Thorn tree


Thorn tree, Naivasha Thorn, Fever Tree
Acacia xanthophloea (scientific),
mgunga (Swahili)

***** Location: Kenya and
Tanzania southwards to Swaziland

***** Season: Long rains, end of cold dry season (flower)
Short rains (fresh leaves)
Hot dry season (pods)

***** Category: Plant


The Naivasha Thorn (also commonly known as a thorn tree) is the most visible and most spectacular of Kenya’s many acacias, due to its bright yellow bark. The fact that it is common in Nairobi makes it a good kigo for Kenya haijin.


There are 42 indigenous species of Acacia distributed throughout Kenya. Their identification as members of the Acacia family is readily made because of the presence of spines. Recognition of individual species is much more difficult, many of them requiring close examination of the flowers and leaves in a botanical laboratory.

A thorn tree branch
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski

The Naivasha Thorn is a flat-topped tree with a yellow powdery bark. The whitish straight spines are about 4 cm long. Commonly found beside streams and lakes in the Rift Valley, especially at Lakes Naivasha and Nakuru.

Early travellers camping near these waters associated the tree with their going down with fever, hence the name Fever Tree. In fact, their illness was due to malaria transmitted by mosquitoes which breed on the edges of the lakes.

Acacia trees have a great variety of uses, besides being ornamental. Between them, they provide shade, food for goats, wood-fuel, river-bank stabilisation, fence posts, fix nitrogen as they drop their nutrient-rich leaves at the beginning of the rainy season, durable building material because of their resin content, hardwood suitable for carving, and tannin for the leather industry.

~ John Karmali, The Beautiful Plants of Kenya, 1993


A tall, majestic tree, with wide, rounded, obliquely spreading crown, up to 25 m high (very old trees can reach up to 33 m if conditions are favourable). It grows at altitudes of 700 to 2,100 m. Commonly found along river banks, in seasonally flooded areas adjacent to rivers, on the margins of lakes and pans and low-lying areas where underground water is available. Often gregarious and at times forms close woodland.

Flowers creamish white or yellowish white with pinkish red corollas. Many species of birds favour this tree for nesting, especially weaver birds.

~ Najma Dharani
Field Guide to the Acacias of East Africa, 2006.


Weaver bird weaving its nest
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski

Worldwide use

. Acacia Tree - KIGO .

Australia, Japan, Yemen

akashia アカシア


acacia blossoms
whip welts on my legs
no longer visible

acacia tree
our old hut hidden
by the road

~ Ella Wagemakers, Holland


a cloud of wild bees
all around the courtyard --
acacia blossoms

~ Vasile Moldovan, Romania

Things found on the way

The Thorn Tree Café

An open-air pavement brasserie / bistro-style café with an excellent patisserie range. The historic cafe guards the Sarova Stanley Hotel's entrance and has the world-famous Messenger - an acacia xanthophloea, whose message-board has formed the centrepiece of the legendary Thorn Tree Café since 1959.

Although the café is now on its third acacia, the messages keep flowing from the café and the atmosphere of Africa's best known meeting place is still as warm and welcoming as it was in those early days.

A message from Ireland on the Thorn Tree Café message board
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski


on a thorn tree
one marabou stork...

Naivasha --
surrounded by Naivasha thorns
in bloom

hazy morning --
thorn tree flowers sprinkled
round the bus stop

thorn tree --
three hens rest in its shade
guarded by the cock

~ Isabelle Prondzynski


January breeze --
an acacia leaf floating
in my tea

dusty wind --
a flowering acacia

Flowering thorn tree
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski

acacia flowers fall
on the dusty bench --
hot wind

weaverbirds' nests
swinging on an acacia-
dusty wind

thorny acacia
stand guard over the grassland—
browsing Maasai cattle

acacia blooms
gently fall on my head --
evening breeze

~ Patrick Wafula


sunrise --
the leaves of acacia
turn orange yellow

bubbling stream --
an acacia leaf floats

a weaver bird resting
on a swinging acacia branch --
morning drizzle

~ Stephen Macharia

flowering acacia --
its yellow flowers cover
our rusty roof

~ James Bundi


The beautiful yellow bark of the Naivasha thorn
Photo © Isabelle Prondzynski

queueing for lunch -
an acacia leaf drops
on my clean plate

~ Isaac Ndirangu

wet soil --
acacia trees gradually
regaining leaves

~ Stanley Mutinda

dusty hot wind --
the acacia bends sharply
in a gust

~ Rodgers Nzomo

sunny evening —
the acacia tree still

~ Sammy Nzilili


the bird swings
as it weaves its nest...
fleshy acacia

~ Anthony Njoroge

Related words

***** . Weaver bird, weaverbird .

***** ***** . Marabou storks .

***** . Rift Valley .

***** . Umbrella tree / Schefflera actinophylla .
Umbrella tree (Acacia tortilis)


No comments: