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Top 5 indigenous, deciduous frost hardy trees

Deciduous trees add interest in the garden. There is the joy of autumn foliage and the bright new leaves in spring. These 5 trees are frost hardy and will survive in a Highveld garden.

Vachellia karroo (Acacia karroo)

(Sweet Thorn)

Previously known as Acacia karroo. This very popular deciduous tree is frost resistant, water wise and fast growing in the sun or semi-shade. The bright yellow flowers occur in spring and they are honey scented which attracts insects and they attract insect eating birds. It is favoured by honey farmers. It is also a popular tree for nesting sites. The leaves are eaten by mammals, bush babies, rhino, giraffe, eland, kudu, sable, gemsbok, impala, springbok, nyala, and monkeys. I once watched vervet monkeys carefully picking the top 4 leaves off of the branches which could be a prickly affair. They also eat the flowers. The Xhosa use the leaves to feed their goats. This is a useful tree for thorny, security barriers but do remember that it does have aggressive roots so allow 7 meters from a building or a pool. There are a host of medicinal properties using all parts of the tree. The roots are used for infant colic. The gum is used to draw abscesses, splinters and to treat thrush and is also eaten by people, bushbabies and monkeys. It was once exported as Cape Gum. It was also used as glue. Ground bark is used for stomach ache and ailments as a result of sorcery. The thorns are used for heart pains and magical purposes. Crushed roots are mixed with food to treat infant colic. The roots are used to treat body pains, dizziness, convulsions and VD, It is also used as an aphrodisiac. Parts of the tree are also used to kill parasites in fowl runs. The bark is used to tan leather red and it makes strong twine. It makes excellent firewood. The seeds are a coffee substitute. The wood is hard and is used for building, furniture and fuel. Simon van der Stel wrote of the Sweet Thorns in Namaqualand 'These trees are never found except where surface or underground streams run. ' It indicates fertile soil and good grazing. It is useful in a garden as the roots fix nitrogen in the soil. It is the larval host for many butterflies like the Common Hairtail, Black-striped Hairtail, Otacilia Hairtail, Talbot's Hairtail, Black Heart Common Scarlet, Natal-spotted Blue, Thorn - tree Blue, Topaz-spotted Blue, Silver-spotted Grey and the Burnished Opal. This is a popular bonsai subject. Named for Rev George Harvey Vachel (1798-1839) a British priest and plant collector. He was chaplain to the British East India company in China where he collected plants.

Combretum erythrophyllum

(River Bushwillow)

This is a medium to large deciduous tree with reddish autumn colours. Flowers are cream to pale yellow and open in September to November. The fruit are small, 4-winged and a greenish brown colour, ripening to yellowish brown and drying to a honey-brown. The fruit is poisonous and results in hiccups. A popular shade tree, surprisingly drought and frost resistant and fast growing, reaching 4-6 m in three years. The gum has interesting antibiotic properties and is applied to sores. It is non-toxic, elastic, producing a non-cracking varnish. Ornaments, cattle troughs and grain mortars are made from the wood, which is yellow, tough and easily worked. It is also used as fire wood. A dark, rich brown dye is extracted from the roots which is used when tanning hides. The dried fruits also work well in flower arrangements and are eaten by pied barbets. It has non-aggressive roots and attracts birds. It is the larval host plant for several butterflies like Liordes Hairtail, Red -tab Policeman, Two-pip Policeman and the Orange-barred Playboy. I just love these charming butterfly names! It is an ideal tree for wetlands as well as game farms as it is browsed by Kudu, Bushbuck, Eland, Giraffe and Elephant. It is often used as a street tree, in large gardens and along rivers. There are many medicinal uses. Root bark and stem bark are used to treat a cough, infertility, leprosy and VD. The bark is taken during labour to ease childbirth, to treat infertility and as an aphrodisiac. The leaves are used for coughs and abdominal pains.The roots, which some regard as poisonous are used as a purgative, to treat venereal diseases and as a prophylactic for V.D. The roots are fed to dogs by the Zulu to fatten them up.

Kiggelaria africana

(Wild Peach)

This medium sized, well shaped and reasonably robust tree has smooth pale grey bark that becomes rough with age. It is found from the Cape Peninsula to Tanzania. The variable leaves of this evergreen tree may resemble those of the peach. The tiny, bell-shaped flowers which bloom from spring to summer, are yellow-green, with male and female flowers on separate trees. The hard, round, knobbly, greenish yellow capsule which forms in late summer to mid-winter splits to expose shiny black seeds, enclosed in an oily, sticky, bright orange-red coat. The birds like pigeons, doves, woodpeckers, louries, hornbills, robinss, shrikes, starlings. thrush, white - eyes and mousebirds can’t resist these seeds. This tree is said to attract lightning, but some people use it to protect their homes. It is frost hardy and drought resistant and it needs to be planted in full sun. The wood is used for furniture. It is a larval host for the Garden Acraea and the Battling Glider butterflies. This tree is always found where there is underground water or streams. The roots are not aggressive so plant it 4 meters from a building or a pool. Names for Francois Kiggelaer (1648-1722) a Dutch botanist, plant collector, traveller and curator of Simon van Beaumont's garden in The Hague.

Salix mucronata

(Safsaf Willow)

This graceful semi-deciduous to evergreen tree grows to 15m with an open crown and slightly drooping branches. Older trees have beautiful fissured, brown bark, while younger trees have smooth, green-red bark. The leaves are simple, alternate and taper to both ends. They are glossy, dark green above and light green below. The leaf margins are serrated. They are browsed by stock, hippo, nyala, kudu, grey duiker and bushbuck. The African leopard butterfly's larvae also feeds on the leaves. Flowers appear in short spikes with males and females on separate trees. The male spikes are dense, yellowish and can be up to 50mm in length. The greenish coloured female spikes are shorter and thicker. The flowing season is in summer. Monkeys eat the flowers. The fruit is a small capsule, which splits to release seeds covered with white fluff. Traditional uses include, applying bark powder to burns, and brewing tea from the leaves to treat rheumatism and malaria headaches and it is a mild laxative. This tea is also used as a skin lotion and to stimulate hair growth.It is also drunk as an appetizer. The Zulu tie the thin branches around their waist to treat abdominal and kidney pains and to give them strength.Young tree branches are used to make baskets, fire by friction and covered in a protective mixture to ward off storms and lightening. The wood is carved to make household, as well as decorative items. The tree can withstand both frost and drought. It is a water loving tree so plant it near a pond or dam but it may have aggressive roots. It will attract herons, darters and cormorants which will use the Salix for breeding. The name is derived from the Latin salia=willow, implying to spring or to leap. Willow branches are very flexible and when bent and released, they spring forward.

Ziziphus mucronata

(Buffalo Thorn)

This medium sized, deciduous tree is frost resistant, drought resistant and grows in the sun. It is protected in the Free State. It has non aggressive roots, so you can plant it 4 meters from a building or a pool. This is a great bird garden tree as it attracts the insect, fruit and nectar eaters as well as being used for nesting sites. It is the larval host plant for the Black Pie, Dotted Blue, Hinza Blue and the White Pie butterflies. Useful if used as an informal hedge/screen or as a thorny security barrier. Game farmers need to plant this important fodder tree as it is browsed by giraffe, eland, kudu, sable, wildebeest, nyala, impala, klipspringer, springbok, grysbok, steenbok, dik-dik and warthog while the fruit is eaten by baboons, monkeys and warthog. The fruit is highly nutritious and are also enjoyed by guineafowl, francolins, parrots, louries and coucal. The raw fruit is edible, or it can be cooked into a porridge or roasted and used as a coffee substitute. It is also used to brew beer. Their nutritious leaves are cooked as spinach and the wood is useful for fuel, hammer handles, and spoons. Saplings are made into whips by removing the bark from the sapling.It is an important medicinal tree as the bark infusions are used for a cough,respiratory ailments and to purify the complexion. Root decoctions are used for pain, toothache, infertility, purification and lumbago. Leaves and shoots are used as a gargle for measles and scarlet fever. The flowers are used as a fish poison. It has many magical uses as the trees are said to ward off lightening and those sitting under a tree during a lightening storm will be safe. Branches are placed on the graves of chiefs to protect them. The branches are also used for cattle kraals and in rituals to return the spirit of the dead to their hometown. The wood is used to carve bowls and spoons and the thin branches are used for fencing posts, roof struts, grain mortars and gates. The zig zag shaped young branches epitomize one’s path through life which is both good and bad. The leaves are 3 veined to remind us that our relationships with God, the environment and our fellow man needs to be in balance. The forward pointing thorns remind us to reach for our goals and the re-curved ones remind us to look back and reflect on where we have come from. The name is derived from the Arabic zizouf= the name for the lotus or 'jujube' tree. The tree has dark red edible fruit from which the Victorian sweet, 'jujube' was made. The latin 'mucro' means sharp point and refers to the thorns.

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