082 775 1224 / kerryn@cjmgrowers.co.za

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Cussonia spicata – Common Cabbage Tree

BOTANICAL: Cussonia spicata
COMMON NAME: Common Cabbage tree / Lowveld Cabbage tree / Spiked Cabbage tree
OTHER NAMES: Gewone Kiepersol (Afr); umSenge (Zulu, Xhosa); Musenzhe (Tsivenda)

SA TREE NO: 564

FAMILY: Araliaceae (Ivy and Cussonia family) Although the members of this family are distributed worldwide, they are mainly confined to the tropics. In South-Africa, the trees belonging to this family are inclined to have a cluster of large leaves growing from the ends of straight, clean stalks. The leaves can be either simple, compound, digitate, or lobed. Flowers tend to be clustered along spikes, creating large compound heads.

BASIC OVERVIEW

A small to medium growing tree, either single-stemmed or with numerous branches, spreading 1-2 m from the ground. The trunk is thickset, sturdy and up to 500mm in diameter, while the crown itself is much-branched, spreading, and characteristically dome-shaped, especially on older trees. Very decorative, and popular as an ornamental tree. The name “Kiepersol” is allegedly derived from the Portuguese word for a parasol.

  • HABITAT: Occurring in bushveld, on rocky outcrops, forest margins, and mountain slopes, extending into tropical Africa.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen

  • BARK: Greyish-brown, thick, corky, with longitudinal fissures.

  • FOLIAGE: Large, bi-digitate (leaflets are in the form of a outspread hand) leaves, carried on sturdy leafstalks (0.6 – 1m long). Usually clustered at the end of branches, they can reach up to 70 cm, with 5-9 primary leaflets. Leathery textured, a lovely grey to bluish-green, with conspicuous midribs and either entire or toothed leaf margins, depending on the tree.

  • FLOWERS: Inconspicuous, greenish-yellow flowers occurring in terminal double umbels, each consisting of 8-12 spikes that form candelabra-like flowerheads, from November to May.

  • FRUIT: Small (6mm diameter), fleshy and purplish in colour. They develop closely clustered together on the flower-bearing spikes. (June – September)

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: 3-15 m

  • SPREAD: 3-4 m

  • TOLERANCE: Sensitive to frost, especially when young. Wind resistant, can survive considerable periods of little water, suitable for water-wise gardens.

  • GROWTH RATE: Average to fast growing, depending on individual conditions. Quite long-lived.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Prefers full sun.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Low water requirements. Will grow well in most soil types, but to encourage lush growth, add bone meal and good compost to soil and water well, especially soon after transplanting and when young.

  • ADVANTAGES: With its distinctive and attractive form and foliage, it makes a wonderful focal point in a rock-feature garden. Also striking as a large container specimen, in paved areas (not a messy tree) and, with its unusual blue-grey foliage, it contrasts beautifully with the surrounding flora.

  • WARNINGS: There have been reports that the roots are toxic, so care should be taken.

  • WILDLIFE: The leaves make a good fodder for game & livestock. Baboons have been known to eat the fresh shoots, while the fruit is relished by birds (Mouse birds, Louries, Barbets, Starlings). The flowers attract bees, insects and especially the beautiful Charaxes butterflies.

  • PROPAGATION: Can be propagated from cuttings or seed. Seeds should be removed from the pulp, as it inhibits the germination process. Plant immediately, as they will lose their viability within 3 months. A mixture of river sand and compost is advised, as it allows for proper drainage. Cover with thin layer of mulch and keep moist. After about 4 months they should be ready to transplant into bigger containers. As with many other members of this family, an engorged stem base forms underground, and if the tree is transplanted, extra care should be taken not to harm this part, as it will stunt future growth. When planting, put considerable space between the tree and structures such as walls, pools and/or paving.

  • MEDICINAL: Infusions of the bark and roots are used to treat fever, nausea, indigestion, stomach ulcers, and venereal disease. Apparently also offers relief from uterine pain.

  • PRACTICAL: The wood is whitish in colour, soft, light and coarse textured, with a spongy core. Not really suitable as a general timber, but it has been used to make mole traps, and by the early pioneers to make brake blocks for their wagons. Farmers have also used it to make feeding trays for pigs and chickens, by splitting a stem and hollowing it out.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: During times of drought, the succulent roots are eaten by man and animal to provide moisture. (Roots are chewed, and the fibrous remains spat out.)

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kerryn@cjmgrowers.co.za

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