Spirostachys africana is a medium-sized (about 10 metres tall) deciduous tree with a straight, clear trunk, occurring in the warmer parts of Southern Africa. Its wood is known as tamboti, tambotie, tambootie or tambuti. This wood if used in guitar making, would possibly be used for a bridge, however, the wood has a very high natural oil content and sometime poses some gluing problems. Normally in furniture making, a joint with some kind of a locking system, like a pinned mortise and tennon joint in conjunction with the glue.
The leaves are small, elliptic with crenate margins, and turn bright red in winter before dropping. The petiole has 2 small glands at the distal end. The grey-black rough bark is distinctively split into neat rectangles. The catkin-like flowers appear in early spring before the leaves. Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree (monoecious). The small 3-lobed capsules or schizocarps split into three equal indehiscent segments (mericarps or cocci) when ripe; on a warm day this splitting (dehiscence) can sound like a distant fusillade of shots. The seeds are globose with a chartaceous testa.
Wood and toxicity
Despite its being prone to heart-rot, it is prized in the furniture industry for its beautiful, dense and durable timber, which is reddish-brown with darker streaks, a satin-like lustre and extremely fragrant sweet, spicy smell. The underbark exudes a white, poisonous latex when freshly cut, and campfires that burn tambuti fuel give off noxious fumes contaminating meat or other food grilled on the flames or coals. The latex can cause severe illness if the wood is used as fuel to cook. The latex is used as a fish poison, is applied to arrow-tips and is used as a purgative by indigenous tribes.
Links with animals – The fruit is eaten by crested guineafowl, francolin and doves. Black rhino eat the young branches. Dry fallen leaves are eaten by kudu, nyala, impala and vervet monkeys.
Human uses – The wood is very valuable and used to manufacture exceptional furniture. The poisonous lates is used to stupefy fish, for easier catching, and the sap to treat toothache.
The fruits while green are frequently parasitised by the small grey moth Emporia melanobasis (Pyralidae: Phycitinae). Larvae develop within the growing fruits which show no external damage. When the fruits are mature each splits into 3 cocci. The larvae jack-knife inside the fallen segments, causing them to move about erratically and vigorously, to the surprise of the uninitiated. This has led to the name “Jumping Bean Tree”.
Best places to see the Tamboti in Southern Africa
The Tamboti is found in the Kruger National Park in the Mixed Bushwillow Woodlands, Pretoriuskop Sourveld, Malelane Mountain Bushveld, Sabie Crocodile Thorn Thickets, Delagoa Thorn Thickets, Riverine Communities, Alluvial Plains, Tree Mopane Savannah & Mopane / Bushwillow Woodlands ecozones.