FLOWERING TREES OF THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER

Two tree species catch the eye in November because of their attractive and striking floral display. Both species grow in the north-western part of the park near the corner of Molteno Road and Camp Street, but that is where any similarity comes to an end.

Phytolacca dioica (Ombú, Belhambra, Bobbejaandruifboom)

P. dioica is a massive, semi-evergreen tree native to the grasslands of South America and occurs naturally in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. It is often the only tree for miles on the pampas and its shade is much appreciated, hence the common Spanish name Bella Ombre.  

It has an umbrella-like canopy and its trunk can have a girth of up to 15 m and can grow 12-19 m high. P. Dioica’s massive, fire resistant trunk contains water storage tissue, an excellent adaptation against the intense grassland fires common in that region. The sap of the tree is poisonous and not browsed by cattle. The leaves can be used as a laxative.

Phytolacca dioica (belhambra)

 

Creamy-yellow flowers appear from September to December in clusters about 100 mm long, with male and female flowers appearing on separate trees. P. dioica producers berry-like fruit that are initially green, then turn black, somewhat resembling a mulberry.Notwithstanding its impressive size, P. dioica is not a true tree, but evolved from herbaceous forebears. When cut, the trunk will not show year rings and the spongy tissue is soft  enough to be cut with a regular knife. For this reason it is popular in the art of bonsai, as it is easily manipulated to create the desired effect. 

The tree plays an important symbolical role in Uruguay and Argentina. However, in South Africa it invades savannah, fynbos, coastal bush and river banks, and its enormous ever-widening trunk can cause damage to roads and buildings. Fortunately, the specimen in De Waal Park still has ample space around it for the trunk to expand.

Phytolacca dioica

Schotia brachypetala    (SA202)  (Weeping boerboon, Huilboerboon)

As its tree number indicates, Schotia brachypetaia, is indigenous to South Africa. It occurs across the sub-tropical parts of southern Africa,  from the Zambezi valley in Zimbabwe to about as far south and west as East London in the Eastern Cape. It grows best in conditions of good summer rains and a dry, cold winter, with some frost.

S. brachypetala  is a member of the family Fabaceae (a pod and bean-bearing tree family), hence the common name boerboon (farmer’s bean).  It is a medium to large spreading tree, growing up to 20 m, but generally to 10 m, depending on conditions.

Trees growing in poor soil or in very dry conditions tend to be smaller. The trunk form varies, from specimens with single trunks to low-branching specimens with multiple trunks. Leaves are compound, composed of four to eight pairs of leaflets. The bark of the tree is smooth and varies from grey to light brown in colour. 

Generally this tree is semi-deciduous.

Schotia brachypetala

In it's natural habitat further north the first leaves of the growing season are often bright red for a short time, though this is not the case in De Waal Park. The trees in the park flower from late October to November. There are numerous all filled with nectar, sometimes producing so much that it drips out of the flowers, hence the ‘weeping’ (Afr. ‘huil’)  part in the common names.  The  fruit is a hard, woody pod about 15 cm long that splits on the tree,  releasing the seeds, each attached by a fleshy, yellow aril.

This attractive tree also has some traditional uses. A tea brewed from the bark, leaves and root is used to treat a whole range of problems. The bark can be used as a dye and gives a red-brown or red colour. The Bantu-speaking people and the early European settlers and farmers in southern Africa are said to have roasted the mature pods and eaten the seeds, a practice which they learned from the Khoi people.

S. brachypetala is easy to grow and remarkably hardy in both poor soil and very dry conditions.  It is fairly widely cultivated outside its natural range in warm temperate and subtropical climates, particularly in Australia.

Schotia brachypetala flower

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