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Dovyalis caffra – Kei Apple

BOTANICAL: Dovyalis caffra
COMMON NAME: Kei Apple / Kai Apple / Dingaan’s Apricot / Wild Apricot / Kau Apple
OTHER NAMES: Kei Appel / Appelkoosdoring (Afr) umQokolo (Zulu) motlhono (N. Sotho) amaqokolo (Ndebele) incagolo (Xhosa)
SA TREE NO: 507
FAMILY: Salicaceae (The Willow and Poplar family)

A large family of flowering plants, placed in the order Malpighiales. This family occurs worldwide, from tropical and temperate to boreal regions, but most species found in Southern Africa today were introduced and have become naturalised, but have their origins in Europe, Asia and North America. It consists of trees and shrubs, including Willows, Aspen, Cottonwoods and Poplars, and, due to recent genetic studies, has been expanded to include somewhat 56 genera and over 1200 species. Members are dioecious (male & female flowers on separate trees), with flowers that lack petals and are borne on erect or pendulous spikes, simple, alternately arranged, toothed or entire margined leaves, small, bivalved, capsuled fruit and woolly or hairy seeds. Most members are known to contain Salicin compounds.

BASIC OVERVIEW

A delightful, much branched small tree or large shrub, with dark, lustrous foliage, prolific, nectar-laden flowers and a lovely, colourful fruiting display. This strikingly handsome, shrubby tree is armed with ferocious spines and a hardy, robust nature.

  • HABITAT: Found in a variety of habitats, from evergreen, coastal and riverine forests to dry woodland and rocky outcrops, where it is often associated with termite mounds. It does prefer areas with warm summers and moderate rainfall. From bushveld and dry, hot valleys in Natal and Transkei, extending to the Eastern Cape and into Zimbabwe.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen or briefly deciduous.

  • BARK: On young trees the bark is smooth, silvery-grey, and very spiny. As the tree matures, the bark becomes dark-grey, rough and fissured, often flaking into square sections, with fewer spines. The stout spines are between 3 & 6 cm long.

  • FOLIAGE: Simple, alternately arranged, narrowly ovoid to broadly obovate elliptic leaves, measuring 2-5.5 x 1-3 cm. Dark, glossy green above, paler below, hairless and rubbery textured, with entire, slightly rolled under margins, rounded tips and prominent lateral veins on the top. They are grouped together in tight clusters on short, dwarf branches. The petiole is 2-5mm long.

  • FLOWERS: Small and inconspicuous, creamy yellow-green, nectar-laden, pendulous spikes that grow from the leaf axils and are carried on short branchlets. Male flowers are about 3mm long, and occur in dense clusters of 5-10 flowers, while female blooms are longer, 4-10 mm, and occur singly or in sets of 2-3. The flowers are carried on separate trees, from November to January.

  • FRUIT: An oval to nearly round capsule, resembling a plum. Fleshy, yellowish-orange, slightly velvety, up to 4cm in diameter, with a thin skin and a sharp, invigorating flavour. Very high in Vitamin C. (December to January)

  • SEED: Up to 12 woolly seeds, embedded in the fleshy pulp of the fruit, each up to 1cm long.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: 3 -9 m

  • SPREAD: 3-4 m

  • TOLERANCE: Amazingly hardy, especially once properly established. It can withstand quite severe frosts and extended periods of drought, as well as the strong, gusty, salt-laden winds typical of coastal areas. Ideal for coastal gardens, or gardens with hot days and cold nights, in mostly low rainfall zones. Young plants should however be sheltered against extremes until they have adjusted to their surroundings.

  • GROWTH RATE: Moderate, young trees growing somewhat 60 cm per year.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Full sun or partial, light shade.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: This versatile tree will tolerate sandy, loamy and saline soils, but for optimum growth it prefers a well-drained, humus (well-aged compost) enriched soil. Young and newly transplanted trees need to be watered regularly, but once established, it is remarkably eater-wise and only requires extra watering during prolonged periods of very hot and dry weather.

  • ADVANTAGES: The abundance of spines, (modified stems) and its tendency to grow in a dense, bushy manner, while often retaining the lower branches, makes it the perfect specimen for an impenetrable, yet attractive hedge. It responds very well to pruning, and trains easily. It also makes a beautiful bonsai specimen, and is suited for larger containers or as a patio plant. Due to its shrubby nature, it makes a wonderful screening or border plant, and is ideal for a mixed bush clump in a bird garden. The small tree will also do well as a windbreak, and is perfect for problematic coastal gardens or those with limited space.

  • WARNINGS: The trees are known to exhibit allelopathic tendencies, which is a biological phenomenon, influenced by external factors such as soil Ph, temperature and availability of nutrients, in which one organism produces certain biochemicals that noticeably effects the development of surrounding organisms. This process can either be beneficial or detrimental, but in the case of Dovyalis caffra, it is negative.

  • WILDLIFE: The leaves are often used as fodder, and are browsed by antelope. The fleshy fruit is loved by people, baboons, monkeys, bush babies, duiker, and nearly all fruit-eating birds. The flowers also attract a myriad of butterflies, honeybees and insects, which will of course in turn lure a wealth of insectivorous bird species.

  • PROPAGATION: Easily grown from seeds or cuttings. Seeds must be harvested fresh from recently ripened fruits, then dried, preferably under a thin mesh, in a shaded area. Sow the seeds in a mixture of equal parts river sand and fertiliser, then cover with a thin layer of sand or mulch. Place in a bright area, but not in direct sunlight, and keep the soil moist. Germination is likely to occur within 3-4 weeks and the seedlings transplant well once past the two-leaf stage. Cuttings must be taken from active growths on the tree, and can be treated with a rooting hormone prior to planting in a similar mixture.

  • MEDICINAL: Medicinal uses are not well-known, but it is said that if the fruit is steeped in water and allowed to ferment, the solution can be used as an effective, organic herbicide.

  • PRACTICAL: The whitish-grey wood is hard, dense and heavy, but due to its limited size it is not extensively utilised. The tree’s main ………………is the globose, apricot-like fruits, which are eaten raw or cooked. They are very pleasantly flavoured, and make excellent preserves, marmalades and jellies.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: Dovyalis is Greek for spear, and it refers to the numerous, robust spines the tree is endowed with. Only the female tree bears fruit, and this usually occurs at about 3 years of age; both sexes need to be propagated if fruit is desired, and one male is adequate for about 20 or more females.

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