INDIGENOUS FOREST TREES

I have been meaning to write about trees for some time, especially as some growing in our garden are out of kilter with the seasons. This is probably because of the long summer drought accompanied by scorching heat and the late rain that arrived early in autumn. How fortunate I was then to find this First Day Cover of Ciskei indigenous forest trees in a box – alas, I see the fish moths have been nibbling away at it since it was issued in 1983! The Ciskei homeland doesn’t exist as an entity anymore as it has been incorporated into the Eastern Cape Province. I will discuss the trees from left to right as they appear in the photograph below.

The Common Cabbage Tree (Cussonia spicata) is widespread throughout this country. It is an attractive tree with a thick corky trunk and large, blue-green leaves borne at the ends of the fleshy branches. They bear small flowers that are densely packed in spikes, which gives rise to the epithet spicata. This one growing in my garden was given to me by a friend, who germinated it from seed.

These trees are said to grow quickly under the right conditions. I found these two self-sown ones in what was then our garden when they were only about 30cm tall. That was about twenty-five years ago. Since then, that portion of our garden has been subdivided and they have subsequently grown almost as tall as the double-storey house that was built next to them!

These particular trees were attacked by Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth caterpillars (Bunaea alcinoe), which chomped their way through the leaves in no time at all. I featured these in 2014. See https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/the-emperors-new-clothes/

The Curtisia dentata, commonly known as the Assegai, is an evergreen tree with smooth, dark glossy green leaves on the upper surface while underneath they are grey-green with conspicuous veins. It is usually found in climax forests and on grassy mountain slopes. The fleshy, bitter creamy white to red fruits are eaten by birds, which then disperse the seeds. Unfortunately, the future of these trees are threatened by over-exploitation by bark harvesters.

We are fortunate to have a beautiful specimen of the Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense) in our garden. This was planted as a small sapling at least twenty years ago, although it only began blooming about five years ago. The more mature specimens in town look stunning when covered with their large, pale pink flowers with darker centres.

What is interesting, is that these trees usually flower during the early summer, from October to December. Not a single blossom appeared this past summer, yet now in May the tree is sporting more blossoms than it ever has!

Another tree that is doing the same (not depicted on the stamps) is the Dais cotinifolia. They too are usually covered in beautiful pompon-like pink flowers from November to December. These ones were, for about two days last December, before their blossoms shrivelled in the searing heat. Now they too are blooming fairly prolifically.

The last tree depicted on the stamps is the Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus), which is said to be the tallest indigenous tree in southern Africa. In fact, the well-known Big Tree in the Knysna forest is one of these and has grown to over 36 m high during its lifespan of over 800 years!

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

15 thoughts on “INDIGENOUS FOREST TREES

    • These Emperor Moth caterpillars are both scary and majestic to look at. Fortunately, while they devour the leaves of the cabbage trees they do not pose a threat to the longevity of the trees.

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  1. 800 years! Such a number always makes me feel small and insignificant. Which humans really are, compared to some other species of life on earth. You’ve pictured four beautiful trees here. Anne.

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  2. Dis nou so interessant, dankie Anne. Ek het ook ‘n kiepersol in my tuin, wat deur voëltjies geplant is. Dit was in ‘n pot, toe sien ek dit begin soos een lyk. Ons het dit uitgeplant en dis nou ‘n lieflike boom…nog nie baie groot nie, maar hy groei mooi.

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