Nature’s wonders: Rosewood, the tree that bleeds red….

Humans bleed when you cut them but seeing a tree bleed red when cut, is a whole level of surprise.

Image ref: Daily Hunt

The bloodwood tree does exist and reaches around 15 metres in height but what you see in pictures is actually sap not blood.

The tree’s botanical name is Pterocarpus angolensis, which grows mainly in the warm, frost-free areas in the northeast of the African continent extending into Zimbabwe, northern Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia and northwards into other parts of Africa. It grows in bushveld and woodland where the rainfall is above 500 mm per year, and it favours rocky slopes or well-drained, deep, sandy soil.

The tree has many uses. Its red sap is used as a dye and in some areas mixed with animal fat to make a cosmetic for faces and bodies. 

Some also believe that the tree has magical properties for the curing of problems concerning blood, apparently because of its close resemblance to blood. The branches are used to cure malaria, ringworm, sharp pains, eye problems, blackwater fever, and stomach problems. Breastfeeding mothers are encouraged to use the sap to increase the production of breast milk.

Image ref: BBC Africa Eye

The sap is actually a gum known as “Kino” and the blood-red colour is a chemical called tannin, the same ones found in wine. For regular plants, the tannin ranges from 12 to 20 per cent but for Bloodwood, its tannin is 77 per cent.

Unlike most trees that have yellow or white sap, the Bloodwood tree has red or dark brown sap that is released whenever there is a cut on the tree or a branch breaks, and it is redesigned to coagulate and seal wounds.

Bloodwood trees have become a fascination for tourists and locals, especially because the wood itself is great for producing high-quality furniture. Locals say the tree can easily be carved and easy to work with. It possesses some qualities that make it durable, easy to glue, screw, and takes polish very well. Also, it has the ability to shrink very well during its drying process and this makes it a suitable material for canoes, bathroom floors and building boats.

Image ref: Zigya

Until recently Madagascar was the epicenter of illegal rosewood trade. For instance, the Dalbergia abrahamii is only restricted to five small populations in the north of the island. Forty-seven of Madagascar’s 48 species of Dalbergia are endemic.

One BBC Africa Eye report shows the trees are cut from the forests of Casamance in Senegal and smuggled across the neighbouring Gambia in plain sight. China is the main destination for the smuggled tree for charcoal production.

Thank goodness advocates are at work!

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement signed by 183 countries forbids or restricts trade in the most threatened species.

In 2016, it added to the list all the rosewoods belonging to the genus Dalbergia. Traders must prove their rosewood sources are legitimate.

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