The Ziziphus mucronata is an iconic tree in Africa and is revered by many African peoples. Historically a Buffalo thorn tree was planted on the grave of a deceased chief to mark the burial place. In addition, the thorns of this tree are paired along the stems, one facing forward and the other facing backward, symbolizing the future and the past. One of the thorns is typically straight and the other hooked, giving the tree its Afrikaans name of ‘Wag-‘n-bietjie’ (wait a moment).
Medium sized with a rounded, spreading crown, the deciduous Buffalo thorn grows to a height of 4 to 8 m. The foliage is a shiny, dark green and the leaves turn yellow to orange before dropping in autumn. This is an ideal shade tree as it provides coolness in summer, but allows enough sunlight in winter to provide warmth. Small, yellow green flowers are produced from October to April and the nectar will entice many insects and birds to the garden. The fruit takes the shape of a round berry that ripens to yellow and then dark brown. It stays on the tree for a long time, even when the leaves have dropped and is eaten by birds and wildlife alike.
Ziziphus mucronata is one of the most adaptable trees in Africa. It has the ability to withstand intense heat and cold and grows in all types of soil. Drought hardy and frost resistant, the Buffalo thorn can be planted to form an impenetrable hedge and is a good choice for wildlife friendly gardens.