The sausage tree

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a really nice blog about birds and ecology in Rwanda,  Rwanda on the Wing, by Jared Cole* of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.

By Jared Cole, via Bird on the Wing.

In an October post, Jared wrote about the sausage tree, one of the great trees of Africa, and about how few of them he has found during his time in Rwanda.  He speculated that they have been replaced by non-natives like jacarandas, eucalytus, and bananas.

Jared and the students at the Youth Village tried to germinate sausage tree seeds from a piece of rotting fruit.  However, out of about 100 seeds, only 4 seedlings sprouted, which they planted on their campus.

Last night, we attended the Christmas fête at the Belgian School of Kigali.   While I was taking a few pictures with my husband’s phone, I turned around to find that the school had a sausage tree, growing right there in the concrete-tiled playground.

I wonder if there was a temptation to paint the fruits red, gold, and green for the occasion.

Kigelia africana (aka sausage tree and Kigelia pinnata, abssinica, aethiopica, and Bignonia africana) is the only species in the genus Kigella, which is a member of the family Bignoniacese. It is native to sub-Saharan Africa and is most easily recognized by its large, sausage-shaped fruit. Its flowers are large and maroon-colored.


The fruits are toxic to humans, but slices are sometimes added to beer to aid fermentation. They are also used in traditional medicines and in some commercially produced skin lotions.  They may have anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Kew Garden’s website, the trees are sacred to some communities; the Luo and Lukaya peoples of Kenya bury a fruit “to symbolize the body of a lost person believed to be dead.”

All the websites I consulted warned against camping or parking under a Kigelia; the fruits can weigh up to 26 lbs. or 12 kgs.

Sausage tree seeds can have a poor germination rate, so Jared’s experience was not unusual. A few sites recommend planting the seeds in river sand.

To return to the Ecole Belge and its Christmas fête — we were lured there by the promise of imported goodies from Belgium, including oysters and foie gras.  There were also boudin blanc sausages, Liege waffles, and Belgian beer.

The seniors were holding a plant sale to support their class trip.

A plant sale to support the senior class trip.

I bought some dramatically blotched coleus. . .

Burgundy and lime Coleus.

Tree Tomato jam.
And some Tree Tomato (or Tamarillo) jam made by Afrique en Marche. They help the handicapped obtain prostheses.

*Jared is no longer in Rwanda, but you can read about his continuing adventures in birding at his blog, Earth on the Wing.

2 thoughts on “The sausage tree

    1. I’m not yet sure I’ve seen that many plants native to Rwanda or East Africa in local gardens (except the Sausage Tree and Acacia). It’s amazing how many South American, Asian, and Australian ornamental plants have made it to Africa and how they are now so common they are practically taken for natives.

      There are 150 species of Coleus, according to my quick internet search, with members native to Africa, Asia, and Australia. The one I bought is a cultivated variety. I’ve seen it in the U.S. (and Niger) before.

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