Few trees have such fitting names as does the Shepherd’s tree. Both the Latin species name (‘albi’ -white, ‘trunca’ – trunk)and the Afrikaans (Witgat) refers to the conspicuous white trunk. The English name also aptly describes this evergreen tree that stands out as a green well-shaped canopy that often provide the only shade in caroid and arid environments.(It is even rumored that biblical Jonah was given a miracle ‘Witgat’ to sit under!)
Boscia Oleoides prefers well-drained, sandy or rocky soils and is widespread in dry, open woodland and bushveld. It is most common in rocky and lime-bank areas. It is of small to medium height (2-8m), but seldom grow higher than 4 meters in the Karoo. Because it’s leaves are protein-rich, nutritious and palatable, Shepherd trees always show a clear umbrella-like browse-line.
The root, in times gone by, was pounded to make porridge and was commonly used as a substitute for coffee. It was also used to make beer and to treat hemorrhoids. An infusion of the leaves is used to treat eye infections in cattle. The fruits are used in traditional dishes and the flower buds as caper substitutes in pickles. Household utensils are made from the wood.
In the North it is said that if the fruits wither before the millet crop is ripe, the harvest will be a failure! And if the wood is used as fire-wood, cows will produce only bull calves.
On Samara we have some exceptional specimens, some in the region of 800 years old.