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Umdhlebi Tree of Zululand


There are two species, in both the leaf is lanceolate, dark green, glossy, hard, and brittle, and from both a thick milky juice exudes, while the fruit is like a long black pod, red at the end. One species is a tree with large leaves, and peculiar looking stem, the bark hanging down in large flakes, showing a fresh growth of bark underneath: in the words of my informant, “What a villainous-looking tree! nasty, rough, ugly!” The other species is a shrub, with smaller leaves, and the bark not peeling off the stem. Both species are said to possess the power of poisoning any living creature which approaches it; the symptoms of poisoning by it being severe headache, blood-shot eyes, and delirium, ending in death. The person affected dies either in delirium, or instantaneously without any delirium. A superstition is connected with this plant. Only a few persons in Zululand are supposed to be able to collect the fruits of the Umdhlebi, and these dare nut approach the tree except from the windward side. They also sacrifice a goat or a sheep to the demon of the tree, tying the animal to, or near the tree. The fruit is collected for the purpose of being used as the antidote to the poisonous effects of the tree from which they fall—for only the fallen fruit may be collected. As regards habitat, these trees grow on all kinds of soil, not specially on that which exudes carbonic acid gas, but the tree-like species prefers barren and rocky ground. In consequence of this superstition, the country around one of these trees is always uninhabited, althongh often fertile.


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PARKER, G. Umdhlebi Tree of Zululand. Nature 27, 7 (1882).

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