especially useful tree for game farms as the flowers, leaves and fruit are consumed by wild animals.
Kigelia africana has a growth rate of approximately 1 m per year under ideal conditions which are warm summers and frost free winters. The Sausage tree is frost sensitive, but will survive in colder areas if protected for the first three to five years. It must be noted that the tree has an invasive root system and that care must be taken when positioning it as falling fruit may damage vehicles that are parked underneath the tree.
The Sausage tree is suitable for planting on game farms, large estates and municipal parks. Environmentally, the tree is useful in stabilising river banks and adds welcome shade to savannah areas.