Arbor Week
22-May-2009 12:32 PM  
2008 Home
Trees of the Year
Useful Facts


Common Tree: Wild Plum

National Tree Number: 361
Botanical name: Harpephyllum caffrum
Other names: wildepruim (Afr.); umGwenya (Zulu, Xhosa); Mothekele (Northern Sotho)

This is an attractive evergreen tree that is useful as an ornamental garden tree and for attracting birds and butterflies into the garden. It is popularly planted as a street tree in a number of South African towns and cities. With its thick crown and somewhat drooping leaves, the wild plum is a good shade tree in the garden.

The wild plum is a large, evergreen tree that grows up to 15 m tall, and is usually found in riverine forests. The main stem is clean and straight, but the forest form often has supporting buttress roots.

Harpephyllum caffrum
Photograph: NBI

The bark is smooth when young, becoming rough, dark grey-brown as it grows older. Branches are curved bowed upwards, with leaves crowded towards the ends, forming a thick crown at the top of the tree. The shiny dark green and glossy leaves are pinnate with sickle-shaped leaflets, and are sometimes interspersed with the odd red leaves. The whitish green flowers are borne near the ends of the branches with male and female flowers on separate trees, throughout summer (November to February). The tasty plum-like fruits first appear green and then turn red when they ripen in autumn; they contain a single seed and are enjoyed by people, mammals and birds.

The wild plum may be confused with the Cape ash (Ekebergia capensis) but is distinguishable by its sickle-shaped leaflets and the leaves that are crowded towards the end of the branches.

flower  leaves  fruit

They are commonly used for making jams and jellies. With their sour taste, they are also good to make rosé wine. The tree has some potential as a commercial crop, but a preliminary trial planting in the Negev Desert in Israel was reported as disappointing.

The bark is a popular traditional medicine. It is used to treat acne and eczema, and is usually applied in the form of facial saunas and skin washes. It is used by people with 'bad blood' that results in pimples on the face. Powdered burnt bark is used to treat sprains and bone fractures. Bark is also used for dyeing, and it gives a mauve or pink colour. In some parts of Eastern Cape, root decoctions are traditionally taken for paralysis thought to have been contracted from walking over an area that has been poisoned or polluted through sorcery.

The wood of the H. caffrum is pale reddish and fairly heavy. It polishes well but is not very durable. It has been used as a general purpose timber, for furniture and beams. It is also used for carving curios.

Larvae of the common hairtail butterfly (Anthene definite) and the Eggar moth (Lasiocampa kollikerii) feed on leaves of this tree. Many animals including bushbabies, monkeys, baboons and bushbuck love the fruit of the wild plum. Birds such as Cape parrots, mousebirds, barbets, bulbuls, louries and African green pigeons and other fruit-eating birds feed on the fruits of this tree.

Grows from the Eastern Cape northwards through KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, southern Mozambique, Limpopo and into Zimbabwe. This is a popular tree in frost-free areas.


Rare Tree: Bladder Nut Tree

National Tree Number: 611
Botanical name: Diospyros whyteana
Other names: Blackbark, Swartbas, Mohlatsane (N Sotho), Munyavhili (Venda), umTenatane (Xhosa), uManzimane or umKahze (Zulu).

The bladdernut is an evergreen shrub or small multi-stemmed tree with a straight trunk that branches low down to form a dense, round to pyramidal crown.

The bark on young branches is yellow-green to pinkish, covered by fine coppery hairs; but smooth and blackish grey on older stems and branches. The shiny leaves, also with a fringe of ginger hairs, are leathery, dark green above and lighter below. An occasional bright red or orange leaf occurs adding to the overall attractiveness of this plant.

Photograph: NBI

Scented flowers, hanging from hairy stalks, appear in spring. They are bell-shaped, white to creamy yellow and male and female flowers occur on different trees. The fruits, borne throughout summer, are fleshy berries that turn scarlet when ripe. They are enclosed in inflated, bladder-like capsules that dry to red and remain on the tree for many months after the fruit has fallen and so may be found on the trees at almost any time of the year.



flower  fruit  leaves
The leaves are browsed by stock and game. Birds (Rameron pigeon, African green pigeon, loeries, barbets and bulbuls) open the papery fruit covering as soon as it starts to turn red to get at the ripe, fleshy berries inside. The fruits are edible but are somewhat bitter and so not very tasty. The roasted seeds have been used as a coffee substitute. The wood is variable in colour, mainly whitish with brown to purple stripes, dense, evenly grained, strong and suitable for furniture, but large logs are often not available. Smaller diameter stems are used for implement handles. Bark extracts are administered as enemas for treating menstrual pain, impotency and infertility. A leaf and root infusion can be used to treat rashes.

It occurs in forest, on mountain slopes and in rocky places. It has a wide distribution occurring in all the provinces in South Africa and stretching as far north as Ethiopia.

Rare Tree: Bell Bean Tree

National Tree Number: 677
Botanical name: Markhamia zanzibarica
Other names: klokkiesboontjieboom (Afr.); Mula-kholoma (Venda).

It is a small, upright tree with slender, crooked branches and a soft green crown. It grows about 3.5 m tall but can reach up to 7 or 8 m. Its bark is grey-brown, smooth and glossy when young and flaky in older trees. The young branches have conspicuous lenticels (raised pores on the surface of the bark).

The leaves are opposite, compound and imparipinnate, which means it has leaflets on either side of the stalk and ends in a terminal leaflet. It has 2–4 pairs of leaflets, the lowermost pair is the smallest and each pair increases in size towards the terminal leaflet. There may be fine yellowish hairs on both surfaces of the leaf, but the upper surface will lose these hairs by maturity. The leaf margins are entire or finely toothed. The petiolules are almost absent and the petiole is 40–90 mm long.

The striking flowers are yellow with maroon flecks, bell-shaped, 2–3 mm long, with spreading lobes. They appear on the old wood, in racemes, during spring to summer (from September to January).

Photograph: NBI

The fruits are slender, bean-like capsules, 300–500 mm long and spirally twisted, and dangle from the tree in late summer (January to May). Dark brown when mature, they split open lengthwise to release many flat, winged seeds.


flower  fruit  leaves
The wood is fairly hard and durable, pale brown to yellowish, finely grained and produces a smooth finish. It is used in buildings for roof timbers and to make tool handles. It is well suited for the manufacture of ornaments. Branches are usually too small to be of value. The roots are used in traditional medicine to treat backache.The flowers are visited by ants. The leaves are eaten by elephants.

It occurs at medium to low altitude from Tanzania and Malawi, south to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, and westward to Botswana, Namibia and the Caprivi Strip. It is found in bushveld, in riverine fringes, and often on rocky ridges and on hill slopes. It is commonly found growing among rocks on the dry northern slopes of the Soutpansberg.
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