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Albizia adianthifolia – Flat Crown

BOTANICAL: Albizia adianthifolia
COMMON NAME: Flat-crown / Flat-crown Albizia / African Flat-crown / Rough bark Flat crown / West African albizia
OTHER NAMES: Platkroon (Afr); umBhelebhele/umgadankawu (Zulu); umGadawenkawu/ umhlandlothi (Xhosa); Muelela (Venda)

SA TREE NO: 148

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

An iconic African tree, magnificent, large, with a flattened, visibly spreading crown, attractive bark and dainty, “powder-puff”-like, snowy flowers. The name adiantifolia refers to the resemblance its leaves have to that of the Maiden-hair Fern. It is the provincial tree of the Natal province.

  • HABITAT: Usually associated with low-altitude montane and coastal forest, but occurring in altitudes of up to 2000m. Common in Transkei, Natal, reaching southern Mozambique and extending into tropical Africa.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Deciduous.

  • BARK: This tree has a tall, straight stem, and the bark is rough, grey to yellowish-brown, with shallow squares, giving a crocodile skin-like appearance.

  • FOLIAGE: Leaves are alternate and twice compound (100-400 mm). Each leaf is separated into 4-8, and each of the partitions has 6-12 pairs of leaflets. The leaflets are usually rectangular in shape, dark -green above, with paler, velvety undersides. Fine, rust-yellow coloured hairs cover the bases. Branchlets are thickly covered with reddish-brown hairs. New leaves and twigs are pinkish-red, developing into a pleasing lime-green.

  • FLOWERS: Attractive, greenish-white and sweetly-scented. Several flowerheads cluster together to create rounded, downy inflorescence, usually held above new leaves. The petals are white, with an often pink, red or green tinged staminal tube. The small flowers are merged into a tube by the stamens. Flowering normally from August – December.

  • FRUIT: Large, (125 x 25 mm), dehiscent, light-brown and papery pods. They are relatively flat, quite hairy, produced in profusion, usually maturing August to October the flowing year.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: 10 – 25 m

  • SPREAD: 8 -10 m

  • TOLERANCE: Can withstand long periods of drought, poor soil conditions but only moderate frost. Comfortable with temperatures between 15 and 34 degrees Celsius.

  • GROWTH RATE: Fast-growing when young, growing up to 2 m per year, especially if watered regularly.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Full sun.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Prefers deep, fertile and sandy soils, and does well in areas with a high summer rainfall and mild, dry winters. Can withstand periodic flooding.

  • ADVANTAGES: Highly valued for its shade giving abilities, especially in tea and coffee plantations. The ideal tree for streets, avenues, small or large gardens. Decorative. A natural pioneer plant, fast-growing, able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, thereby providing essential growth-nutrients for itself and surrounding vegetation. They are also planted for soil improvement and conservation in areas that require rehabilitation.

  • WILDLIFE: Various species of Charaxes butterflies breed on this tree, and the nectar filled flowers will attract honeybees and butterflies. The leaves are eaten by elephants, and the pods and seeds are much-loved by the Blue Duiker.

  • PROPAGATION: Germinates from seed. These should be harvested directly from the tree, as fallen specimens will most likely have been damaged by insects. Dry immediately after collection. Can be stored for 3 months. Advisable to remove the seeds from the hard coat by first pouring boiling water on them, then soaking for 12 – 24 hours in warm water, to speed up germination. Keep in a warm, very well-lit area, and sow in a mixture of river sand and fertilizer. Keep moist, but not wet.

  • MEDICINAL: Infusions of the bark and roots are used to treat skin diseases such as eczema and scabies, mainly in Zulu culture. A cold extract, from the roots alone, is applied topically to treat inflamed eyes. Dried and powdered bark is used as a snuff to alleviate headaches. Although the bark is considered poisonous, it nonetheless provides a remedy for bronchitis. A weak infusion (half a litre of water with one teaspoon of powdered bark) apparently helps treat stomach ailments. The sweet-smelling sap is taken internally to treat respiratory ailments, also applied onto sores to hasten healing, and is used to treat conjunctivitis and toothache.

  • PRACTICAL: The wood is a pale brown, light, straight-grained and suited for use as a general timber. It works easily, and is not prone to warping. Poles are used for hut building. Also, suitable for carvings, tools. furniture and boat building. Makes beautiful parquet floor tiles, and good firewood. The leaves are sometimes used as a “sponge” for washing by traditional women, and a sauce is made from the seeds.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: The genus of Albizia’s is fairly large, and found mostly in warmer parts of Africa. They are often mistaken for Acacia’s, but can be distinguished by; a lack of thorns (although some species have twigs that end in sharp spikes) and the flowers, which are fluffier and looser, with longer stamens.

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