By all accounts, the sausage tree is perhaps one of the most unusual large trees in our area. There are not too many in Charlotte County to begin with which is understandable in light of its large size and gigantic dangling sausage-shaped fruit. You may have seen at least one in Punta Gorda, and I saw one in Naples the other day which spurred my interest in writing this article. Is there a sausage tree in your neighborhood?
The sausage tree is originally from tropical Africa where it is widely used as a food source by many animals including giraffes, monkeys, hippos, and bush pigs. Bats and nocturnal insect pollinators visit the large flowers at night and large bees use them by day. Certain birds also eat the seeds, and the leaves are fed on by elephants and certain antelopes. Keep in mind however, that the fruit is toxic to humans. The tree is highly ornamental and has been grown around the world in tropical regions. With grey, smooth to peeling bark and pinnate evergreen leaves, the sausage tree is a specimen worthy of a botanical garden collection. The flowers are also very ornamental as they hang in clustered panicles. These flowers, bell-like in shape, are reddish in color and over three inches wide. It is the fruit of course that makes a sausage tree, a sausage tree. Described as a “woody berry”, these sausage-like, over two-foot long and fifteen pound fruits remind me of gigantic corn-dogs hanging from long, stout stems. Unfortunately, the falling fruit is a hazard and can drop on people and cars causing damage, so select your tree site carefully!
This large tree can grow upwards to fifty feet tall and wide and is best grown in a hardiness zone of at least 10a unless you have identified a warm micro-climate. Not a tree that would fit a normal residential lot, consider this woody ornamental for more expansive sites with plenty of room to grow this exceedingly unique tree. Maybe the sausage tree is not your cup of tea, but it is still fascinating and a conversation piece. So, perhaps just plan to visit your closest sausage tree in a neighborhood near you! For more information on all types of exotic ornamental trees, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.
National Gardening Association (2017) Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana)
Wikipedia (2017) Kigelia