'Sausage' growing on a tree in Chicago

January 20, 2010 1:44:00 PM PST
What do apples, oranges, bananas, cherries, and many other fruit have in common? They all grow on trees.

Now, you can add another item to that list: sausage from a tree in Africa.

The Lincoln Park Conservatory is a visit to the tropics in the middle of Chicago winter. The temperature is high, and so is the humidity. And if you look closely, there is a vast menu of delicious foods and flavors growing and blooming all around.

It's not that you can eat any of this stuff; you can't. But it sure is tempting, especially when you come across the African Tree Sausage. The tree is seven years old, and the 'tree sausage,' or fruit, is relatively new.

"This is the second year it has fruited. Actually, it fruited for the first time last year, and when you come to see it, you'll be able to tell that last year's fruit are lower on the tree. And they're much bigger than the second year fruit," said Mary Eysenback, director of the Chicago Park Dist. Conservatories.

The tree sausage is actually a berry, a very big berry. Inside, if we could cut it open, we'd find pulp and lots of seeds that some animals like but humans avoid.

The African Tree Sausage fruit grows up to two feet long and weighs about 20 lbs. Unfortunately, you can't eat it. But that doesn't mean they are not beneficial; these things are a supermarket of useful uses.

"The African people harvest it. They dry it, they roast it, and they ferment it, actually," said Eysenback. "One of the uses of the fruit is a beer.."

Sausage and beer! Now we're talking. But that's just one minor use for the fruit. It's also a full-service pharmacy.

"It treats rheumatism. It treats ulcers. It treats syphilis," said Eysenback. "The Africans use it because it has an anti-bacterial property."

The African Tree Sausages are just hanging around waiting to tell you their story.