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Antidesma venosum – Tasselberry

BOTANICAL: Antidesma venosum
COMMON NAME: Tasselberry / African Tassleberry
OTHER NAMES: Voelsitboom / Tosselbessie / isiBangamlotha / umHlalanyoni (Zulu); anShongi (Tshonga); umhlalanyoni (Siswati); umtyongi (Xhosa)
SA TREE NO: 318

FAMILY: Phyllanthaceae

A family of flowering plants in the order of Malpighiales, with somewhat 1700 species and over 59 genera. Members are most abundant and prevalent in temperate, tropical and subtropical zones, and are best represented in the southern hemisphere, where they favour vegetation types such as rainforests, savannah and accompanying ecosystems. Nearly all the affiliates of this family are trees, shrubs or herbs, with a few climbers and succulents being recognised. The family was previously associated with the Euphorbiaceae family, but, only a few yield a resinous exudate, and none have latex, unlike many members of Euphorbiaceae. Members usually possess finely cracking bark, simple and alternate, glandless leaves with entire margins and conspicuous petioles. The flowers are carried in the leaf axils, and fruits are either a drupe or berry, with 2 seeds in each chamber. Armaments are rare.

BASIC OVERVIEW

A strikingly attractive, versatile shrub or small tree, frequently seen growing in a spreading, low-branching habit, with arching, somewhat drooping branches and a compact, rounded crown. Extremely decorative when in fruit and flower, with lustrously coloured, abundant, berry-like fruits, dainty flowering spikes and dark, glossy, heavily veined leaves, hence the name venosum (prominent veins). An indispensable tree for the wildlife garden. Antidesma has about 100 species, with 4 occurring on the African continent.

  • HABITAT: A. venosum is naturally found growing in low to medium elevations, in temperate, tropic zones. In SA, it is mainly found along the Eastern seaboard, where it is restricted to moist bushveld and coastal bush. It is also found along rivers and streams, on the margins of forests, woodland and wooded grassland, as well as on sandy banks. Also found in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, reaching northwards into Sudan.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen to semi-deciduous, depending on the seasonal rainfall.

  • BARK: A pale grey to grey-brown, smooth to somewhat rough, with occasional longitudinal fissures, especially on older trees. Pale, grey-white lenticels (dots) can often be seen in scattered patches on the bole. It has been recorded that trees growing in shady places have darker, matt-grey bark, while specimens exposed to more sunlight have lighter grey bark. The main stem often grows in a twisted fashion, branching low down. New twigs are bright green and covered in a layer of dense hairs.

  • FOLIAGE: The leaves are dark-green and glossy above, with paler undersides often covered in fine, light orange-brown hairs. They have a velvety, softly leathery feel are simple and arranged alternately on the branches, with very noticeable lateral veins. The leaves are typically large, measuring 25-150 x 20-100 mm, and oval to elliptic in shape. The midribs and veins are sunken above, raised below, and the leafstalk is hairy with a general length of 6mm. The stipules (small leaf-like appendages at the bases of leafstalks) are large and conspicuous. Before abscission, they turn a lovely light golden-yellow.

  • FLOWERS: Very small, greenish-yellow and borne on long, drooping flowering spikes. Male and female flowers are carried on separate trees, and if cultivation is desired, both will have to be present. Male flowers are pale-yellow to white, and are carried on long, slender spikes (up to 160mm long), that dangle from the branches in profusion, while female flower-spikes are shorter (50-80mm), and have a reddish, rusty colour. (October to January). The young spikes are often heavily parasitized and damaged by insects, resulting in tangled, malformed and sterile growths.

  • FRUIT: Small, berry-like, fleshy spheres (8x4mm), are carried in closely packed, hanging clusters (tassels) of up to 10 cm long. The fruits are green when young, and individually ripen to white, bright-red or purplish-black, often resulting in a multi-coloured tassel. The fruiting season is typically between January and May, and each tree may remain in fruit for more than a month.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: 3-10 m. The tree most often naturally grows in a scrambling, shrub-like manner, but it can easily be trained into a taller, more upright from.

  • SPREAD: 2- 4 m.

  • TOLERANCE: Frost tender, young trees should be sheltered against extreme cold. Once established, it can withstand mild cold and short periods of light drought.

  • GROWTH RATE: Average to fast, young trees can grow between 700 and 900 mm per year.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Prefers to be in a sunny, temperate area. Partial shade will be accepted, but make sure at least a substantial amount of either morning or afternoon sun is received.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Well-drained, Loamy or sandy soil is acceptable, but for thick, luxuriant growth a little bone meal and fresh, rich compost should be added. In very hot areas, cover the surrounding soil with a layer of mulch to retain moisture around the tree and lessen weed-growth. Moderate water requirements, extra can be given during hot summer months. Prefers areas with low to moderate, summer rainfall and a distinctive dry season.

  • ADVANTAGES: A wonderful garden tree, with a neat, densely rounded crown that gives deep, cool shade, and a sprawling growth habit. The roots are not aggressive, so it can be planted close to permanent structures without incurring damages. The tree is very decorative in all seasons, strikingly beautiful in fruit, and will bear every year. Due to its habit of growing as a dense, multi-branched shrub/small tree, is makes a perfect screening or hedge plant, offering privacy and shelter. It is also ideal for bird parks, along streetways, or as a focal point in large or small gardens.

  • WARNINGS: The roots are said to be poisonous, and care should be taken when handling or using.

  • WILDLIFE: This tree is truly a wildlife magnet – the leaves are browsed by game and stock, while the tasty fruits are loved by a multitude of bird species, from bats to hornbills. Monkeys, genets, baboons, bush pigs and various buck eat the fallen fruit and the strongly, even unpleasantly, scented flower spikes are irresistible to honeybees and insects. The fruits have even been used as a good fish-bait!

  • PROPAGATION: To propagate from seeds, harvest fresh fruits from the tree and wash them, then dry in a shaded area and cover with a thin mesh to protect from insects. Sow the seeds in a well-drained mixture of river sand and compost (2:1), and cover in a thin layer of mulch. Keep in a warm, bright area (not direct sunlight) and mist often. Germination is good, and usually occurs within 15-20 days. Can also be grown from suckers – take sturdy, active hardwood cutting from previous seasons growth, place firmly in a similar mixture, and keep moist. To stimulate development, treat with a rooting hormone.

  • MEDICINAL: The bark, roots, fruits and leaves are all used. Concoctions of the leaves are used as purgatives and to treat dysentery, diarrhoea and various other stomach ailments. Root and bark extractions are said to bring relief from pain, and are added to a hot bath to relive muscle pains. Similarly, the extracts have been used a traditional snakebite remedy, and to ease coughs and against hookworm infestations. For liver complaints, the seeds are soaked in water and then drunk. Extracts from the roots have proven physiological effects on the pulmonary system.

  • PRACTICAL: The wood is used in the construction of various building materials, poles and hunting apparatuses such as knife sheaths and fishing rods. It also makes a good firewood. The twigs are mildly fibrous, and have been used to make ropes.

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