There are nine Boscia tree species in South Africa. They are commonly known as shepherd’s trees and in Afrikaans as witgat (white hole). The photo is from the north of Limpopo in the valley between the mountains and the Limpopo River. Two shepherd’s tree species occur there, viz. Boscia albitrunca and B. foetida, the stinkwitgat (stink white hole). The one in the photo could be either, the photo not smelly.
B. albitrunca is common, but not found in large numbers, as churches are common among houses in a town. An old witgat’s trunk appears oversized for its crown. The smooth bark whitish to yellow-white gives a clue to the origin of the Afrikaans name.
The English name is also obvious: This is where the shepherd would sit; a dense crown for good shade and unimpaired view for surveying his herd. Why no low branches? Stock and game browse the palatable young twigs and leaves, pruning the tree to a decent height as a spot for leisure.
Long ago the not so busy shepherd would dig up some of the tree’s roots. Then pounded them, boiled water and made coffee of the witgat roots. And the gat (hole) part of the name? In Namaqualand coffee is still sometimes called gat. Surely a more socially acceptable explanation for the witgat name than white arse.
What remains of the pounded roots after coffee would go into the maize meal from the knapsack for garnishing the porridge. Some of the smaller roots would be eaten raw as a vegetable. That was long ago.
And don’t burn shepherd’s tree branches! Cows that ingest those ashes will have male calves only. But don’t worry, such cows have all become biltong long ago (Erasmus, 2016; Coates Palgrave, 2002).