Buffalo Thorn: Repre­sen­ta­tive crop plant

The Buffalo Thorn is a tree whose leaves and fruits are a valuable food source. Furthermore, the multipurpose tree is implemented in various cultural rituals and beliefs. In our blog you can learn more.


The Buffalo Thorn is a plant from the family of the Rhamnaceae family. It occurs in tropical Africa and Asia in savannahs and on river banks. It is a thorny shrub that can reach heights of up to 10 metres. The thorns that give the leaves their name sit in the leaf axils in pairs. One of the thorns is hooked, the other one has a straight alignment. The leaves are stalked and ovate. The roundish fruit is a stone fruit which has a reddish brown colour when ripe.

The Buffalo Thorn plays an important role in many African countries due to its strong symbolic significance and its function as a useful plant. For the Zulu in South Africa, for example, it is part of a funeral ritual. When a person dies, a friend or family member travels to the place of death, taking a branch of Buffalo Thorn with them. This represents the soul of the deceased who is about to leave the body. The branch is then buried together with the corpse. If there is no corpse, the branch represents the body of the deceased. The body is then buried instead of the corpse and thus transferred into its natural environment. It is said that the hooked thorn captures the soul and the straight thorn points the way to heaven. From time to time Buffalo Thorns are also placed on graves to keep wild animals away from them.


In addition to its spiritual significance, the Buffalo Thorn has an important importance as a useful plant. For example, its leaves serve as a spice for salads and other dishes. The fruits are added to oat porridge and their seeds are used as a substitute for coffee beans. The thorny bushes are also popular as property hedges.
If you travel to South Africa, you should refrain from pulling out or falling a Buffalo Thorn after the first rain, as the Zulu believe this brings great misfortune.


Emmett, Megan; Pattrick, Sean (2012). Game Ranger in Your Backpack: All-in-one Interpretative Guide to the Lowveld

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