5 small indigenous trees for a little South African garden

Written by Life Green Group & Catherine Clulow

Not every passionate gardener has a massive garden and sometimes landscapers need to find a little tree to full a smaller area without it ruining foundations or the tree getting “too big for its roots.”

In a previous blog we shared with you about a few tree-forming shrubs that are great options for smaller gardens, you can read that blog here.

Today we share about five small, indigenous trees that landscapers recommend you use in your small South African garden:

1 Jacket plum (Pappea capensis)

papae capensis
Pappea capensis © Life Green Group

The Jacket plum is a prime tree for gardeners trying to attract birds to their garden. Its cherry-like fruit is a favourite among the fruit eating birds such as the mousebird, starling and big beaked barbet.
Not only is it a hit with the birds, it has a neat single stem; dense round crown and non-invasive root system making is a superb garden specimen for any Durban, Joburg or Mpumalanga garden.
It is one of the most adaptable trees in Africa and can handle dry and cold conditions by varying its size. It is best to plant the Pappea capensis in groups of three of more as male and female flowers occur on different trees.

2 False Olive (Buddleja saligna)

Buddleja saligna (1)
Buddleja saligna © Monique McQuillan

One of the best trees for butterflies and bees is the false olive, it also makes for an excellent screening tree to hide unsightly spaces. It gets copious amounts of white pompom flowers in season and may reach 10 metres high in warmer areas. It can be planted close to buildings and foundations and has a lovely grey tone to its bark and leaves, that give it a very bushveld look and goes well with very neutral garden and building tones.

3 Dogwood (Rhamnus prinoides

The 7 metre tall dogwood is fast growing and can be used to form a super hedge or as a great screen tree. It has wonderful glossy leaves and is very effective near a fishpond as its low foliage provides hiding places for aquatic life. It’s also a fantastic tree for bees  – urban areas are seeing a massive decrease in bee populations so gardeners should be planting with these busy insects in mind.

4 Common Rothmannia (Rothmannia capensis

Rothmannia capensis 260_35
Rothmannia capensis © Monique McQuillan

When it comes the Rothmannia capensis it is all about the flowers. This evergreen tree is a fantastic small garden specimen with its heavenly scented big white flowers and large green fruits. For a small tree it gives fantastic shade and can be planted as a lawn tree. It gets to about 10 metres tall with a dense round crown.

5 Blue Guarri (Euclea crispa subspecies crispa)

Euclea crispa subsp. crispa
Euclea crispa subspecies crispa © Life Green Group

Slow growing and neat the Blue guarri is a fantastic small garden addition. It has a single stem and a neat, thick and well-structured crown. It is loved by lichen, and like the false olive, it has blue grey undertones to its leaves and bark. Only female plants will produce fruit so it is recommended they are planted in clusters of both sex.

And there you have it, another great share of advice from Life Green Group and the Botanical Society of South Africa. Remember that the SANBI National Botanical Gardens have fantastic indigenous nurseries where you can purchase your choice of indigenous beauty to green up your space, as well as ask further advise. Are you enjoying any of these species in your garden? Or planning to plant them? Let us know in the comments below.

You can find out more about the BotSoc on their other social media channels and website, we look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time…

Information sources/ further reading

If you wish to find out more about these species and their growth forms, ecology etc., a great resource we recommend, is looking them up on PlantZAfrica.



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

3 thoughts on “5 small indigenous trees for a little South African garden”

  1. Great article! It would be extra helpful if you could include best suited areas in each write up, and maybe link direct from each tree name to PlantZA 🙂


  2. Its luke you read myy mind! You seem to know a
    lot about this, like youu wrote thhe bookk in it
    or something. I think hat yyou could do with skme pics to drive
    the message home a bit, but other tthan that, thjs is wonderful blog.
    A fantastic read. I will cedrtainly bee back.


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