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Top 5 Indigenous Christmas trees

Most folk choose a Podocarpus ( Yellowwood) as an indigenous Christmas tree but here are some other indigenous trees that are a good substitute for a traditional Christmas tree.

Senegalia nigrescens ( Acacia nigrescens )

(Knob-thorn)

This deciduous, medium sized tree usually grows in single-species stands. They are slow growers and reach a height of 8-20m. The very strong hooked thorns are retained on old growth, eventually growing into large spiny knobs. This is an aid to identifying the trees when they are leafless. The bark is distinctive, dark brown, rough and deeply fissured. The creamy white flower spikes are at first rusty-pink, but white when fully open. Its flowering time is in spring and the sweetly scented flowers occur before the leaves and in profusion. Honeybees are fond of the nectar and it produces a good honey. The flowers are eaten by giraffe, baboons and monkeys and the leaves and pods are eaten by elephant, giraffe, kudu, duiker, impala and steenbok. The oblong pod is very dark brown. The leaves are round and much bigger than other Acacias. The leaves are also cooked as a pot herb or spinach. Elephant also eat the inner bark which has healing properties to fight tooth decay. The knobs are ground and used as a painkiller and to treat eye infections. There is a belief that if it is applied to young girls they will develop large breasts. 40 % of a girafffe's diet consists of the leaves and it is thought that they pollinate the flowers. It should be planted in full sun. It is frost hardy and survives moderate drought. It is an ideal plant for bonsai. This is a host plant for the Demon Emperor butterfly and the Dusky Charaxes. It is also the host plant of the Cream Striped Owl Moth which have distinctive eye-spots on the wings. Birds like Woodpeckers, Barbets, Scops Owl and Squirrels utilise it for nesting in holes. White backed vultures nest in those trees that are close to rivers. The wood is hard, heavy and difficult to work, but it is used for furniture, flooring, railway sleepers and mine props. It's useful for fencing poles as it is termite resistant, and is used for fighting sticks and long burning fuel. The inner bark is used to make twine while the outer bark is used for tanning leather.They are shallow rooted and elephant often knock the trees down, so don't camp near these trees. It is used magically as poles are planted in the ground to stop lightening striking the village. In Botswana a tree with a girth of 43 cm was carbon dated and aged at 313 years.That's 100 years before the French Revolution! The name is derived from the Greek word akis meaning a point or spike referring to the thorns and the Latin word 'nigrescans' meaning 'becoming black' which refers to the seed pods that blacken with age. Mistletoe is often seen growing on these trees.

Faidherbia albida ( Acacia albida)

(Ana Boom)

This is one of the fastest growing indigenous trees and is also one of our protected trees. It is deciduous and can grow up to 30 m tall. The young stems are greenish, grey colour. The straight, whitish thorns, grow in pairs, are up to 40 mm long. The scented, pale cream-coloured flowers are a spike shape. They open from March to September, followed by fruit from September to December. The fruit is orange to red-brown in colour and curved into a twisted pod. It is called the 'Apple-ring-thorn-tree' because of the shape of the seed pods. The seeds are mostly eaten by Brown Playboy butterfly larvae. The pods are browsed as they are high in protein and carbohydrate.They are dried and ground into edible flour. The leaves are browsed by elephant, giraffe, kudu, nyala, impala and domestic animals. The seeds are boiled and eaten.The Ana tree can also be used medicinally as a decoction of the bark is used to treat diarrhea, bleeding and inflamed eyes.The roots are used as a love charm emetic and the leaves are eaten for abdominal disorders. This relatively drought-resistant tree makes an interesting specimen if planted in a park. It has aggressive roots, so plant it 7 meters from a building or a garden wall. It can survive occasional frost (up to 5 days per year). It is used as a thorny security barrier and it also good for containers. The bark strips are used as dental floss, medicine and fish poison. It attracts insect eating birds and butterflies. The wood is used for fuel. They are used in eroded areas to stabilize the soil. This is another of our protected trees in South Africa. named for Louis Leon Cesar Faidherbe (1818-1889) the French General and Governor of Senegal. He was decorated with the Grand Cross. In Egypt he studies monuments and inscriptions. He was a geographer and an archaeologist who wrote extensively.

Carissa macrocarpa

(Large Num-Num)

This small evergreen tree grows to about 4 meters and is water wise. It flourishes in the sun or semi-shade. Fragrant white flowers occur from spring to mid-summer and they attract insects, butterflies and insect eating birds. It is also used for nesting sites. This shrub is useful for formal pruned hedging, informal hedging/screening or thorny security barriers. It is suitable for containers and coastal gardens as it tolerates wind and salt spray. It is a low maintenance plant. The fruit is highly nutritious as it is rich in vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. It is eaten raw or cooked to produce a jam, chopped into salads, jelly or bredies. They produce pink dye. Macrocarpa means 'large fruit'. The root is used medicinally for coughs, a tonic or for VD. I stick is used in a hut to repel snakes and they are planted near the homestead for protection. In West Africa the roots are used to flavour stews and a piece of root and leaf is placed in water containers to keep it fresh. On the Highveld do plant it in a protected spot as they are frost tender when young.

Ehretia rigida

(Puzzle Bush)

This deciduous tree/shrub is frost resistant, drought resistant and fast growing in the sun or semi-shade. It is usually multi-stemmed with tangled branches which give rise to its common name. It produces masses of fragrant, lilac flowers in spring. They attract bees, flies, beetles, wasps and butterflies. These are followed by edible orange berries which ripen to black and they attract birds – insect and fruit eaters like Crested francolin, Guinea fowl, Hornbill, Barbets, Bulbuls and Starlings as well as humans and wild animals. It makes a wonderful nesting site for birds and is browsed by game. It is useful for formal pruned hedging, informal hedging/screening or thorny security barriers. The branches are used for bows and fishing baskets as they are flexible. It has medicinal properties to treat cuts, relieve pain and gall sickness in cattle. The magical uses are a good luck charm on hunting expeditions, rain making ceremonies and protection for huts and crops from hail damage. The Afrikaans common name of “deurmekaarbos” is very descriptive. The wood is hard and is used for stampers. Named for George Ehret (1708-1770) a German botanical artist. His unique style and clarity of illustration drew the attention of people like Sir Joseph Banks. Over 3000 of his illustration survive in private collections and Natural History Museums.

Olea europaea subsp. africana

(Wild Olive)

One of the oldest cultivated trees and is the symbol of peace as When Noah sent a dove from his Ark, it returned with an Olive leaf. In ancient Rome an olive branch was held to plead for peace and in ancient Greece, Irene, the Goddess of peace loved olives. The tree represents abundance and drives away evil spirits. This medium sized, evergreen tree is frost resistant, drought resistant and grows in the sun. It is neatly shaped and has a dense spreading crown. The white/green flowers open in summer and they attract bees and butterflies. The flowers are replaced with edible, purple berries which attract birds - insect and fruit eaters like starlings, pigeons, parrots and louries. They are also enjoyed by people, monkeys, baboons, mongooses, bushpigs, and warthogs. The fruit is also used to produce black dye. It's useful for nesting sites. The leaves are browsed by game and stock and is a fodder tree for mammals. It is useful as a formal, pruned hedge or an informal hedge/screen. Very popular as a bonsai subject. They sometimes have aggressive roots so plant 4 meters from a building or a pool. It is protected in the North West Province, the Cape and the Free State. There are numerous medicinal uses for eye lotions, tonics for high blood pressure, kidney ailments and sore throats. Wild Olive tonic is available commercially and is used to treat colds and to build the immune system. It is believed that inhaling the smoke from a Wild Olive fire will cure a hangover. Magical uses are to protect against lightening, by putting a branch in an open doorway. The beautiful golden brown wood is used for furniture, ornaments and fencing posts. As the wood is strong and durable, it is used for walking sticks, knobkieries and spear handles. It grows along rivers and is useful to stabilize the soil. A must for a bird garden! This is a popular bonsai subject. The name is derived from the Greek elaia and the latin olea = classical latin name for the olive.

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