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The Acacia tortilis, better known as the umbrella thorn, is one of the most iconic trees on the African savanna. While the tree is known for its life-sustaining canopy of leaves, we captured this image of the acacia at the end of its life cycle, its barren branches raised high in remembrance of a life spent supporting countless creatures.
Because it is a drought-resistant tree that flourishes in the arid African climate, animals big and small rely on the umbrella thorn for survival. When in full bloom, it is covered in sharp thorns, small leaves, white flowers, and hardy pods. Birds nest in its branches and feed on its leaves while Rothschild giraffes twist their nimble tongues around the thorns to get to the fresh, green pods. Wandering rhinos and zebras lounge beneath the shady canopy and munch on dry pods scattered on the ground. Insects and plants thrive in the tree’s shade where the soil is moist and cool.
Farmers, herders, and local families also rely on the versatile umbrella thorn. Its timber is used to build homes, wagon wheels, and furniture. The thorny branches that protect it from invasive species can be transformed into cages, pens, and hunting tools. While traveling herders chew on the tree’s gum-like resin, their livestock can feed on the foliage and fallen pods, which provide a nutrient-dense snack during the harsh dry season.
Loved by all who call the savanna home, the Acacia tortilis thrives at the heart of this fragile ecosystem. As we work to support the conservation efforts of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, we must also remain conscious of the complex ecosystem in which our beloved rhinos, zebra, and elephants thrive.