A bit about sun loving plants: the wonders found on one little hillside in Limpopo

Written by Sandra Lennox & Catherine Clulow

This is a small selection of plants in flower on a granite ridge in the Limpopo province during spring, some of which could suit water-wise gardens. This particular ridge seems to be a frost free area, as the cabbage tree, Cussonia spicata and the misty plume bush, Tetradenia riparia are sensitive to frost.

  1. A bit about the sun-kissed beauty, that is Bushman’s tea (Athrixia phylicoides), Asteraceae

This little bush, made more valuable by pruning to increase the shrubby density, can be used to make a refreshing health tea (by brewing its leaves and twigs), which is used as a stimulant in traditional herbal medicine in Venda, Limpopo Province. The wood is useful and the branches may be bound to form brooms for the patio or garden.

  1. The cabbage tree (Cussonia spicata), Araliaceae

In the garden the cabbage tree is drought resistant, having succulent roots. Although evergreen it is sensitive to frost. The tree may be grown in large pots, which also restricts the ultimate size.

In nature the cabbage tree is found on forest margins, in wooded grassland and on rocky outcrops.  Being hardy it occurs from the coast to mountains. It is evergreen but frost tender.  It occurs as an occasional tree approximately 4m tall. The crushed leaves have a faint carrot-like aroma. Cabbage trees have been found growing on a gentle west-facing slope in unburnt wooded grassland on granite and in full sun, where there is a tree with a thick trunk. These trees are in the savanna but in the forest nearby – northern mistbelt forest – there is a particularly large Cussonia spicata. The cabbage tree in the Woodbush Forest near Haenertsburg has grown to champion size having a trunk over 7.6 m (25 ft) in circumference, in addition to having an extraordinary height and crown spread. This particular tree grows in a hot, wet climate in the kloof and is recorded as one of the remarkable trees recorded by Thomas Packenham author, dendrologist/tree-fundi and historian, while “on safari in southern Africa”.

The subterranean, succulent roots provide moisture. In folk medicine the bark, leaves and roots have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Beware, as the roots are poisonous, although traditionally having been used medicinally against malaria, digestive and reproductive system ailments. The hollow, split stems have been used as trays, the wood is light and can be hollowed out, particularly for fodder and possibly for plant containers.

  1. The Cape beech (Rapanea melanophloeos), Myrsinaceae

This is an evergreen tree which grows up to 20m tall, though the small tree in flower and fruit can grow in a cottage garden as the roots are not aggressive. In nature, the Cape Beech occurs on forest margins, in bush clumps and often in damp places. It is a pioneer tree which occurs from the coast to mountains.

The wood is hard, pinkish brown, moderately heavy and suitable for carving, particularly for violins and other musical instruments. The Cape Beech has edible fruit. In folk medicine, bark is used as an expectorant and an emetic, with anodyne and tonic properties, the caveat being that these require development by the pharmaceutical industry, so probably should not be tested at home without supervision. The bark of the Cape Beech is used in folk medicine for protection.

The Cape Beech grows easily from seed and seedlings are transplanted readily. The trees are moderately drought resistant and can withstand a fair degree of frost. Trees grow in shade, full sun and tolerate onshore coastal winds. The fruit attracts birds such as barbets, guinea fowl, louries and pigeons.

  1. The African protea, white sugarbush (Protea gauguedii), Proteaceae

This is a spreading multi-stemmed shrub or small, gnarled tree. In nature the white sugarbush or African protea occurs in grassland and bushveld, in rocky places. The flower-head (inflorescence) is usually solitary and up to 110mm in diameter.

  1. Broad leaved boekenhout (Faurea rochetiana subspecies speciosa), Proteaceae

This is a small to medium, deciduous tree, with a crooked trunk, grey crown and reddish autumn colours which occurs in high grassland and woodland. There is a broad leaved boekenhout tree, ± 3 m tall with gnarled trunk, inflorescences ascending, growing on a gentle W-facing slope in unburnt wooded grassland on granite, in full sun in the Mamabolo Mountain Bushveld, near Houtbosdorp, Limpopo.

In folk medicine the roots of the broad leaved boekenhout are utilised. Faurea rochetiana (A.Rich.) Chiov. ex Pic.Serm. was named after C.L.X. Rochet d’Hericourt, a French chemist who explored Ethiopia (1839-1845).

  1. The straw everlasting, sewejaartijie (Helichrysum krausii), Asteraceae

This is an aromatic shrublet, growing up to 1m tall, which occurs in coastal grassland and in open woodland. For example, the straw everlasting is a common herb, ± 40 cm tall with yellow flowers, growing on a rocky ridge in unburnt wooded grassland on granite, in full sun in the Mamabolo Mountain Bushveld.  The straw everlasting is visited by honey-bees. It is easy to grow, may be grown from seed and needs full sun. The Helichrysum krausii was named after Christian Krauss, (1812-90), German scientist and collector, in South Africa (1839-40).

  1. Phymaspermum athanasioides (Asteraceae)

This is a common herb ± 40 cm tall with yellow flowers, growing on a rocky ridge in unburnt wooded grassland on granite, in full sun in the Mamabolo Mountain Bushveld.

  1. Misty plume bush or ginger bush, Tetradenia riparia, (Lamiaceae)

This is a robust, slightly succulent shrub, or occasionally small tree 1-3m high, up to 5m which occurs on wooded hillsides, in frost free areas. It occurs near rocky outcrops or at margins of evergreen forest, often near water. The flowers emerge, July to September, before leaves. The plants are dioecious, with male flower spikes 2-8cm long and with denser, female flower spikes 1-2.5cm long. The plants are lavender scented, used in folk medicine for coughs, sore throats, stomach aches and malaria. These hardy plants are easily grown from cuttings.

In conclusion, on this particular hillside, amongst the plants rapidly collected by a small group of plant enthusiasts, were a crow-berry (Searsia pentheri, Anacardiaceae) and a climbing numnum (Carissa edulis, Apocynaceae), several cabbage trees, broom and cluster leaved asparagus (Asparagus virgatus and A. laricinus, Asparagaceae) and an Aloe sp. (Asphodelaceae). There were at least seven species of Asteraceae including silver oak, straw everlasting, small leaved fluff bush and small-head camphor bush. Trees included the common spike thorn and the koko tree (Gymnasporia buxifolia and Maytenus undata, Celastraceae), blue guarri trees (Euclea crispa, Ebenaceae), Cape Beech (Rapanea melanophloeos, Myrsinaceae) and African wild olive (Olea europaea, ssp africana, Oleaceae). Useful plants included the African protea or white sugar bush, (Protea gaguedi, Proteaceae), Anthospermum welwitschii, (Rubiaceae), the lemon bush or fever tea (Lippia javanica, Verbenaceae) and the ginger bush (Tetradenia riparia, Lamaiaceae).

It seems that, just on this small hillside, there are trees and shrubs which may be used for fuel, there are those with edible fruit or from which tea may be made, there are plants with medicinal properties and there is wood which may be used for carvings or which were used historically for structures such as wagons. In terms of environment, this ridge probably would not have experienced frost and the vegetation is bushveld, savanna although there is mistbelt forest within walking distance. The diversity is surely worthy of appreciation and hence conservation and that is only the plants, there are also birds, lizards and more.

Biodiversity in our country is diverse and fascinating! We hope you learnt something from and enjoyed the sharings of this blog post from the BotSoc Limpopo branch. Find out more about the Botanical Society of South Africa here.

Acknowledgements

This blog has been written with gratitude for the field notes and plant identifications by Barbara Turpin, Buffelskloof Nature reserve, Lydenburg and Bronwyn Egan, Curator, Larry leach Herbarium, University of Limpopo. Most photographs are courtesy of Pat Lennox, though the photographs of the Cape Beech, Rapanea melanophloeos are by Barbara Turpin.

References

Boon, R. 2010. Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust

Champion Tree Project (2002 onwards). Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).  (Internet: http://www.championtrees.co.za/files/26111/championtreesofsamay2016.pdf; accessed September 2016).

Coates-Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, 3rd edn. Cape Town: Struik.

Packenham, T. 2007. In search of remarkable trees. On safari in southern Africa. Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg.

Pooley, E. 2005. A field guide to wildflowers KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.

Vandecasteele, P., Godard, P. 2006. In celebration of Fynbos, gardening, healing, cooking, decorating. Stuik, Cape Town.

Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N.  2000. People’s Plants. A Guide to useful Plants of Southern Africa. Pretoria: Briza Publications, p 102, 103, 312.

Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 2013. Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Venter, F. & Venter, J-A. 2002. Making the most of indigenous trees. Briza, Pretoria.

 

 

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

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