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Leigh Voigt - Trees

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An exhibition catalogue from Leigh Voigt's 2010 exhibition Trees at the Everard Read Gallery.
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Leigh Voigt TREES The Recollections of a Dendrogenealogist
Page 1: Leigh Voigt - Trees

Leigh Voigt




he Recollections of a D


Leigh VoigtTREES

The Recollections of a Dendrogenealogist

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Leigh Voigt

WHITE RIVER ART GALLERY27 February – 25 March 2010


EVERARD READ29 April – 23 May 2010

TREESThe Recollections of a Dendrogenealogist

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Introductionmark read

Ishlahla, umti, sefate, motlhare, setlhare, muti, nsin-

ya, boom, tree.

To the people of our nation, this simple word

stimulates our neural pathways in an extraordinary

diversity of ways. The impulses that flicker through

our cortex when we are confronted with the word

‘tree’, or indeed the object itself, result in a collec-

tion of emotions that hint at, perhaps more than any

other single word, the circumstances within which

we live.

A tree is a cool island with sweetened air beneath

which a hot traveller may rest. The same miraculous

collection of carbon forming roots, stems and leaves

becomes a dependable shelter in a storm.

The very same carbon forms the coals that warm

dwellings and allow succulent cooked flesh to be

consumed by groups of humans drawn together in

that most ancient of rituals where protein is shared

and bonds renewed around a fire.

Countless times our ancestors have been grateful

for some rough bark and a fortuitous low limb when

they contrived to escape the attentions of an out-

raged mega-herbivore.

In the far distant past we came down from the

trees – those lofty sanctuaries where we could

cringe together at night away from the eyes of

night stalkers. Without trees, those sparse-haired

and small-jawed australopithecines could not have

survived. And had they not, earth today would be a

vastly different planet.

What a day it was when an African bipedal ape first

grasped that glowing branch – the remnants of a veld

fire. The harnessing of the energy contained in that

wood led inexorably to human global domination

and the footprints on the moon. It was without doubt

our species’ greatest technological achievement.

Much of southern Africa is arid. Water is the strict-

est ecological limiting factor. The light is harsh, the

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heat intense, the grass ephemeral. Yet even on near-

naked rocks in Damaraland, in the Kaokoveld and in

red Kalahari sands, there is the metronome-like reli-

ability of green shoots and perfumed flowers from

the ubiquitous acacias, cassias and boscias. Roots,

looking old even when they are not, support trees

that have become objects of veneration for genera-

tions of humans who herd and hunt the animals ut-

terly dependent on succulent seasonal growth.

Through the eyes of a pastoralist it is a land in-

habited by plants that feed goats, that attract kudu

and porcupines. Its trees provide medicine, poisons

and nectar for bees. Without shade there would be

no existence. Without wood there would be no fire

and no dwellings. Without some of the great giants

in the valley where would the ancestors gather?

Without those iconic old sentinels on the earth how

could you possibly describe to a stranger where to

turn left or right?

To a denizen of the First World the same land-

scape whose image caresses our retina is a place

where we can immerse ourselves in the sheer maj-

esty of evolution on show – a huge variety of tree

genera all competing for sustenance and space. All

subtly encourage birds, bats and insects to make

them their home and in so doing plant the seeds of

the next generation.

But perhaps to those of us with a decent dose of

romanticism trees are not only or merely food, shel-

ter, scientifically fascinating or intellectually aes-

thetic. They are testaments that there was a long

time before our generation – a time to which they

stood witness, a time of other kingdoms and hesi-

tant explorers. An ancient tree allows us to touch

history. A young tree groping for the sun gives us

hope for the future.

I think to encapsulate on a piece of canvas all of

this – the emotions that every one of us can experi-

ence when confronted with a great tree – is a near-

impossibility. With this exhibition Leigh Voigt has

succeeded completely.

The quiet, visceral impact and pure enjoyment

that all viewers of this exhibition will derive from

Leigh’s magnificent collection of tree portraits is a

testament to her empathy with the human history

and biodiversity of Africa. The exhibition is much

more than a collection of extraordinarily beautiful

paintings of trees – although this by anyone else

would have been good enough! Rather, as in her

Nguni cattle collection, she alludes not only to the

beauty of the object itself but just as much to our

ancient relationship with it.

The artist’s technical virtuosity is at times breath-

taking but never pompous. Leigh doesn’t bind her

subject in her technique; rather, it is a vehicle that

allows her to gently unwrap for us the sheer miracle

that is a tree.

Page 5: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Where it occurs in our area, the thorny elm, Chaetachme

aristata, has a nondescript shape, small, insignificant flowers,

inedible fruits and a trunk armed with sharp spines. The

timber has no commercial value. It’s hardly a specimen worth

a second glance.

However, the tree is evergreen, and drought and wind

resistant; the wood is hard and tough and the tree survives

when others fall. Therefore, from its position on the path and

distance from our house, it gains a significance beyond the

call of arboreal duty.

For the 35 years that we’ve lived in the Houtboschloop

Valley in Mpumalanga, the thorny elm has been known as

the Thinking Tree.

Let me explain.

Ten generations ago, in the small county of Schwerin-

Mecklenburg in northern Germany, my paternal ancestors

tended elms, pines and birches. They were foresters by

both profession and passion. They planted, trimmed, counted

and protected.

Five generations later, my cousin, Ute, continued our fam-

ily’s work at the Esherode Institut near Hann Münden. My

uncle, Professor Tom Dunston, spent his retirement writing

about and photographing the fynbos of the South African

Cape Floral Kingdom.

With our rootstock in Rostock, members of the Jeppe

family emigrated from Germany, arriving in South Africa in

1858. In May 1886, my great grandfather, Carl Jeppe, was

one of the first three men who pitched their tents on the

bleak grassy plain that was to become Johannesburg. A man

of vision and with a deep love of the German forests of his

forefathers, he set about planting the trees that were later to

line the streets that he and LP Ford laid out in Jeppestown

and Fordsburg.

When he moved to Cape Town at the turn of the century,

Carl built Trovato in Wynberg, and on the 40 acres surrounding

his house he planted many trees, some of which may still be

seen to this day, shading the lawns in the suburb. His son, Dr

Theo Jeppe, was an avid orchid collector and had an orchid

named after him.

Carrying on the tradition, my father, also named Carl

Jeppe, was chairman of the Tree Society, and, together with

my mother Barbara, researched, wrote and illustrated The

Trees and Shrubs of the Witwatersrand, published by Witwaters-

rand University Press in 1964.

In the search for identity, not only are one’s roots important,

but the various branches on the Family Tree influence one’s

interests or life choices. Trees have therefore played an

important role in my life, stemming from a family with its

roots embedded in the soil. It was for this reason that, as an

artist, I chose to illustrate the origins of my family in the

shape of a large tree, with penned likenesses of over 8oo

family members nestling among the foliage. Birds, animals,

lizards and mushrooms are part of the visual symbiotic

system, combined with the family’s written history in time

and place, covering 10 generations on five continents.

The trouble is, my family tree bifurcates with me, as it

does with everyone, as soon as they marry; it takes on a whole

new tribe belonging to the spouse. In the mix are an illiterate

Polish Jew and the sister of Karl Marx, a princess, a murderer,

a drunk and a Nobel Prize winner.

When my own young family were establishing person-

alities, I drew on the wisdom of my psychiatrist father and

employed many tricks and devices learned from him. When

there was a crisis, a problem, a pain, a decision to be made,

you went for counsel to the Thinking Tree, just far enough in

walking distance away from the house for the crisis to have

been averted by the time you got there, the pain to be forgot-

ten, the problem solved or the decision made.

To distract the children from becoming self-indulgent,

selfish or just tiresome, I would send them on a mission to the

Thinking Tree. I imbued the tree with magical properties,

thereby diverting the children’s attention from frustration,

providing a displacement activity and distracting them from

any budding obsessions, thwarting any traces of the early

onset of hypochondria and eliminating any psychosomatic

ailments. A heavy burden indeed, but the hardy Chaetachme

aristata absorbed all the trials and tribulations of a

burgeoning family.

The symbolic process of finding space on the trunk big

enough between the thorns to fit the palm of the hand without

drawing blood was a challenge indeed but enabled energy rather

than blood to be drawn, and succour to be sought from its sap.

We entrusted our destiny to the thorny elm and are grate-

ful for all the richness it has bestowed upon us.

The Thinking Treeleigh voigt

schagen february 2010

the jeppe family tree pen and ink on drafting film, 130 x 84 cm


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Acacia burkeioil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm


Acacia burkeioil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Black Monkey-Thorn

Acacia burkei, the black monkey-thorn, is a very variable species.

This deciduous tree can grow up to 25 metres in height, and

usually has a spreading, flattish or slightly rounded crown. It

occurs on sandy soils in hot, dry woodland or bushveld.

It has smooth or scaly greyish-yellow to brownish or almost

black bark. Its strongly hooked blackish-brown thorns occur in

pairs. It produces white, spiky flowers between October and

January, and straight, flat, blackish-brown pods, 8–12 centimetres

long, between December and May.

The very hard, heavy wood is termite resistant and for this

reason is popular in the manufacture of fence poles. It’s also

used to make furniture.

The leaves and highly nutritional pods are eaten by wild

game, while the bark and leaves are used by humans for

medicinal purposes.

The tree was named for English botanical collector Joseph

Burke (1812–1873).

The umbrella shape of most acacias is so evocative of Africa

that it has become an icon for our savannah. This one, typical

of its genus, caught the light so beautifully that it had to be

captured on canvas.

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Page 9: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Boscia albitruncaoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Witgatboom, Matoppie, Shepherd’s Tree

Boscia albitrunca, the shepherd’s tree, is a prominent, well-

shaped, evergreen tree that can grow up to 10 metres tall but

is usually much smaller, around 3–5 metres. Native to south-

ern and tropical Africa, it prefers hot, dry, low-lying areas; it’s

a common tree of the bushveld and lowveld.

It has a sturdy white trunk, frequently with strips of

rough, dark-coloured bark. The tough, velvety leaves are

narrow and stiff. The small, honey-scented flowers, which

appear between July and November, are greenish-yellow,

star-shaped and clustered; they lack petals. The small fruits,

which appear between January and March on a jointed stalk,

are brittle-skinned with a whitish flesh.

The crown is often browsed by antelope, resulting in a

conspicuous flattened underside.

The root is pounded to make porridge or beer, and as a

treatment for haemorrhoids, while the fruits are used in tra-

ditional dishes. The unopened buds can be pickled and used

as capers.

The genus was named for French professor of agriculture

Louis Bosc (1759–1828); ‘albitrunca’ refers to the white trunk.

Growing on the white sand of the diamond fields of the

Richtersveld, this ancient Boscia albitrunca was home to many

a creature seeking its welcome shade.

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Boscia albitruncaoil on canvas, 60 x 90 cm

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Boscia albitruncaoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

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Page 15: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Boscia albitruncaoil on canvas, 100 x 125 cm

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Page 17: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Boscia albitruncaoil on canvas, 60 x 90 cm

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Page 19: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Boscia albitruncaoil on canvas, 61 x 76 cm

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Page 21: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Balanites aegyptiacaoil on canvas, 100 x 125 cm

Torchwood, Soap-Berry Tree, Desert Date

Balanites aegyptiaca, the torchwood tree, is a multi-branched,

spiny, generally narrow shrub or tree that can grow to 10 me-

tres in height. The bark is greyish and deeply fissured. It’s

native to much of Africa and parts of the Middle East, and can

be found in many different habitats. This hardy and tolerant

species withstands flooding, livestock activity and fire.

It has thorny branches. Its distinctively two-foliolate leaves

are dark green, the flowers yellow-green. The yellow to pale

brown fruit is produced even in dry times.

Many parts of this highly useful tree are edible, including

the fruit, though it is bitter; it can also be fermented to pro-

duce alcoholic beverages. The leaves may be eaten raw or

cooked. The oily seed (boiled to reduce bitterness) is eaten

mixed with sorghum, and also makes cooking oil. The flow-

ers, too, can be eaten.

It’s widely used medicinally: the fruit is said to be good for

nursing mothers, the oil is efficacious in treating headaches, a

decoction of the root is used to treat malaria, and a bark infu-

sion is useful for heartburn.

The brownish-yellow wood is used to make furniture and

durable items such as tools; it also makes good charcoal.

The name ‘Balanites’, from the Greek for ‘acorn’ and re-

ferring to the shape of the tree’s fruit, was given by French

botanist Alire Raffeneau Delile (1778–1850).

On the banks of the Niger River in Mali, this Balanites

aegyptiaca was the only tree for perhaps a stretch of five

kilometres in which the weavers could build their nests,

emphasising the opportunistic nature of life in the desert.

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Acacia melliferaoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Black-Thorn, Swarthaak

Acacia mellifera, the black-thorn, can manifest either as a

multi-trunked bush up to seven metres tall with a funnel-

shaped crown, or as a single-trunked tree reaching nine

metres in height. It’s widespread in the dry parts of Africa,

the Arabian peninsula, India and the Indian Ocean region,

and flourishes in disturbed or overgrazed areas.

It has blackish, rigid branches. Its black thorns are hooked.

Its leaflets are grey-green. The flowers, which look like

creamy-white balls, appear in spring. It produces flat, papery,

somewhat stubby pods between January and April.

This tree is an important food resource for both cattle and

wild animals, especially in dry areas of Africa, as the leaves

and young branches are very nutritious; the flowers are often

eaten by kudu. The sweetish gum is popular with children,

bushbabies, monkeys and birds.

Its lumber turns pitch-black when oiled and is used for axe

and pick handles. Its heartwood is termite-proof, making it

ideal for use as fence posts.

Extracts from the roots, leaves and bark are used to treat

various ailments including stomach pains, colds, diarrhoea

and bleeding.

The generic name, ‘Acacia’, comes from the Greek ‘akis’,

meaning ‘point’; ‘mellifera’, meaning ‘honey-bearing’, refers to

its sweet-smelling blossoms and its value as a honey plant.

Growing along the road towards the Witsand Nature Re-

serve in the northern Cape, this Acacia mellifera was one of

many hundreds where the abundant soft, fluffy, white blos-

soms concealed the vicious thorns on the branches. The

sweet scent of honey filled the air.

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Boscia foetidaoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Smelly Shepherd’s Tree, Noeniebos, Stinkbos

Boscia foetida, the smelly shepherd’s tree, seldom reaches

more than three metres in height. Evergreen, it tolerates vari-

ous habitats but prefers very hot, very dry, open bushveld and

often occurs on termite mounds. When not flowering or fruit-

ing it’s easily mistaken for a shrubby Boscia albitrunca.

The bark is pale brown or grey to whitish, with fissures

exposing a darker, rougher texture beneath. The leaves are

small, oblong and grey-green, usually arranged in tight spirals

or clusters. The small, greenish-yellow flowers, which lack

petals, have a characteristic unpleasant scent; they appear

in August and September. The small, hairy, round berries,

which may appear year round but are most common between

October and March, are yellow to pale brown when ripe.

The leaves are browsed by game and livestock and the

bark is also sometimes chewed by animals. Sociable weavers

use the flowers as nesting material and food. The sweet fruit

is eaten by birds and people, while the leaves may be chewed

to relieve stomach pains.

The specific name ‘foetida’ is Latin for ‘bad-smelling’ and

refers to the unpleasant scent of the flowers and wood.

The late-afternoon light caught this Boscia foetida, growing

on a working site of Early Man. Flakes, cores and arrowheads

lay scattered around and I wondered if the tool-making in-

dividual would have enjoyed the shade of a similar tree all

those years ago as he toiled at his task.

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Page 27: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Boscia foetidaoil on canvas, 100 x 125 cm

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Boscia foetidaoil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm

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Page 31: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Cassia abbreviataoil on canvas, 100 x 125 cm

Long-Tailed Cassia, Sjambok Pod

Cassia abbreviata, the sjambok pod, is a straight-trunked,

deciduous tree that can grow to about seven metres tall, but

is often smaller, and usually has a neat, round crown. It’s very

drought-resistant and prefers a climate with a dry winter,

growing well in arid bushveld and open woodland.

In older specimens the bark is deeply and regularly fis-

sured. The leaves are dull green. In September and October

it produces generous, loose sprays of deep yellow, sweetly

scented flowers on the ends of its branches. The brown,

hanging, cylindrical pods can reach up to a metre in length,

and can take up to a year to ripen; their outer shell is velvety

when young.

Extracts of the root and bark are said to be efficacious in

the treatment of bilharzia and blackwater fever, while other

parts are used to treat backache, diarrhoea, headache and

skin complaints.

The common name ‘sjambok’, from the Afrikaans for ‘whip’,

describes the shape of the pods.

I have often pondered the contradiction in the botanical

name of this tree. The specific epithet suggests something

shortened or abbreviated, but it definitely is not the pods,

which are as long as your arm. I found this Cassia abbreviata

covered with clusters of yellow flowers, thereby temporarily

diverting my attention from the anomaly of its name to its

more showy and positive attribute, floral abundance.

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Page 33: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Adansonia digitataoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Baobab, Upside-Down Tree, Kremetartboom,

Monkey-Bread Tree

Adansonia digitata, the baobab, is indigenous to Africa, al-

though it does also occur elsewhere. The largest succulent in

the world, it grows up to 30 metres tall and its trunk can have

a diameter of up to 11 metres; it’s not unusual for older trees

to have several huge trunks. It prefers hot, dry woodland in

frost-free areas of low rainfall.

Many legends and superstitions surround these trees

which, unusually, have soft, spongy wood that doesn’t pro-

duce annual growth rings, so it’s difficult to estimate their

age; however, some baobabs are reputed to be thousands of

years old.

The massive, squat, cylindrical trunk, which is covered with

a thick, greyish-brown, fibrous bark layer, grows into a series

of root-like tapering branches. Deciduous, the tree drops its

hand-sized leaves in winter; they re-emerge in late spring.

The large, white, sweetly scented, hanging flowers with their

ruffled petals appear between October and December; fruit

bats pollinate them at night. The large, fuzzy fruit is roughly

egg shaped. The beige, powdery substance within can be

soaked in water to make a refreshing drink.

The tree has countless uses: as a shelter, as a source of fibre

(from the beaten bark), fuel and water, and for food – the

nutrient-rich leaves can be cooked as a vegetable, the seeds,

young shoots and young roots are edible, and the fruit, once

used in the production of cream of tartar, makes a drink to

treat fevers and other ailments.

The name ‘Adansonia’ honours French surgeon-explorer

Michel Adanson (1727–1806), while ‘digitata’, meaning ‘hand-

like’, refers to the shape of the leaves.

This magnificent baobab, the Sagole Giant, in Limpopo

province, sprawls over half an acre of bush. Thought to be over

2 000 years old, it has a hollow centre and stands 22 metres tall.

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Olea europaeaoil on canvas, 100 x 125 cm

European Olive

Olea europaea is a very hardy, small, squat shrub or tree grow-

ing to a height of 8–15 metres, typically with a gnarled and

twisted trunk. It’s native to the coastal areas of the eastern

Mediterranean, Asia and parts of Africa, and today is cultivat-

ed in many parts of the world with a Mediterranean climate

but is also adaptable to other climatic regions.

Evergreen, its oblong, silvery-green leaves are 4–10 centi-

metres long. It produces small, sweet-smelling, white flowers.

The fruit can be harvested at the green stage or left to ripen

to a rich purple colour.

Olive trees have a history that stretches back as far as that

of western civilization. Very slow-growing, they have long

been cultivated for their fruits and their fine wood, while

their leafy branches were used to crown the long-ago victors

of games and wars and olive oil was used to anoint kings and

athletes in ancient Greece.

Olive trees are much mentioned in literature going back

through the ages. They make appearances several times in

both the Qur’an and the Bible; it was an olive branch that the

dove brought back to Noah to show him the Flood was over.

This ancient Olea europaea was growing on the east coast of

Sicily, among the derelict bunkers abandoned after the end

of World War II, causing me to reflect on whether battle-worn

soldiers sought solace and shade under its branches.

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Ficus caricaoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Common Fig

Ficus carica, the common fig, is a large, deciduous shrub

or small tree with smooth, grey bark. It’s indigenous to

southwestern Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region,

but grows in other areas of the world with a similar climate,

including South Africa.

Ficus carica grows to a height of between seven and 10

metres. Its leaves, 12–25 centimetres long, are deeply lobed.

Its fruit is 3–5 centimetres long, with a green skin; selected

cultivars ripen towards purple or brown.

The common fig, which occurs in thousands of different

cultivars, is widely grown for its edible fruit and has been an

important food crop for thousands of years – indeed, the ed-

ible fig is one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans

and predates the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes.

The fig makes frequent appearances in ancient myth and leg-

end, and in both the Qur’an and the Bible.

The fruit is delicious both fresh and dried, and makes a

fine jam.

Figs are skin allergens, and the sap of the green parts can

be particularly painful if it gets in the eyes.

The spring-time profusion of Namaqualand daisies

beneath the stubby grey branches of this old, cultivated

Ficus carica in Nieuwoudtville bears testimony to nature’s

bountiful generosity.

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Page 39: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Pistacia atlanticaoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Turpentine Tree, Mount Atlas Mastic Tree

Pistacia atlantica, the turpentine tree, typically grows up to

seven metres in height but sometimes becomes much larger.

It has a dense crown. Deciduous, and sometimes semi-

evergreen in warmer regions, its leaves remain green well

into autumn. Native to the Middle East and North Africa,

this drought-resistant tree flourishes on dry hillsides in semi-

arid and arid areas.

The inconspicuous, greeny-white flowers appear in March

and April. The pea-sized fruits begin pink in colour and ripen

to a dark blue or purple; they have a turpentine flavour. The

single seed makes an edible oil. Pale greenish-brown galls

can often be found on the leaves and produce a tannin used

to make inks and dyes.

Long-lived, the turpentine tree can survive for up to a

thousand years; it’s mentioned several times in the Scrip-

tures. In bygone times these trees were used as landmarks

and memorials for the dead.

The seeds are used in tanning and soap-making, while

the fruits, leaves, oils and, in particular, resin, are extensive-

ly used to treat a wide variety of medical complaints, from

throat problems to rheumatism.

The name ‘atlantica’ derives from the Atlas Mountains of

northwest Africa, where this tree was once very common.

This specimen, at the ancient carved city of Petra in Jordan,

is over 450 years old.

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Page 41: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Ficus sycomorusoil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Sycamore Fig, Wild Fig

Ficus sycomorus, the wild fig, is a semi-deciduous, generously

spreading, savannah tree that can grow up to 20 metres tall.

Native to Africa, it’s often found in rich soil along watercourses

and in mixed woodland.

It has smooth, greenish-yellow to orange bark with scat-

tered patches where it has peeled off. The trunk may be

gnarled and buttressed in older specimens. A lovely shade

tree, its leaves are broadly heart-shaped, dark green above

and with prominent yellowish veins below.

Flowers and fruiting occur year round, with a peak between

July and December. The tiny greenish flowers occur uniquely

in thick clusters inside the fruits, which are pollinated by

minute wasps that live symbiotically with the tree. The

round, plum-like figs are reddish-purple when ripe.

The fruit, which is popular with animals, birds and

humans, can be eaten fresh or dried, and is also used to make

an alcoholic beverage. The leaves, which are highly valued as

animal fodder, are also used in soups. The light wood is used

to make household objects (including drums) but isn’t very

durable and is prone to termite damage. The bark is used

medicinally to treat coughs, colds and throat problems, while

the milky latex is efficacious in the treatment of inflamed

areas; the leaves are said to be effective against jaundice and

the roots to have laxative properties.

The Ancient Egyptian ‘tree of life’, Ficus sycomorus has a

history stretching back at least to the third millennium BC.

This venerable Ficus sycomorus, growing on the banks of

the Niger River in Mali, just where travellers board the pont

to Djenne, must have withstood many floods, shielded many

goats from the fierce harmattan and sheltered many weary

wayfarers from the harsh sun.

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Page 43: Leigh Voigt - Trees


Ficus ingensoil on canvas, 100 x 75 cm

Red-leaved Rock Fig, Rotsbreker

Ficus ingens, the red-leaved rock fig, is a deciduous tree that

grows up to 10 metres in height, and usually has a rounded,

spreading crown. It’s a common tree of Africa, and prefers rocky

outcrops and cliff faces in bushveld, wooded grassland and

coastal regions. Extremely hardy, it can survive in areas of se-

vere frost by clinging to rock faces that retain heat from the day

and is able to withstand the ravages of scorching veld fires.

This species has smooth, grey bark that can become

cracked in older trees. In spring the young leaves emerge a

fiery copper colour, then age to a dull green with conspicuous

yellow veins. The fruit – small figs that change from white

to red or purple as they mature – appears year round but has

a summer peak. Like others in its genus, this tree depends

entirely on minute fig wasps for pollination.

The fruits are edible but not particularly palatable. The

leaves are known to be toxic to livestock. The milky latex pro-

duced within the branches and leaves is used as a disinfectant.

The best-known specimen in southern Africa is Moffat’s

Tree, an unusually large tree which, when noted by missionary

Robert Moffat in 1829, had 17 huts built in its crown to keep

the inhabitants safe from lions. That said, the specific name

‘ingens’, meaning ‘huge’ and given to the tree by Dutch botanist

Friedrich Miquel (1811–1871), is something of a mystery –

this is certainly not the largest species in the genus.

The Afrikaans ‘rotsbreker’, meaning ‘rock-splitter’, refers

to the aggressive nature of this tree’s root system, which

penetrates crevices seeking moisture and nourishment.

I like to think that all the ugly buildings in the world will

eventually be devoured by this indomitable rock-splitting fig.

It is a true survivor. And in early spring its burst of bright red

foliage declares its glory in defiance of all it has endured.

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Stand of wattlesoil on canvas, 60 x 90 cm

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Rootsoil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm

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Acknowledgments Harry for taking me to Sicily, so that I could see the venerable olive tree.

Max and Walter for coming with me to Mali where the trees are truly astonishing.

Douglas McMurtry, Shane Burns and Neil McCormick for making sure the tree facts are correct.

May Joan Chellew for agreeing to extend our journey to take in Petra, where I came upon the 450-year-old Pistacia.

Astri and John Leroy for rescuing me from being entangled in an Acacia mellifera and from getting stuck in a Richtersveld riverbed, where I found the ancient Boscia albitrunca.

John Smuts, on whose invitation I went to Matombe, where Boscia foetida and B. albitrunca abound.

Gunter Schlosser, who, as always, thinks I can do more than I actually can, and therefore, I can.

Gina Mollé and Jacques Michau, and the staff at the Everard Read Gallery, for doing more than is expected of them.

Ann Pretorius of the William Humphreys Gallery in Kimberley.

Gavin Smitsdorp, architect and curator of the White River Art Gallery.

Hennie Liebenberg who, without a moment’s hesitation, transported a seven-ton flamboyant stump up a bad dirt road for me to play with.

David Jeppe, who gave me courage to handle an angle-grinder and with whom I spent many happy hours chipping away at the flamboyant stump.

Navarre de Villiers, whose poetry inspired me.

Tracey Hawthorne and Kevin Shenton into whose sure hands this catalogue was entrusted.

Mark Read for just saying yes to everything.

This exhibition catalogue was published in conjunction with the exhibition

Trees, The Recollections of a Dendogenealogist

at the

White River Art Gallery, Mpumalanga 27 February – 25 March 2010

William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley11–30 March 2010

Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg 29 April – 23 May 2010

Published in 2010 by Everard Read Gallery (Pty) Ltd

6 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg

Copyright © Everard Read Gallery (Pty) Ltd Copyright © Photographs, John Hodgkiss

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means,

without prior permission from the publishers.

isbn 978-0-620-46263-1

Designed by Kevin Shenton Printed by Ultra-Litho (Pty) Limited, Johannesburg

front cover: Cassia abbreviata oil on canvas, 100 x 125 cm detail

front cover flap: Acacia mellifera oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm detail

back cover flap: Pistacia atlantica oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm detail

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Leigh Voigt




he Recollections of a D


Leigh Voigt