Looking for the perfect tree?

2008-01-09 00:00

No garden is complete without the tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida).

Not only is this an attractive tree and an asset to any garden, it is also one of the best trees for attracting birds. This fast-growing hardy and adaptable tree is popular and versatile. It is evergreen, thinning a little in very harsh winters and has a non-aggressive root system. Suitable for home, office, school or park gardens as well as on farms, the tree grows up to five metres in the garden and 12 metres in the wild. Halleria lucida makes a shapely specimen for a smaller garden and also looks at home in a larger landscape, where it can be planted in groups. The tree can be used to provide shade, or it can be planted in the shade under a larger tree. It can also be grown in a large pot. Planted along a driveway or fence line, it can form a wonderful hedge or screen.

The tree’s leaves are glossy green above and lighter below, and its rough pale grey grooved bark is a haven for small insects. On closer inspection you will find beautiful tubular red-orange fuchsia-like flowers, which grow directly on the branches. These nectar-rich flowers attract bees, butterflies and birds such as the Protea Canary and Olive Sunbird. The rounded fleshy fruits are edible, initially green in colour, and mature to black. The fruit is highly sought after by mousebirds, Rameron Pigeons, Natal Robins, Cape Robins, Black-

collared Barbets and Crested Barbets, to name a few.

The Halleria lucida occurs naturally in a variety of habitats such as swamp forest, mountain slopes, rocky outcrops, along streams, forest margins and in deep forest. It grows from the Cape peninsula in the south in a strip up the eastern coast of South Africa, through the Eastern Cape to Lesotho, the eastern Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland where it turns inland and roughly follows the escarpment into Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Northern and North West Province.

Traditionally, the Halleria lucida has many uses. It is used to treat skin and ear complaints. This tree is also considered to be a charm against evil. The twigs are burnt when offering sacrifices to ancestral spirits. The wood is also used to start a fire by friction. Halleria lucida timber is well suited to carpentry, but is not used much because the pieces are small. It was once valued for wagon poles, tools and spear shafts.

The Halleria lucida is easily propagated from cuttings or seed. Seedlings and young plants transplant well and can grow up to one metre per year. So look no further when you are thinking of adding another species to your garden. Inquire at your local nursery or garden centre about an attractive yellow flowering option, which is also now available.

• Sonja van der Merwe is an indigenous plant enthusiast and owner of Springvale Nursery and Gardening.

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