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Sapotaceae (The Milkwood & Stamvrug family)
A large family of the tropics and subtropics, consisting of somewhat 53 genera and a 1000 species of evergreen trees and shrubs, 7 genera found in Southern Africa. Members usually have simple, alternate or whorled leaves, clustered at the ends of branchlets, with entire margins. Most fruits are brightly coloured and edible, and exude a milky, non-toxic latex, which can also be found in the twigs, leaves and bark. Economically significant species of this family include the Manilkara zapotilla, from South America, from which the latex is extracted to make chewing gum, as well Palaquium gutta, from which golf balls and certain adhesives are made.
Silver-leaved Milkplum / Natal Milkplum / Forest stem-fruit
Silverblaarmelkpruim / Natal Melkpruim
umThongwane (isiZulu) umThungwane (isiXhosa) umTjongane (isiSwati)
The trees usually grow as large shrubs or small to medium trees, with decorative, pearly, shimmering silver-green foliage and attractive, bright red to dark purple fruits. The trunk may occasionally be attractively furrowed, and the trees tend to grow in a spreading, rather lateral manner. Nearly all parts of the trees contain a milky, non-toxic latex and they are valued for as a food source.
From the coast to elevations of about 1600 m, usually at the margins of or in mixed, coastal, evergreen and ravine forests, where it forms part of the under-storey vegetation. The trees also grow in clearings and copses, and are very widespread in Transkei and Natal, also the Eastern Cape, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and further north into tropical Africa.
Grey and brown, smooth textured when young, more mature specimens attractively cracking or scaling. The main stem is typically straight (300 – 500 mm diameter), with slender lateral shoots that tend to branch in a conspicuous sub-terminal arrangement, the new twigs emerging just below the tip. The fresh new branches are covered with a heavy layer of tawny hairs.
Slender, simple, ovate to oblanceolate leaves, (55-150 x 25-50 mm), with shiny, glabrous, grey-green upper-sides and silky, silvery-grey, woolly undersides. This sleek and silky appearance may deteriorate as the leaves mature. They are usually alternate or helically set, and tend to grow from the ends of the branchlets. The margins are entire, faintly undulating, and the leaves are tapering from the base, with pointed tips. The midrib is heavily sunken above, protruding from beneath, and the distinct lateral veins are closely parallel and umpteen. The petiole is 12-14 mm long, brown, creased, and the stipules are absent.
Creamy to white, small (3-5 mm), stalkless blooms, developing from the leaf axils in small groups of 1-3. (November – February)
Deep-red, cylindrical, very finely hairy, acorn-like drupes (15-25 x 10-15), with a fleshy, sweetish pulp covering a single, hard seed. They generally grow from the old wood, Edible, quite tasty when ripe. (June to November)
3-12 m, infrequently reaching 20 m.
Not resistant to frost or drought, as it usually grows in warm areas with a high underground water table.
Relatively slow-growing, only expanding between 300-400 mm per year under ideal conditions.
Loves shady areas, or areas with only slight, indirect sunlight.
SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS
Loamy, silty to slightly clay soils, with good water retaining properties. Peaty soil, with a high-water content and plenty of organic matter will also benefit development. Water-loving.
As it does not have an aggressive root system and prefers shady conditions, it makes an ideal container or patio plant, and can be planted close to permanent structures without worry. Highly decorative both in flower and fruit, and attracts wildlife in both stages. For gardens with a lot of shady areas, it will work very well, and it will tolerate periods of mild waterlogging. Planted in the wake of bigger trees, in a sheltered position, in groves or as part of a mixed vegetation display, it makes wonderfully ornamental addition.
The flowers lure butterflies, moths, bees and sunbirds, while the fruits are eaten by monkeys, bush babies, bush pigs, baboons, small antelope, fruit-eating birds and people. The trees are also the larval food plants for numerous butterfly species, including the beautiful Pluto euptera, Boisduval’s false Acraea and the false diadem or false chief (Pseudacraea Lucretia).
Best grown from fresh seeds, immediately after cleaning the fleshy pulp. Sow in a compost rich, peaty mixture, with a little bit of added river sand to ease drainage. (2:1) Place in a warm, shady area, and water often, but allow adequate time for the soil to dry out between watering’s to avoid rot and mildew. Germination is fair, and quite rapid, usually occurring between 2 – 4 weeks after sowing. When they have developed the first 2-3 true leaves, they can be carefully transplanted into larger, individual containers, where they must be kept for at least 2-3 years.
Not extensively used medicinally, but concoctions of the roots are used to treat gastric complaints and stomach pains.
The wood is strong, hard, tough and durable. As a general carpentry timber is works very well, and huts are constructed from the planks. It also makes a good fire or fuel wood, and is used to make sturdy poles, yokes and smaller implements, handles, tools and containers.
The species has been acknowledged as the accurate one for the trees previously well-known as Bequaertiodendron and Chrysophylum natalense.