If you have ever walked through the Camana Bay Cinema car park and noticed the rows of strangely shaped chandelier-like flowers on the trees, you might have wondered what they were. These flowers, which grow on panicles attached to long, flexible stems, belong to the sausage tree, or Kigelia africana.
Africana is the only species in the genus Kigelia and as the name implies, it is native to tropical Africa. Elsewhere in the tropics, it is widely used as an ornamental for its funky flowers and even funkier fruit.
The fruit develops on the stem and is truly representative of a woody sausage. It can reach two feet in length and weigh up to an astounding 15 pounds. When opened, it has a fine fibrous pulp loaded with seeds.
A number of mammals, including monkeys, baboons, porcupines, hippopotami, giraffes, elephants and bush pigs enjoy eating sausage tree fruits. However, the fresh fruit is poisonous to humans and it, along with the seeds, needs to be dried, roasted or fermented before consumption.
Sausage tree fruit is used for skincare products and as a timber for building materials and canoe oars, and can be hollowed out as a container as well.
In its native habitat, the sausage tree can reach heights of 65 feet and have a canopy spread of 20 feet.
In regions where rain is plentiful, this tree will remain evergreen throughout the year, likely shedding and gaining only one set of leaves annually. In other seasonal climates, the tree will remain deciduous through the dry season to decrease water uptake and transpiration.
The most interesting fact about the K. africana at Camana Bay is that here on Grand Cayman, we do not have its main pollinators — a certain species of bat and carpenter bees. This means that the trees in Cayman do not produce fruit unless they are intentionally pollinated by a human or perhaps by a brushing of vehicle doors in the car park on multiple flowers. This makes the sausage tree an excellent choice for the cinema car park because it offers interesting flowers, but little or no fruit to drop on visitors or vehicles.