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Top 5 indigenous, tall, deciduous trees

Tall deciduous trees for the back of your garden beds on a large property.

Vachellia sieberana (Acacia sieberiana var. woodii)

(Paperbark Thorn)

This tree is easily identified by its dense, widely spreading foliage, a flattened crown and flaking bark. The fluffy, scented white pompom blooms are conspicuous against the deep green, feathery foliage. The papery bark is exceptionally attractive and peels off in flattish strips, displaying yellow under bark. The bark is highly flammable and sensitive to fire, so perhaps it’s best not to build a braai under it. Legend has it that one should write one’s wishes on a piece of bark and blow it away. This apparently guarantees that your wishes will be fulfilled. The bark shelters insects which are foraged by insect eating birds. The Buffalo Weavers nest in these trees. Pied and Crested Barbets like to make nesting holes in the bark. The bark is also used to create a grey dye. It will remain evergreen in a moist habitat but in cooler or drier parts it is semi or completely deciduous. The paired, white thorns are joined at the base and grow up to 100 mm in length. The light brown pods have a musty or fruity smell and are 100 to 200 mm long. The pods are browsed by game and the Grey Hornbills crack open the pods to eat the seeds but the leaves contain prussic acid which is dangerous to stock. A wonderful nesting and lookout site for many birds, and is a ‘food basket’ for a variety of birds, beetles, bees and other bugs. It is the larval host of the Black-striped Hairtail, Common Scarlet and the Silver-spotted Grey. It is medicinal as an infusion from the roots is used as an antiseptic and a bark decoction is a painkiller. It is also used to wash children who have a fever, stomach ache, acne, gonorrhoea, colds, tapeworms and diarrhea. The leaves are a vermifuge. The wood is used for general timber although easily damaged by insects. It is fasts growing and would make useful firewood and timber. It is often seasoned under water for 6 months to make it more durable. The gum is clear and of a good quality. Soot is added to the gum to make ink.It has been recorded as growing to about 200 years. It has aggressive roots so don't plant it closer than 7 meters from buildings and pools. This is a popular bonsai subject. Branches fall from these trees. All thorn trees drop their thorns so it is not suitable for a lawn. 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.

Senegalia galpinii (Acacia galpinii)

(Monkey Thorn)

This deciduous tree loses its leaves during the winter and is drought and frost resistant. It has a large rounded crown and is fast-growing as it can reach 25-30 m. The flower buds are purple-red and the creamy white, spike flowers open during September-October. They smell of honey! Reddish to purplish brown pods ripen during February-March. It survives hot and dry conditions and is a stunning tree as a street tree provided there is sufficient space. It is an ideal tree for a big garden. It is grazed and used for shade by giraffe, kudu and elephant. Many birds nest in this tree as it provides protection. We have a pair of grey Hornbill that nest in one on our property. It provides dappled shade on hot summer days, making it an ideal tree for planting on a lawn where some sun can penetrate. Many insects such as bees and wasps visit the flowers so it also attracts insect eating birds. The bark is used for rope and the wood is used for furniture. Mature trunks are rough and the bark often flakes away in rectangular patched. This tree has aggressive roots so don't plant it closer than 8 meters from a building or a pool. The name is derived from the Hebrew fag or the Persian fica referring to the edible figs.

Celtis africana

(White Stinkwood)

This medium deciduous tree, is frost resistant, drought resistant and fast growing in sun or semi-shade. if well watered it will grow 2 meters a year. It occurs from the Cape Peninsula to Ethiopia. Tiny yellow, sweetly scented flowers occur in summer and they attract insect and fruit eating birds. The fruit is also eaten by monkeys and baboon. The tree is also browsed by game like kudu, nyala, bushbuck, impala and grey duiker. It is also used for nesting sites and a tall perch from which to lookout. Butterflies like the African Snout, Blue-spotted Emperor and the Foxy Emperor as well as several moths are also attracted to this fodder tree. It is a popular bonsai subject and the wood is used for furniture, construction, flooring, mine props, toys, ladders, boxes and crates. It is also used for firewood as well as charcoal production.It can be planted in a container. The common name is as a result of the unpleasant smell when the wood is first cut. It is magical as is used to protect against lightening by mixing the wood shavings with crocodile fat. The medicinal uses are numerous, treating a fever, headache, sore eyes and pleurisy. The bark is made into rope. It is always found where there is underground water or streams. Plant it 6 meters from buildings or pools. This is a protected tree in South Africa.

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.

Combretum erythrophyllum

(River Bushwillow)

This is a medium to large deciduous tree with reddish autumn colours. Flowers are cream to pale yellow, slightly scented 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. They stay on the tree for a long time. 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.

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