The Camel Thorn tree is without question the best known of the trees or plants in the Kalahari desert. Depending on growth conditions the camel thorn tree can become an immense tree of up to 10 metres high, or less commonly, a smaller, multi-stemmed shrub. Strange as it may seem, the "Camel" that the name suggests, is not the Dromedary camel, which do occur in the Kalahari but which is an imported animal, and bred in captivity. The name "Camel thorn" actually refers to the love of Giraffe's latin name Camelopardus or Afrikaans "Kameelperd" meaning "Camel-horse", as can be seen from the old botanical name of the tree, Acacia giraffae.
The Camel Thorn tree has a very hard and dense wood, but not so hard or so dense as leadwood or Lignum vitae. It is used for many purposes, and is the preferred fire wood for a "braai" or "braaivleis", which is the Afrikaans word for a barbeque. In the Kalahari, at least in South Africa, these plants in the Kalahari desert has been a protected species under the Forestry act, for the past two years, so please do not break off branches or twigs, or even, like in the old days, pull over a large half-dead tree. It is only sale of the wood that is forbidden unless you have a permit.
Although this may serve the purpose of protecting the Camel Thorn tree amongst the plants in the Kalahari desert, this has displaced the burden of supplying fire-wood, to other trees and/or and plants in the Kalahari desert. At best, invader species like the Rhigosum or the Alien Prosopis or "Mesquite" from the Cowboy books, is used as an alternative firewood, but where these invaders have been eradicated, other local species of plants in the Kalahari desert, such as the Shepherd Tree now carries the brunt. This has happened recently around Askham, where Prosopis trees was eradicated by Working for Water, an initiative of the Department of Water Affairs to eradicate water-greedy exotics plants in the Kalahari desert, from water courses.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Camel Thorn tree, is its seeds which forms a large crescent (or "half-moon"), up to 4 or 5 inches from end to end, and covered by a fine grey down, almost like that of a camel. These pods, of which a mature tree (80 years plus) can produce 500 kg in a season, contains a fine nutritious powdery inside, that surrounds a number of hard and shiny seeds. In severe drought periods, these seeds makes up a major part of the survival rations of most Kalahari animals and are a very important survival food amongst the plants of the Kalahari. The hard shiny seeds can be ground up and produce a drink not dissimilar to coffee.