Firewood from Red Bushwillows is excellent

In Southern Africa, there are fourteen species of Bushwillows, which belong to the Combretum family. Other trees of the same Combretum family are Clusterleaf species, but also Leadwood and some others. Interestingly enough, not all Combretum species are suitable for firewood, but some of them are excellent for that use.

The wood hardness of Combretum family members

Although belonging to the same plant family as Combretum, Leadwood is the second hardest wood in Southern Africa. It is highly sought after for firewood, and it is not allowed to be cut down without a special permit. All Bushwillow species got very hard and suitable wood for fires. On the other hand, all Clusterleafs are softwood species, which every self-respected bush cook will not even give a second look to use for cooking.

Difference between Red- and Russet Bushwillows

Many Bushwillow species have overlapping distribution ranges and two of them are most common within these ranges. These are the Red Bushwillow (Combretum apiculatum) and the Russet Bushwillow (Combretum hereroense). The general appearance and fruits of both species are similar. Red Bushwillow is characterized by leaves, which have a pointed apex and are curved backward. and its wood has reddish-colored core wood. Russet Bushwillow leaves have a rounded apex and are flat stretched. Here you can find some more information about Red Bushwillows.

The best firewood is ‘Dead, Dry and Fallen’

Firewood in Boreal forest biomes should be ‘Dead, Dry and Standing’. But savanna biomes have got their own arithmetics. Because when a tree dies, it will in most cases not long be dry and standing. Firstly, termites will ‘sheet’ the outside of their food (wood). Secondly, very soon this dead, dry, and standing tree will fall to the ground. Which is very good for turning him into firewood. Because, when laying on the ground, this tree becomes food for a variety of organisms. Furthermore, humidity will speed up decay. In addition, fungi, woodborer beetles, and still more termite colonies will eat up all soft and digestible parts of the wood

From an e.g.: Silver Clusterleaf (Terminalia sericea) at the end of this decaying process, nothing will be left. From a Red Bushwillow, on the other hand, there will be large portions left. They were too hard for fungi, wood borers, and termites to make a dent – and this is superb firewood.

How to collect firewood

Just walk the Bushveld and collect these remaining, not eaten up, parts of wood. And shake out sand and remaining termite sheeting. Please be very careful not to touch arachnidan (scorpions or spiders) underneath. It is most important to give every piece of hardwood on the ground a good kick with the foot before touching it. When handling this wood, every piece should be visually inspected immediately. Just to make sure no harmful critters are hiding in the nooks and crannies.

Personal experience when collecting firewood

Once, a friend of mine collected firewood next to me and was very excited that a small snake was hiding inside one of his firewood pieces. It was difficult to get this small snake out of there and we took a stick and squeezed her out somehow. And both we didn’t know which species it was and took a photo. Then later, when we were back at camp, our mentor was a bit shocked, as it was a highly poisonous species.

Quality of Red Bushwillow as firewood

It also has to be recorded, that Red Bushwillow firewood starts burning very well. It does not generate sparks, burns slowly and very hot, and turns into coals with nearly no ashes. A log about 1 m x 20 cm will burn the whole night and in the morning the coal in the ashes can still be used for starting a new fire.

Lessons learned about Red Bushwillow as firewood

  • Not all Combretum species are suitable for firewood
  • Red Bushwillow is an excellent one
  • Firewood should be collected on the ground
  • It should have been eaten up by termites, with only hardwood remaining
  • When collecting firewood special care has to be taken against critters

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