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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.

Milletia grandis

(Umzimbeet)

It occurs in Natal and the Transkei. A deciduous medium sized tree. It is a spreading tree with a good canopy. The leaves show seasonal colour changes as the new leaves are glossy yellow the colour being almost masked by the purple-brown veins and mature leaves are conventional green. The flowers are pea-shaped, deep bright lilac or purple and cover the tree in spring. The fruits are hard, velvety, brown-coloured pods, with green and gold wefts that glint in bright sunshine. It requires full sun to semi-shade and it can survive moderate drought and frost. Baboons strip and eat the bark. The hard wood is used to make furniture, walking sticks and was used for ox wagon parts. The root is used medicinally to induce sleep and dispel worries. This is the recipe: roots are ground with Croton root, add 1 part lion fat, ground lion bone and 1 part python fat and this is burnt . The seeds and roots are used for arrow and fish poison. It is also the larval host plant for the Pondo Emperor and the Orange-barred Playboy butterflies. This is my favourite tree as the new leaves are attractive, the tree is a show stopper when in flower, the velvet seed pods are lovely as are the seeds. The roots are not aggressive so plant it 3 meters from a building or a pool. Named for Charles Millet (1792-1873) was a plant collector who worked for the Dutch East India Company in China. He collected botanical samples from China, Ceylon and Java which he sent to Kew Gardens and Cambridge University.

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