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What is a Sausage Tree?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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The sausage tree or Kigelia pinnata is a unique tree which is native to tropical regions of Africa. Alas, this tree does not actually produce sausages, but its distinctive fruit does closely resemble the meat product for which it is named. It is not uncommon to see these trees planted as ornamental trees in many parts of Africa and Asia, as their rich red flowers are showy, beautiful, and highly aromatic.

In nature, the sausage tree can get to be up to 60 feet (20 meters) tall. The trees have simple pinnately compound leaves and they produce flowers on extremely long stalks. The flowers are shaped like bells, and they grow in small clusters which droop towards the ground. Their scarlet coloring is typically concealed during the day, with the flowers opening in the cooler evening temperatures to attract bats and insects with their sweet nectar, thus encouraging pollination.

When pollinated, the flowers on a sausage tree will develop into fruit. The fruits are actually technically berries, and they are shaped like elongated gourds; at a casual glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this type of tree really was bedecked with giant sausages, perhaps curing for future consumption. In areas with an extended dry season, sausage trees will drop their leaves to conserve energy; otherwise, they remain evergreen.

The fruit of the sausage tree is not palatable to humans, but it is popular with many African animals, as are the flowers. African women have traditionally rubbed the pulp into their skin to prevent blemishes, and the fruit is used in some skin preparations in Africa and abroad; it appears to have several compounds which do indeed promote healthy skin. Sausage tree extracts are also used in shampoos and other body care products.

The one food use of the fruit is in beer; several African tribes had traditionally added the fruit to their fermenting grains for beer, claiming that it speeds the fermentation process and adds a unique flavor.

Like other plants in the Bignoniaceae genus, the primary use of the sausage tree is as a purely decorative addition to the garden; the uses of the plant are more like a pleasant side benefit rather than a reason for cultivation for most gardeners. If you ever happen to be in Africa, you may want to express interest in seeing a sausage tree, as these unique trees are much more impressive in person than they will ever be in text.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sausage tree and where can it be found?

The sausage tree, scientifically known as Kigelia africana, is a tropical species indigenous to Africa. It thrives in wet savannahs, riverbanks, and floodplains. The tree is renowned for its distinctive, sausage-shaped fruit, which can grow up to 2 feet long and weigh around 15 pounds. Its habitat spans from Sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa, reflecting its adaptability to various African ecosystems.

Are the fruits of the sausage tree edible?

While the sausage tree's fruit is not typically consumed by humans due to its bitter taste, it is an important food source for wildlife such as baboons, elephants, and giraffes. Traditional African communities do use the fruit for medicinal purposes, but it requires special preparation to be safe for human use, as it contains compounds that can be toxic.

What are the medicinal uses of the sausage tree?

Traditionally, various parts of the sausage tree have been used in African herbal medicine. The fruit, leaves, and bark are believed to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. They have been used to treat conditions like skin ailments, rheumatism, and even as a topical treatment for wounds. However, scientific research is needed to fully validate these medicinal claims.

How does the sausage tree benefit the ecosystem?

The sausage tree plays a crucial role in its ecosystem by providing sustenance for a variety of animals. Its nectar-rich flowers attract pollinators such as bats and birds, while the fruit is a food source for mammals. The tree's presence also helps maintain the ecological balance by supporting species diversity and contributing to the food web.

Can the sausage tree be grown in a home garden?

While the sausage tree is a stunning and unique addition to a garden, it is best suited for large spaces due to its size and the potential hazard of falling fruit. It requires a warm climate, similar to its native African environment, and ample space to accommodate its growth. Gardeners should consider safety and climate compatibility before planting.

What is the cultural significance of the sausage tree?

In African cultures, the sausage tree is often imbued with symbolic meaning and used in traditional ceremonies. Some communities regard it as a sacred tree, using parts of it in rituals or as a symbol of fertility. Its imposing presence and utility have cemented its cultural importance in many African societies.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon180838 — On May 27, 2011

I live in the Florida Keys and have a huge Sausage Tree. It's fun when people passing/walking by stop to admire it. Some even take pictures, and if I'm outside, usually strike up a conversation about it.

I shouldn't say I have this tree, even though we've lived here for decades, the tree was here before us and will be here for a long time after we're gone. There is also a beautiful specimen at the Ford/Edison homes in Ft Meyers, Fl.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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