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Carissa macrocarpa

(Large Num-Num, noem-noem)

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. All the Carissa have edible fruit. 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.

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.

Dovyalis caffra

(Kei Apple)

This small 5m evergreen tree is frost resistant, water wise, fast growing in the sun or semi-shade. The cream flowers are rich in nectar, which attracts butterflies, and are produced in spring and are followed by apricot fruit which attract birds - insect and fruit eaters like the Louries and black eyed Blackeyed Bulbuls. It should produce fruit when about 3 years old.It makes a safe nesting site. It is useful for an informal hedge/screen or a thorny security barrier as they retain their lower branches and can be planted close together as they do not have aggressive roots. The fruit is also useful as it is rich in vitamin C and although sour it is tasty and is eaten raw or used for jelly and jam making. It is eaten by Monkeys and Baboon. The trees are also browsed by game. The Kei Apple will do well in a container and is popular for bonsai. The branches are also used in flower arrangements.The oval leaves are shiny, dark green with a smooth margin. It is successful if planted in a coastal garden or in a Highveld garden. This tree was first grown in Europe in 1870 but is now grown worldwide, in California, the Mediterranean and Australia. Plant it 2 meters from buildings and pools. The name is derived from the Greek dovyalis = spear refering to the long thorns.

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.

Gardenia cornuta

(Natal Gardenia)

An evergreen, multi-branched small tree 3 to 5 meters tall, with erect and spreading main branches. The branchlets sometimes have thick thorns. The bark is smooth, often flaking into thin peels. Leaves are smooth, glossy green and crowded at the ends of twigs, usually in whorls of three. These are browsed by game. The fragrant flowers are solitary at the ends of short, rigid branches and are borne from November to March. They are white turning yellow, short-stalked, with a long, slender greenish tube and spreading white lobes. Fruits are more or less pear-shaped, woody, tipped with persistent remains of the calyx, glossy golden yellow, usually produced in large quantities between February and August. Seeds are hard and flattened. The fruit is relished by nyala, monkeys and baboons. It should be planted in sun or semi-shade. It is useful for hedging/screening and it is ideal for containers. In traditional medicine, the fruit and roots are boiled and used as an emetic. Poles are used for fencing, for fuel.and for chasing away evil spirits. It attracts birds and butterflies. It is frost sensitive. Named after Alexander Garden (1730-1791) a Scottish doctor, botanist and zoologist who lived in the USA. He studied plants and sent birds, fish, reptiles and plants to Linnaeus in England. He returned to the UK and was a Fellow of the Royal Society in London and founded The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Pittosporum viridiflorum

(Cheesewood)

An evergreen tree that can reach 10m and is protcted in South Africa. They occur over a wide range of altitudes and in a variety of habitats. It does occur on the Highveld but is not common.The leaves are simple and a dark green to bluish green, but appear brilliant green when seen against the sun. They are eaten by cattle, goats, grey duiker, kudu, klipspringer, nyala and bushbuck. The cream/yellow flowers open in spring and are sweetly honey scented. They attract a number of insects and therefore also the insect eating birds.The fruits are bright red seeds which are coated in a sticky resin and enjoyed by doves, pigeons, louries, barbets, bubuls and starlings. Guinea fowl and francolin enjoy the fallen fruit. The bark has a sweetish smell, but a bitter taste and it is medicinal as it is used to treat stomach complaints, pain, malaria and fever. The dried bark is taken in beer as an aphrodisiac. It is also used as a protection charm to protect patients from witchcraft. It is frost hardy and requires full sun.Ideal for containers as it does not have aggressive roots. Plant it 3 meters from a building or a pool. The name is derived from the Greek pitta = pitch; spora= seed. The seed is covered in a dark, sticky resin.

Podocarpus latifolius

(Real Yellowwood, Opregte Geelhout)

This is a slow-growing, large, evergreen tree, which grows to between 20 and 30 m tall. It occurs naturally on misty mountain slopes with a high rainfall so it needs lots of water. It is a protected tree in South Africa. It is very long-lived and is able to withstand some frost. The unusual textural appearance of the leaves makes it a good contrast or background for other trees. The colourful receptacles of the female tree are most attractive. This tree would make an interesting container plant and can withstand short periods indoors. The leaf size and interesting bark are good characteristics for bonsai. It produces greenish flowers in spring and the wood is used for furniture. When the berry-like receptacles ripen, birds such as pigeons and turacos feed on them. They are also eaten by monkeys, bushpigs and sometimes by people. The bark is used in traditional medicine. Plant it about 4 meters from a building and a pool. The name is derived from the Greek podos = foot and karpos - fruit, referring to the fleshy foot , the receptacle, on which the fruit develops.

Portulacaria afra prostrata

(Elephants Foot)

Dwarf Elephants Foot is another very versatile plant that grows in full sun to deep shade. It produces lavender coloured flowers in summer. It is water wise and has arching, trailing branches with reddish brown stems. It would be ideal in a pot, to scamper over the edge, a hanging basket or even retaining walls. I saw it flourishing in the baking hot sun in the Kruger Park, in a retailing wall at one of the rest camps in very harsh conditions.

Rothmannia globosa

(September Bells)

This little know or utilized tree has been grown in Europe for more than a century. This slender tree, usually 4-7 m in height, can reach 12 m, depending on the climatic conditions. The bark is brown or dark grey, smooth when young, but rougher in old age and marked in rectangular segments. The shiny, simple leaves are oval or lanceolate with a paler underside which displays the yellow or reddish midrib and veins. Trees are usually evergreen, but may be briefly deciduous. The scented, bell-shaped flowers are creamy white, usually with pink speckles in the throat. The flowers are almost stalkless and appear from August to November. The trees are often in full bloom in September hence the common name. The fruits are round green when young but turn brown as they ripen from January onwards. The powdered roots are rubbed into incisions in some parts of southern Africa to treat leprosy. It is fairly fast growing and tolerates some frost but protect young trees in winter. It makes a beautiful small tree for townhouse gardens and as it has non aggressive roots, it is suitable for containers. Monkeys, baboons, nyala and birds eat the fruit and it also attracts bees and butterflies.

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 pompom 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. This tree has pairs of straight thorns.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, dysentery, diarrhoea, loss of blood 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.

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