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Top 5 small indigenous trees for a Highveld forest

Once your canopy of frost hardy trees has established, you can introduce these small trees to your forest.

Diospyros lycioides var guerkei

(Transvaal Bluebush)

Found throughout the country, other than the Western Cape and the Karoo. It only grows to 3-5 meters so is great for a townhouse garden where space is limited. It has stunning autumn foliage and is deciduous. The flowers are visited by butterflies and insects so they attract the insect eating birds. Perhaps its best attribute is the little red fruit, which are produced in abundance. They are relished by fruit eating birds, Dassies, Bushbuck and humans. It is the larval food plant of the Mooi River Opal butterfly and 26 moth species.The roots produce brown dye and they are used medicinally as a purgative, for epilepsy, to dislodge thorns and for eye troubles. The roots are extremely hard and are known to blunt plough blades. We recently had an enquiry from Australia for the twigs which are used as toothpicks!The roots and twigs are antimicrobial. An excellent bonsai subject. The name is derived from the Greek dios = divine, pyros=a grain of sand referring to the fruit which is divine to eat and is used to make jam.

Duvernoia now called Justicia adhatodoides

(Pistol Bush)

A lovely, small evergreen tree which is water wise and thrives in the shade or semi-shade. The stunning white flowers are streaked with purple and look like an orchid at first glance. They occur in abundance in autumn-summer and are long lasting. It is useful for a pruned hedge or an informal hedge/screen. The seed pods crack open noisily Named for Johan Georg Duvernoy (1692-1759) a German botanist and surgeon.and the seed is dispersed and that gives rise to the common name. The flowers are pollinated by carpenter bees and the wood is hard.

Cassinopsis ilicifolia

(Lemon Thorn)

This small evergreen tree is water wise and will thrive in the sun or semi-shade. Little white flowers open in summer and they are followed by little yellow fruit that look like miniature lemons and they attract insect and fruit eating birds like bulbuls, starlings, barbets, pigeons, guineafowl and francolins. The tree is also used for nesting sites and the leaves are browsed. It can be utilized for informal hedging/screening or thorny security barriers. It is an ideal tree for small gardens and looks great near a pond. As it does not have aggressive roots it can be planted in a container, near a building or paving.If the leaves start to drop, this is an indication that it is water deprived. The name comes from the Greek opsis=resemblance as the genus resembles Cassine.

Halleria lucida

(Tree Fuchsia)

This small, evergreen tree, is frost resistant, drought resistant, fast growing in sun or semi-shade. The word lucida means bright and it refers to the shiny, bright leaves. In summer the orange flowers attract bees and birds - insect, fruit and nectar eaters and it is used for nesting sites so it’s a great choice for a bird garden. The berries attract pigeons, louries, parrots, thrush, bulbuls, robins and white-eyes. The flowers are full of nectar and this gives rise to the Xhosa name that means 'free food'. or 'birds beer'. This attracts sunbirds, white eyes and even weavers. It also attracts butterflies. It is useful for formal pruned hedging or informal hedging/screening. It has a lovely drooping habit. It is medicinal as the leaves are soaked in water which is then dripped into the ears for earache. It is also magical and is used as a charm against evil, lightening and bad weather. This is done by burning the trees and using the ash mixed with fat to rub onto sticks cut from Rhamnus prinoides. These are driven into the soil. Twigs are burnt when offering sacrifices to the ancestors. On a river walk in the Cape I struggled to identify the Halleria and it was only when I saw the black fruit did I realize what it was. I have never seen them that tall in Gauteng. It is useful on a game farm as the leaves are browsed by eland, kudu, nyala, bushbuck and grey duiker. The wood is hard and is used for spear shafts and to start a fire.The roots are non aggressive so you can plant it 2 meters from a building or a pool.

Asystasia bella was Mackaya bella

(Forest Bell Bush)

This small evergreen tree is water wise, fast growing in shade or semi-shade. The delicate mauve or white flowers occur in summer and they attract birds, carpenter bees and butterflies. The glossy dark green leaves help to create an informal screen. The wood is used to make fire by friction and it is an ideal tree for small gardens. It makes a stunning display if planted in a pot and can also serve for screening in a semi-shade area. Can be planted along a stream bank. The River Bell is a desirable garden plant as the roots are not aggressive and it is the larval host plant for the Blue Pansy butterfly. Named for James Townsend Mackay (1775-1862) Scottish horticulturist and curator of the Durban University's botanical garden fro 1804 until his death. He was a professor, active field botanist and author.Dublin university honoured him with a LLD and a PhD in 1850 for his service to botany.

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