Small trees make magic

2014-10-10 00:00

SMALL legume trees such as Indigofera , Calpurnia and Virgilia are some of the most successful trees for a garden. They produce numerous sprays of beautiful flowers that attract those lovely large carpenter bees as well as sunbirds, by providing a constant supply of nectar.

A carefully planned selection of small trees provides a number of different reasons for a bird to make a home. Plant them close enough for the branches to touch so that spotted bush snakes can move through the vegetation without being seen. Rhus (now called Searsia) has many branches and hideouts for mannikin and flycatcher nests. The rough bark on the Halleria and Dombeya provides homes for grubs, which feed birds like white-eyes and warblers. Calpurnia attracts caterpillars that decimate all the leaves, but which attract woodpeckers, woodhoopoes, barbets and Boubou shrikes and the tree always recovers with stunning new leaves that mousebirds love to eat. Deciduous trees (Erythrina, Combretum and Heteropyxis) provide leaf litter for the thrushes and robin-chats to hunt for beetle grubs. Doves love to nest in Phoenix palm trees, and plectranthus will attract bees and possibly special long-tongue flies. Weavers favour fever trees, which are so popular in landscapes these days. During nest building, many bits may fall in your pool, but weavers are owl food and if you are lucky enough to be out one early evening (instead of watching TV), you might just see a barn owl grabbing a meal. You get the idea.

— Alison Young.


Just as red leaves hint at autumn, the bright green flush of new leaves signals spring. This is taken to the extreme at present, with conspicuous new white leaves on the forest bushwillow, Combretum kraussii (bosvaderlandswilg, u mdubu-wehlathi ). We often mistake these leaves for flowers, until closer examination reveals differently. Some people believe that the leaves attract pollinators to the less-conspicuous flowers, which are produced at the same time. The white leaves are dropped as the flowers mature and new green leaves emerge. The leaves turn reddish purple during winter, so if you want a tree that gives the full spectrum of leaf-colour changes, you cannot go wrong with this one. An added attraction is the four-winged greenish-red fruit that decorates the tree for a long time. The forest bushwillow grows up to 25 metres tall, so may not suit a small garden, but it does well in the KZN Midlands and along the coast.

The genus Combretum is versatile in the garden, especially the stunning scramblers, such as C. microphyllum (flame climbing bushwillow) and C. bracteosum (hiccup-nut), with clusters of red flowers, which will put any Bougainvillea to shame.

— Christina Curry.

• Comments are welcome: post on Facebook KZN Inland Branch BotSoc or e-mail botsoc

indigenous ideas for the garden

The white spring leaves of the forest bushwillow may attract pollinators to the flowers.

PHOTO: supplied



MORE often than not, we are told what we cannot plant, what we should eradicate from gardens and, recently, that we will be punished for not removing certain invasive plants. So what should we plant in our gardens instead? This Indigenous Gardening Wisdom column offers ways to incorporate local plants and wildlife-friendly practices in gardens. Members and supporters of the KZN Inland Branch of the Botanical Society of SA draw from their own gardening experiences to suggest fresh ideas for KZN gardeners.

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