I am not sure Dr. Seuss visited Africa before writing and illustrating The Lorax, but if he had, he would have seen his fictional truffula trees. The umuko, as it is called in Kinyarwanda, or Erythrina abyssinica, lights up the hillsides of Rwanda.
Umuko trees are native to Rwanda; they are a widespread species throughout savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. I have noticed that the flowers often appear after leaves have fallen from that branch (and before new leaves emerge).
Umuko flowers are pollinated by nectar-seeking birds like the bronzy sunbird (Nectarinia kilimensis) (center in the above picture).
Pollinated umuko flowers produce seedpods that eventually pop open to reveal the seeds.
The seeds are spread by fruit-eating birds.
The umuko branches and trunk have thorns (amotwa in Kinyarwanda). When the tree grows large enough (up to 15 meters tall), they provide excellent shade for people, livestock, and even coffee trees.
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has more than 30 umuko trees throughout our property. The largest individual is the nature park, and another 20 small umuko trees can be found inside Parike Y'Umutungo Kamere W'Agahozo. Students work to clear invasive Lantana inside the park so that native trees like umuko can thrive. After all, truffula, I mean UMUKO trees "are what everyone needs!"
- Dr. Seuss. The Lorax. Random House, 1971.
- "Erythrina abyssinica." AgroForestryTree Database. World Agroforestry Center. Accessed October 31, 2011 at http://www.worldagroforestrycentre.org/sea/Products/AFDbases/AF/asp/SpeciesInfo.asp?SpID=738