Afzelia quanzensis is a very appealing, medium-sized, deciduous tree, with bright green leaves that turn to an attractive yellowish colour in autumn. Its upright crown also complements its beauty, and the somewhat drooping branches resemble a tree from the eucalyptus family from a distance. More common names that are used are Lucky Bean Tree and Pod Mahogany.
The Lucky Bean is a medium to large, deep-rooted tree that can grow up to 35 m high, with a large spreading crown. Its somewhat straight trunk may be up to 1 m in diameter and has a grey-green or creamy grey, smooth bark that is beautifully patterned with raised rings that flake off irregularly, leaving circular patches.
The new leaves are usually copper-coloured and become dark green as they age. They are up to 300 mm long and are divided once, with 4-7 pairs of leaflets. Flowers are sweet-scented, borne in erect clusters, and are green with pinkish red petals.
Large and flatwoody pods, 170 mm long, are produced in late summer. In autumn they split open to release distinctively black seeds with scarlet arils. There may be up to 10 seeds per pod.
Afzelia quanzensis is widespread. It grows in low altitude woodland and dry forests, usually in deep sand. It stretches from Northern KwaZulu-Natal, through to Limpopo, Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries. It is also found in Somalia.
Uses and cultural aspects
The light red-brown wood of the pod mahogany is hard and has a good grain. It It has been used for building, making plywood, furniture, paneling and for flooring. Furniture made from this wood is traded under the name chamfuti. The wood is termite and borer resistant and is therefore commonly used as corner poles for fencing. The largest specimens of this species in South Africa have been felled and cut up for railway sleepers.
Seeds of this tree are in great demand for ornaments and charms. They are often used as necklaces or made into trinkets and sold as curios.
Growing Afzelia quanzensis
Seeds of Afzelia quanzensis germinate easily, usually with a rate of up to 80%. Sow in a seedling tray filled with a mixture of 5 parts river sand and 1 part compost. Press into the mixture, cover lightly with soil, and keep moist. Germination may take two to three weeks. Seeds that are as old as ten years may still germinate if stored in a cool, dry place. Seedlings may be transplanted once they reach a two-leaf stage. They should be kept protected for the first two seasons in cold areas, as they are frost sensitive.