Also known as the Camphor bush, Mkalambati (Swahili), Ol'leleshwa (Maasai), Kileleshwa (Kikuyu.
A story from Karichota
Ololeshwa is a great curiosity; some say it has migrated over the centuries from northern areas, others claim it as endemic to our East African plains; clearly it is impossible to overgraze as wherever livestock feeds on it, you will see it spring up again with great vigour, unique in its velvety foliage and with seed which scatters like snow flakes. It is dioecious (there are female trees and male trees). The female flowers are brown and white for the male.
It is certainly one of the most versatile plants we have – leaves make perfect toilet paper and sheaves of its leaves can be placed under the armpits to keep you smelling fresh and delightful the whole day. Soap is made from the seeds and the wood is hard but workable. Visitors are delighted when we ask them to spit on their hands and wash them with the leaves! I hear splinters can be poisonous, so do take care when handling it.
The Kenya Forest Service web site (www.kenyaforestservice.org) tells us that “…problems such as blocked sinuses and headache can be healed by inhaling the smoke from the burning green leaves. Drinking boiled mixture of leaves and water can help to treat coughing, toothache, abdominal pain and bronchitis.”
The Latin name means Funeral Flower, possibly because of the camphor-ish smell.
When something is so dominant one might feel it is necessary to “weed” it out in order for the less aggressive species to establish themselves. In areas where the tree is dominant, we have removed a few of the roots and used them for furniture and plant supports, and planted other species in their place – the olives, junipers and figs mentioned in previous stories.
However, what we currently observe is that it happily grows alongside other species and forms an integral but not over dominant part of the “Clump Forests” which are springing up successfully all around us. Ololeshwa is not only a good neighbour it seems, but a welcoming host to epiphytic plants; orchids in the Pearsonarium collection grow happily on its branches.
The sculptor Morris Foit carves exquisite work in Ololeshwa wood in his Ngecha studio (Picture courtesy of One Off Gallery.) Elijah Ogira (a frequent visitor to Karichota) also enjoys working with the wood.
Below: Ololeshwa trunk.