Mopane leaves are about all one sees for long stretches of road in the Kruger National Park from around the Olifants River northwards. Beyond the South African border the tree is very common as far as Angola, Zambia and Malawi.
Colophospermum mopane is bifoliolate (two leaflets comprise the compound leaf). These two leaflets connect to each other without leaflet stalks, petiolules, although the entire leaf hangs from a stalk, a petiole of 2 cm to 4 cm in length. There is a tiny vestige of a terminal, middle leaflet that doesn't develop between the two lung-shaped green leaflets. Leaves grow alternately on the stems.
The leaflet tips taper, slightly rounded or pointed. The leaflet base, where the two connect, is strongly asymmetric: a large lobe occurs on the "shoulder", the outside of each leaflet, compared to straight margins between them. The leaflet margins are entire. Whitish veins radiate from the leaflet base across its surface, translucent against the light, as is the net-veining.
Mopane being deciduous, the leaves start off in spring with a soft texture and a pinkish buff colour. During summer the mopane turns the scenery in its habitat very green. While the leafy fodder is nutritious for browsers, it is probably not great in palatability, for it is commonly eaten in dry seasons when other options decrease and the ubiquitous mopane stays plentiful.
There is also a mopane eating caterpillar of a large brown moth, Gonimbrasia belina, common to mopane veld. But eaters may be edible! These protein rich mopane worms are collected by the local people, roasted and eaten or dried and stored for the winter months as an important part of the diet of some of the local population.
By autumn the next colour changes appear on the mopane leaves: firstly yellow, later brown before they all fall.
Another common name for C. mopane, viz. turpentine tree, stemmed from the smell exuded by the crushed leaves (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Schmidt, et al, 2002; www.plantzafrica.com).