During these drab, drought-stricken times we need some cheer in the form of a bright colour. I have looked through my files for examples of cheerful yellow.
I first became aware of the Peanut Butter Cassia (Senna didymobotrya) while I was living in KwaZulu-Natal. It is a very attractive bush which easily stands out thanks to its erect bright yellow flowers. I first identified it from a delightful book, The Wild Flowers of Southern Africa: Natal. A Rambler’s Pocket Guide by Dr. Winnifred G. Wright, which is filled with detailed black-and-white sketches. I used to colour them in once I had identified a plant and so it is that I see that I first noted the Peanut Butter Cassia in the suburb of Lincoln Meade in Pietermaritzburg in April 1973 and growing along the beach at Uvongo in October a year later. In July 2019 it was growing prolifically along the Transkei coast.
The scientific name has an interesting origin: Senna stems from the Arabic sana , a name covering species with leaves and pods that have both cathartic and laxative properties. Then comes didymobotrya which is made up of didymo (in pairs) and botrya (cluster). The common name (one among several) of Peanut Butter Cassia relates to the fact that when crushed, the leaves smell akin to peanut butter.
In those days I had no idea that it has been classified as an invader plant, the origins of which lie in tropical East and Central Africa, from the Congo east to Ethiopia and south to Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Given its beauty, it was inevitably imported for ornamental use. The trouble is that the leaves are toxic to both humans and livestock. Given its prolific load of seed pods, it is quick to invade roadsides, wastelands, disturbed areas, urban open space, grasslands, savannas, woodlands and riparian vegetation.
Several of these evergreen shrubs are growing in some wasteland next to one of the schools in town. As pretty as they are:
It would make sense for the municipality to remove them, especially as they fall into the Category 1 section of invasive aliens in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
Further useful information can be read at:
These are some of the views I enjoy while driving along the Highlands road in the Lothians area not far from town:
It is along this road that we sometimes see a variety of wild animals as well as cattle, horses and sheep. It is a tranquil place to be: the area is filled with birdsong, butterflies, insects and spider webs. It is a place to forget about COVID-19 and to relish living in this beautiful country.
When we moved into a newly-built house in a recently developed residential area of Pietermaritzburg, it took us a while to clear the builder’s rubble and to level an area for a lawn. As novice gardeners, we turned to the local nurseries for assistance in choosing plants for this garden we were creating from scratch. Given the hot summers we experienced in the then Natal, we naturally wanted to plant some trees for shade.
Having selected a couple of indigenous trees, which we were warned would take a long time to grow, we were encouraged to plant at least one Tipuana tipu tree. This, we were told, was not only fast growing – could reach 4m in its first year – but would provide both shade as well as a pretty show of yellow flowers. This almost sounded too good to be true – of course it was!
We didn’t remain in that house for long enough to see the tree grow to maturity. However, upon moving into our present house in Grahamstown, we discovered an enormous Tipuana tipu tree growing next to the dividing wall on our neighbour’s property. There was an equally enormous one at the far end of our property too – that section has since been sub-divided and belongs to someone else. You can see how it towers over the double storey house (the grey roof of which is on the right) that has since been built next to it.
Because the relatively flat and dusty environment of Mmabatho and Mahikeng in the then Bophuthatswana had few trees, we were delighted at first by the sight of these large mature trees, as well as the Natal fig that has provided us with great bird watching pleasure over the years. At first we didn’t think much of what we innocently regarded as the ‘wear and tear’ of an older tree, for these cracks attracted woodpeckers, nesting barbets and woodhoopes.
We have since discovered some of the many downsides of planting an alien tree such as the Tipuana tipu. It is very fast growing and self-seeds at a speed that keeps us on our toes, whipping out the tiny seedlings as soon as they make their presence known. If you don’t, you will end up with a large tree before you know it. Given that these trees grow to over 20m tall, one has to be careful not to become inundated with them. The green winged seeds dry to yellowish-brown and remain on the tree during winter only to ‘helicopter’ down in the spring breezes. There is no denying that their flowers, which appear from September to January, are pretty – both on the tree and when they cascade to the ground in the wind – but, they not only cover the lawn with a yellow carpet (which I don’t mind) but festoon the swimming pool with a thick yellow carpet of petals.
Despite the longevity of the Tipuana tipu (they can apparently live for several decades), these trees become brittle as they age. Unlike the Natal fig that bends and twists with the wind and then shakes itself back into shape, the Tipuana tipu resists the wind, cracks, and some of the branches twist off, landing with a thud on the ground crushing plants in the process – as we have found to our cost.
The Tipuana tipu originates from South America. While the Tipuana tipu has been planted as street trees in the past, it is an aggressive invader that has now been listed as a Category 3 invader plant and may no longer be planted. They also have aggressive root systems that, in our street, have lifted parts of the tarred road and, in our garden, have made our stone garden path tricky to walk on.
The Huilboerboon or Weeping Boer Bean or Tree Fuschia (Schotia brachypetala) is such an attractive indigenous tree that I am pleased to showcase it again. Most of the examples I have shown before grow in the Addo Elephant National Park, while this one I found growing out in the open on the edge of town.
Look it up on indigenous nursery sites and you will read that this evergreen to semi-deciduous tree has a beautiful shape with a low branching habit. Its counterparts in the game reserve do not get the opportunity to grow like this because they are regularly browsed by elephants and kudu, amongst other animals. The scraggly shape of this particular tree has undoubtedly been altered by the indiscriminate browsing of the Urban Herd that regularly grazes on the abandoned golf course.
The dense clusters of deep red flowers literally drip nectar and so they attract a variety of insects and birds.
The flowers tend to appear on the older branches of the Weeping Boer Bean.
The tree has been named Schotia in honour of Richard van der Schot, the Head Gardener at the Gardens at Schönbrunn in Hietzing, Vienna. The brachypetala part of the name means short petals. The sepals are showy, petals small or reduced to filaments.
The leaves are pinnately compound and dark green; larger nearer the leaf apex. The new leaves are initially a coppery bronze colour.
These trees occur naturally in the Eastern Cape. Fortunately they are very drought hardy as regular readers will be aware that we are in the midst of a serious drought.