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African Hardwood Tree Types

zebras image by Robert Ulph from

Most people think of the broad leaf forests of North America and Europe when they think of hardwoods, but there are a number of hardwood trees native to the warmer climates of Africa. A hardwood essentially is any wood from a flowering tree that usually is characterized by broad leaves and is sometimes deciduous. In contrast, softwood trees would be conifers such as pines and firs.


The mopanee tree (Colophospermum mopane) is native to areas of South Africa north to Angola, Zambia and Mozambique. It grows in the vast low-lying area called the lowveld that experiences wet summers and warm, dry winters. Mopanee trees grow to 100 feet in the northern part of their range but stay small shrubs in the southern part. The leaves are unique because they fold together during the warmest part of the day and resemble butterflies. The wood from mopanee is very hard and used for railways and mining props. It is very dense and termite resistant. Four-inch long mopane worms feed in great numbers on the foliage of the tree and are eaten as a local delicacy.

Umbrella Thorn Acacia

acacia et vautours image by Jj from

The Umbrella thorn acacia (Acacia tortilis) grows in warm arid areas of Africa and spreads into the Middle East. This tree is an iconic sybol of Africa with its tall, umbrella-shaped growth habit. It can survive long periods of drought. The trees can reach 50 feet tall but stay smaller in the harsher and drier areas of their range. The foliage is eaten by all types of wild and domestic herbivores despite the thorns. Elephants often push over entire trees to reach the branches. The wood is used as firewood and for making charcoal. It also is used for fence posts, and thorny tangled branches are used as temporary animal fencing.


The leadwood tree (Combretum imberbe) grows to 65 feet tall with a thick gray trunk and heavy branches at the very top of the tree. It is a semi-deciduous hardwood native to the tree savannas and mixed forests of South Africa, north to the tropical regions of central Africa. This is one of the densest hardwood trees in the world. Native Africans used the wood for hoes before metallurgy was discovered. Now it is primarily used for carving and for furniture. Lead tree is protected in South Africa and is listed as endangered.

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