Seven indigenous trees as gorgeous in purple as the jacaranda

Written by Life Green Group & Catherine Browne

The jacaranda once loved for its regal purple flowers has now been declared a weed in South Africa, and landscapers and botanists encourage you NOT to plant it. The good news is there are local trees that are way better for fauna that also have the beautiful lilac flowers we have come to love so much. Here, Life Green Group (giving us the landscapers perspective) and Botsoc share with you a bit about these indigenous alternatives. If purple’s your colour then these trees are the bees knees…

1. Bolusanthus speciosus  (Tree wisteria)

Bolusanthus speciosus Kirstenbosch 14 Dec 10 ALN 118cr
©Alice Notten
Bolusanthus speciosus Kirstenbosch 2 Dec 08 ALN 079
© Alice Notten

This indigenous beauty, with its amethyst-coloured flowers, is even more magnificent, than the South American invasive jacarandas. It is a splendid tree for a small to medium garden and looks fantastic in a sunny spot on the patio as a pot plant.

This tree can easily become the new pavement special in the Jacaranda City as it is non-invasive and deciduous. It also looks better planted in groups much like the silver birch or fever tree. An added benefit is that it is termite resistant. It may need a little protection from frost. Animals including monkeys, gemsbok, giraffe and grey duiker eat the leaves and pods. It grows across South Africa and cannot be removed or cut down as it is a protected tree.

2. Philenoptera violacea  (Apple-leaf)

Philenoptera violacea - Tony Rebelo
©Tony Rebelo

Our next purple flowering tree is also protected in South Africa. The name Philenoptera is derived from the Greek ‘philenos’ (meaning manageable) and ‘pteros’ (wing) which conveys that the wing makes the pod manageable to be dispersed. Violaceae is derived from the Latin ‘violaceus’ (violet) which refers to the flowers’ colour.

The apple leaf gets sprays of violet flowers from Spring to Christmas. Interesting enough it attracts another purple guest – the lilac-breasted roller as well as other cavity nest builders like the owls.

It is semi-deciduous with a wonderful rounded crown and is very eye-catching when in flower so it’s worth the wait, as it is very slow-growing. The good news is, it is drought resistant and therefore a water-wise option. Be warned this species does not handle frost.

3. Mundulea sericea (Cork bush)

Mundulea sericea - Colin Ralston
©Colin Ralston

‘Born to be botanical purple’ the cork bush is a truly delightful species for any Gauteng garden. It’s usually single stemmed with a bushy canopy and can be trained to form a hedge if planted closely to one another. It looks fantastic in rock gardens or veld gardens. Like the tree wisteria, it is very effective if planted in groups of three or five.

Come October an arc of butterflies and birds will be fluttering around its wisteria-purple flowers. Landscapers love it when a tree’s roots are non-invasive and the cork bush is non-invasive which means it can be planted close to buildings. Its leaves are delicate and soft, flowers large and showy, pea-like. Throughout autumn and into the wintery months, silvery silky pods clad the branches of the tree. Several of this species’ African names mean ‘that which resists elephants’ with reference to the strong, tough branches.

4. Polygala myrtifolia (September bush)

Sept. bush.Diego Delso
©Diego Delso
Polygala myrtifolia M.McQuillan (2)
©Monique Mcquillan

This pioneer shrub flowers a fandango purple colour all year round but most prominently in September hence the name September bush.

It’s evergreen and it flowers vary from magenta to lilac and if you want to get the most out of the flower, plant the bush near water; however it can withstand the drier inland areas as well. It too, is a water-wise option and can be used to form a hedge. It looks great in fynbos gardens.

The flowers are carried in little clusters at the ends of branches and look somewhat pea-like, but are in fact actually quite different. The showy petals are marked with darker veins and they are usually shades of purple but can also be pink scarlet or white. The September bush tolerates both moderate frost and windy coastal conditions as well as periods of drought. What an all-rounder…

5. Grewia occidentalis (Cross-berry)

cross-berry. Life green group
© Life Green Group
Grewia occidentalis fruit flower foliage 13 Dec 14 ALN 100
© Alice Notten

This attractive shrub is found in a variety of habitats. The Grewia occidentalis is fantastic for a small garden and can be planted close to infrastructure as its roots pose no threats to foundations. It is an evergreen to semi-deciduous tree and is very shrub-like so it needs some pruning in a garden-setting.
In summer, the cross-berry treats us to gorgeous little pink-mauve star-shaped flowers followed by distinctive four lobed fruits.

Leaves are browsed by cattle, goats and game. Fruits are relished by birds (loved by the Knysna Turaco). If kept cut back it develops a dense branch system ideal for shy birds like robins, the fruits attract fruit-eating birds and the flowers are especially attractive to butterflies. So draw in greater biodiversity into your green space with this indigenous gem.

6. Buddleja salviifolia (Sagewood)

sagewood. peganum
© Peganum
Buddleja salviifolia 22 Aug 10 ALN 126
© Alice Notten

Firstly, ensure you have a purple variant of the species, if that’s what you’re after. This semi-evergreen bushy shrub bears sweet-scented decorative flowers in shades of white to purple. The sagewood, with its dense rounded crown and drooping branches, makes for a wonderful background plant and forms a neat hedge. It is hardy, able to survive fires and frost, and flowers best in August.

It is particularly useful on embankments and slopes or places that are prone to soil erosion. It is also one the best plants for insects and the host plant for the African Leopard Butterfly. Fresh or dried leaves can be used to make an aromatic herbal tea. An excellent pioneer plant in new gardens as slower plants or trees can use the temporary protection they provide.

7. Millettia grandis (Umzimbeet)

Millettia grandis - Chris Wahlberg
©Chris Wahlberg

This tree only occurs in high rainfall areas. It is a stunning garden specimen and like most South African shrubs it may need some training to make sure it grows neatly into a tree. Its roots are non-invasive so in areas with lots of rain it makes for an attractive street tree. We recommend this tree for a Natal or Eastern Cape garden. This is an attractive shade tree with grey bark, coppery red young leaves and flower buds, lovely touches of lilac-purple flowers and golden pods.

So if you’re after a dash of purple, there you go, these are great indigenous options for you.

We hope you enjoyed this blog and if so, please share it with others. If you’re enjoying what we’re posting, please follow our blog to ensure you get the latest blogs we share and more informative and fun articles to enjoy and learn from. BotSoc promotes indigenous gardening, passion sharing and biodiversity caring!

Information sources:

PlantZAfrica

Life Green Group

SANBI

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botsocblog

The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) are an NGO conserving and educating about biodiversity for over 100 years.

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