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Acacia xanthophloea – Fever Tree

BOTANICAL: Vachellia Xanthophloea (previously Acacia Xanthophloea)
COMMON NAME: Fever Tree
OTHER NAMES: Koorsboom (Afr); umHlosinga (Zulu); More O Mosetlha (Setswana); munzhelenga (Tshivenda)

SA TREE NO: 189

FAMILY: Fabaceae or Leguminosae (Legume or pod-bearing family). This family is also divided into 3 subfamilies; mimosa or acacia subfamily, cassia and pea. Regarded as one of the largest, as well as economically significant families, its members have been cultivated since early times for their plethora of uses – as food, medicine, fodder, for practical use (tannins) and ornamental displays.

BASIC OVERVIEW

The name ‘xanthophloea’ means “yellow bark” and refers to the charactereristic yellow-green bark of the tree. Early travellers believed that the tree was the cause of Malaria, hence the name “Fever tree”. Of course, this was untrue, but because the tree often grows in low-lying, marshy areas or near water, which is the ideal breeding ground for the fever-carrying mosquitos, the belief persisted. The enigmatic tree is well-shaped, usually with ascending branches but has been known to occasionally shed limbs.

  • HABITAT: Often seen growing gregariously near river banks and streams. Also grows in selective bushveld areas, but mainly lower altitude, marshy areas, as it is very water-loving.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Deciduous.

  • BARK: Smooth, yellow- green. A sulphurous, powdery film can be observed, which flakes to reveal the lime-greenish bark underneath. The almost luminous bark sometimes peels off in thick, large pieces, leaving sculptured patterns on the tree.

  • FOLIAGE: The leaves occur in groups at the nodes, are bipinnately compound, bright green and small. Occasionally densely covered in hairs. Slender, straight and white paired thorns are present and up to 7mm long, but become less pronounced as the tree matures.

  • FLOWERS: Clusters of bright yellow, sweetly-scented puffball flowers adorn the tree in spring. (Sep- Nov).

  • FRUIT: A rather thin, papery 13 x 1.4 cm pod. Brown to yellowish-brown, straight, hairless. After being shed from tree, it will usually break up into smaller segments to reveal small, hard brown seeds.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: A medium to tall tree, usually 10-15 m.

  • SPREAD: 5- 10m (sparsely foliated, somewhat flattened crown).

  • TOLERANCE: Sensitive to frost and extreme drought. If watered sufficiently during dry months, the tree should persevere.

  • GROWTH RATE: Under ideal conditions, it is a relatively fast grower, 1-1.5 m per year.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Prefers full sun.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Moist, well-watered soil. (water-loving)

  • ADVANTAGES: As with many Acacia species, the roots also contain nitrogen fixing bacteria, thus enriching the soil with this precious element and promoting positive and healthy plant growth around the tree. It will also provide light shade and shelter for sensitive plants which will be protected under its spreading canopy. The strikingly unique yellow-green bark will add a wonderful bushveld atmosphere to the garden. An exceptionally attractive tree, very popular in decorative gardens, parks and urban landscapes. Birds love to nest in it as the numerous thorn provide protection, especially from snakes. Planted together, the trees will make for a strikingly beautiful picture during the winter months when their pale, ghostly limbs stand bare.

  • WARNINGS: Once established, the tree does not respond well to being transplanted. Despite the fact that the tree might have an abundance of flowers, few pods fully develop, and seeds can be hard to come by.

  • WILDLIFE: The leaves and pods are browsed by game and giraffe, as well as monkeys. Young branches are favoured by elephants, while the gum is eaten by baboons. Monkeys, insects, bees, butterflies and birds, especially Grey Louries, eat the flowers.

  • PROPAGATION: Fairly easy to propagate from seed. Soak seeds in hot water overnight (about 6 hours). They will swell in size. Sow in river sand and compost mixture (3:1) Keep soil moist at all times. After approximately 6-8 weeks (2 leaf stage), they can be transplanted into bigger containers, using the same mixture. Be careful not to damage the long taproot as this will stunt growth. Once they reach about 1m, they can be transplanted into the ground.

  • MEDICINAL: The powdered roots and stem are used to treat fevers, headaches (the bark contains traces of quinine) and eye infections. Root decoctions are used to alleviate stomach complaints.

  • PRACTICAL: The wood is hard, heavy and quite useful as a general timber, but should be treated and seasoned well before use or it will eventually crack.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: The tree was described by early collectors in Africa as being evil looking, even leprous and sinister. However, in certain cultures, pieces of bark carried on the person are said to bring good fortune.

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