The Sausage Tree


By Susana Cortázar

One of the most interesting trees growing in Zoo Miami is the South African sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata).  Aptly named, the fruit hangs from rope-like stalks like a giant sausage, growing up – or down – to two feet in length and weighing 15 hefty pounds!

According to tree expert Sir Bob Beck, “the sausage tree blooms at night, and its blood-red flowers are pollinated by bats and insects.  Unfortunately, the beautiful blooms drop around noon so unless you come to the zoo early, you may not be able to see them.”

But the hanging sausages are unmistakable.  And in their native habitat they do serve useful purposes.  The grey skin covers a firm fruit pulp which contains numerous small seeds.  While inedible to man “except in dire circumstances,” as pointed out by Zoo Miami’s Supervisor of Horticulture Tom Trump, the fruit is usually used as an ingredient in making beer, as it is said to speed up the fermentation process.  Monkeys, elephants and livestock also enjoy munching on the fruit. The sausage tree is “moderately drought-tolerant and prefers well drained, slightly alkaline soil conditions,” says Tom.
if you want a beautiful, smooth complexion, do as the Tonga women of the Zambezi valley do.  They make a mixture that includes the sausage tree fruit and apply it to their face, which keeps them blemish-free.
And if you happen to be a member of Zimbabwe’s Ndebele tribe and should disappear or die in another country, your family will bury a sausage tree fruit in your place, which shows how important the sausage tree is in some cultures.

Adds Bob, “when you come to Zoo Miami, please make sure to see this unusual tree” by Oasis Grille off the walkway by the splash pad.

Photos by Sir Bob Beck