Colophospermum mopane (Mopane) is a native to South Africa and is a deciduous tree that grows from 10 to 20 ft in height. It can have a lifespan of up to 100 years and its distinctive butterfly-shaped leaves are a signature symbol in many parts of South Africa. It needs full sun to thrive and it enjoys moderate water. Mopane is also fragrant and produces round, hard, reddish-brown seeds that are attractive to wildlife. Crushed leaves have a turpentine odor.
Mopane can grow in USDA Zones 9-11 and a mature plant can be cold hardy to the low 30s Fahrenheit for short periods of time. In colder regions, it should be grown in a pot and brought inside during the winter months. To ensure it continues to grow properly, plant it in a soil that is rich in organic matter, such as peat, compost, or manure. It is also important to water regularly and to fertilize during the growing season with a balanced, granular fertilizer. Mopane is sensitive to certain pesticides, so it is best to use organic methods of pest control, such as companion planting or hand-picking, to keep pests away.
By taking proper care of this truly unique plant, it can live for many years and, for many, be an iconic symbol of South Africa.
In its native habitat the leaves are fed on by swarms of fat, dark greyish mopane worms, which can reach almost 10 cm long. These are rich in protein and are eaten by people, either roasted or dried. The sale of dried mopane worms is an important income source for many people, creating a local economy. Other traditional uses of the mopane tree include the making of houses and kraal fences, twigs chewed as tooth brushes, the bark is used to make twine and for tanning, and the leaves used for healing wounds.