Arbor Week
01-Aug-2008 2:11 PM  

Trees of the Year 2002


Common Tree: Cheesewood

National Tree Number:
Botanical name: Pittosporum viridiflorum
Other names: Kasuur (Afrikaans), umVusamvu (Zulu)

It varies in size from a shrub of about 4m in height to a large forest tree of up to 30m. 1)

The bark is pale brown to greyish with distinctive white dots (lenticels). The leaves are usually wider above the middle, dark green and glossy. Flowers are small, greenish-white and sweetly fragant and are produced in early summer (November to December). They are followed by small, yellow-brown fruit capsules. This plant is very showy when the capsules split open to release numerous small, shiny, orange-red fruit, which are covered in a sticky, resinous exudate. The fruit is edible.



Cheesewood [click for larger view]
(photograph: NBI)
   Red Current - flower      Red Current - fruit      Cheesewood - fruit
  (photograph:      (photograph: NBI)      (photograph: NBI)

The name is derived from "Pitta" = pitch and "sporum" = seed (referring to the sticky seeds); and viridiflorum = with green flowers.

Many birds, including the red-eyed dove and several starlings eat the seeds. Goats and game (Kudu, Nyala, and Bushbuck) browse the leaves. The stem bark, which has a bitter taste and strong resinous or liquorice smell, is used medicinally. Decoctions or infusions are widely used to treat stomach complaints, abdominal pain and fever. It is said to ease pain and have a calming effect. Dried, powdered root or bark is sometimes added to beer as an aphrodisiac.

The wood is reportedly little used - being soft and white, which may account for the common name - cheesewood. However, Venter & Venter (1996) state that it is used for kitchen furniture and shelving.1)

It is widely distributed in the eastern half of South Africa, occuring from the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, Free State and up into tropical Africa.

Cheesewood propagates easily from seed. Unparasitised seed has a germination percentage of 80-90%. Seeds germinate in 8-12 weeks Plants may also be propagated by means of softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings.



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