Native to Africa, the Shepherd’s Tree grows in hot, arid and semi-arid regions. It is one of the few trees that will grow on the slopes of sand dunes where the shifting sands constantly expose roots, making survival a struggle for most plants. The Shepherd’s Tree is a stocky evergreen that can grow to a height of over 36 feet (11 meters) but is usually much shorter. It has a dense, round to spreading crown and a distinctly smooth, whitish trunk. The tree has heavily scented, small, star-shaped flowers in clusters that are yellowish-green and fruits that are berry-like. The secret to the Shepherd’s Tree’s survival is its root system which reaches deep into the earth to tap underground water sources. Its taproot can extend to a depth of 223 feet (68 meters) in search of underground water. This is why it is one of the few species of trees that can grow in the Kalahari Desert.
The Shepherd’s Tree is so named because during periods of drought, shepherds cut limbs off this tree to feed their flocks. The tree is often called the Tree of Life, as it offers sustenance to both humans and animals. Herbivores in savannah areas, such as giraffe, gemsbok, and kudu, browse the nutritious leaves. Red hartebeest and porcupines are known to feed on the bark. The fragrant flowers attract a host of pollinators, and the leaves are the larval food of a number of butterflies. The fruits are eaten by birds, primates, foxes, jackals, and elephants.
This tree is a valuable source of shade, especially in the desert areas where trees are rare. Daytime temperatures beneath this tree have been found to be as much as 21 degrees Celsius cooler than that of the surrounding open area. The big cat species of Africa are fond of resting under these trees during the heat of the day, and tree rats and numerous bird species nest in the tree’s shaded boughs. The shaded area under the tree also provides an important microhabitat for a great variety of invertebrate fauna.
The Shepherd’s Tree also has a large range of indigenous uses by man, especially during periods of drought when there is little else to eat. The root is eaten raw, pounded to make porridge, or boiled down into sweet syrup. The fruits are eaten raw, cooked in traditional dishes, or used to make jams. The flower buds are used in place of capers. The tree also has numerous important medicinal uses. For instance, the green fruit is used to treat epilepsy, and a cold fusion of the leaves is used to treat eye inflammations in cattle. The roots are used to make an extract for the treatment of hemorrhoids. The powdered root also has preservative and mold inhibiting qualities and is used by local tribes to preserve milk and butter fat.
One day soon we will have access to the real Tree of Life if we are faithful. “The fruit of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden possessed supernatural virtue. To eat of it was to live forever…
“The redeemed saints, who have loved God and kept His commandments here, will… have right to the tree of life. They will eat freely of it as our first parents did before their fall.” Maranatha, 325.
David Arbour writes from his home in De Queen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.