This pretty indigenous bush is also known as a Cross-berry – named for the four-lobed fruits that ripen from January to May. It took me a while to identify this plant which grows abundantly in our garden – all self-sown and probably spread by birds for I notice that the sombre bulbuls, black-eyed bulbul, speckled mousebirds and even the black-collared barbets are rather partial to the fruit.
I called it a bush. Perhaps it does grow into bushes in well-pruned gardens. In my garden though their scrambling nature comes to the fore: they grow up to about three metres in height and have the habit of leaning against other trees for support. In this way some have created quite a tangle in the forested part of the garden. The one growing near my wash line in the back garden though has, over many years, developed a thick woody stem which needs to be cut back every now and then or there would be too much shade for the laundry to dry quickly.
The showers of pinky-mauve to purple star-shaped flowers cascade down the branches in summer and last well into the cooler weather. The fruit, which starts off green and turns to yellow and then reddish-brown also remain on the tree for a long time.
Apart from looking pretty and providing fruit for the birds, the cross-berry also attracts butterflies and is thus very welcome in my garden.
Grewia occidentalis is named after an English botanist called Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712). Together with the Italian microscopist Marcello Malpighi, Grew is considered as one of the founders of the science of plant anatomy. He published a book, The Anatomy of Plants, in 1680 which contained a number of plates which clearly illustrated the inner structure and function of plants.