Bloodwood Tree – the Southern African Tree That Bleeds Like Humans

The Bloodwood Tree scientifically known as Pterocarpus angolensis and locally known as Kiaat, Mukwa, and Muninga is a kind of hardwood tree native to southern Africa that releases a deep red sap which looks very similar to blood, when cut or damaged.

Bloodwood Tree – The Southern African Tree that Bleeds Like Humans
Pterocarpus angolensis. © WWF / John Kabubu

The Bloodwood tree grows 12 to 18 meters tall, has dark-brown rough bark, a beautiful umbrella-shaped spreading crown, bears yellow flowers and releases a blood red sap when cut or damaged.

According to Gizmodo, a complex chemical substance known as Tannins is what’s responsible for the dark red color of the sap.

The tannin compounds are widely distributed in many species of plants, where they play a role in protection from predation and might help in regulating plant growth. Regular plants have parts – leaves, skins, sap – that are about 12-20% tannins. Bloodwood has sap that is 77% tannins.

Bloodwood Tree – The Southern African Tree that Bleeds Like Humans
The Bloodwood tree It is a protected tree in South Africa. Image ©

The bitterness/acidity from tannin rich foods is what causes the dry and very sour feeling in the mouth following the consumption of unripened fruit, or red wine.

This same bitterness contained in tannins is what prevents forest animals from biting into the bloodwood tree.

When an animal bites into the it, the tannins are released. Not only are they supposed to taste bad to animals, their ability to bind with or precipitate nutrients like proteins reduces the animal’s ability to digest its food. Simply put, Tannins form part of the bloodwood tree defense mechanism.

Bloodwood Tree of southern Africa
Image credit:

The bloodwood can be easily carved, it also glues and screws well and takes a fine polish. The wood is also resistant to borer and termite, does not swell or shrink and has a pleasing spicy fragrance. This aforementioned qualities, together with its durability, makes it suitable for boat building, furnitures and bathroom floors.

Pterocarpus angolensis
Image credit:

This wood also produces a rich, resonant sound and can be made into many different musical instruments. In Zimbabwe, the mbira or African thumb piano is traditionally made from the bloodwood tree.

Bloodwood Tree – The Southern African Tree that Bleeds Like Humans
The mbira or African thumb piano is traditionally made from the bloodwood tree. Image credit: Alex Weeks at English Wikipedia

The blood colored sap and the wood generally is valued for several medicinal uses. It has been recorded to treat ringworm, eye problems, blackwater fever, stabbing pains, malaria, and to increase the supply of breast milk.

The red sap is also used traditionally as a dye and in some areas mixed with animal fat to make traditional/medicinal body creams. It is also believed to have magical healing properties for the curing of problems concerning blood. Because of its great value – medicinal and monetary – to the people of southern Africa, these bloodwood trees are being harvested at an unsustainable rate domestically for construction and for export as sawn timber to supply markets in Asia. This has led to its decline in recent decades and to it been named a named a protected tree in Southern Africa.

Southern African bloodwood Tree
The purpose of the sap is to coagulate and seal the inflicted cut to promote healing.
A bloodwood tree
A bloodwood tree “bleeding” sap. Image © Wikipedia
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Fascinating Cultures and history of peoples of African origin in both Africa and the African diaspora


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