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Euclea natalensis – Natal Guarri

BOTANICAL: Euclea natalensis
COMMON NAME: Natal Guarri / Large-leaved Guarri / Hairy Guarri / Natal Ebony
OTHER NAMES: Natal Ghwarrie swartbasboom / berggwarrie (Afr) iDungamuzi/isiZimane (Zulu); umTshekisani/umKhasa (Xhosa); umHlangula (Tsonga)

SA TREE NO: 35

FAMILY: Ebenaceae (Ebony family)

The family name stems from the Latin word “ebenus” which means ‘dark coloured”, and refers to the colour of the wood. It includes trees and shrubs. Members usually have alternate, opposite or spirally arranged leaves and are dioecious (male and female flowers are carried on separate trees). They occur mainly in warmer, tropical zones. In SA, there are only two genera found, namely Euclea and Diospyros, both of which have simple leaves and small, edible but unpleasant tasting fruit.

BASIC OVERVIEW

A resilient, attractive tree, with a very variable appearance, depending on its environment. Ranging from a shrub or small tree to tall and straight, with dark, lustrous, fairly spreading crown. It is immensely adaptable and highly valued amongst indigenous people for its multitude of medicinal benefits. Part of the Ebony family.

  • HABITAT: Found in a variety of habitats, from coastal and inland forest, to rocky outcrops and bushveld, from the eastern coastline, to Zimbabwe, even extending as far as Mozambique

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen

  • BARK: The main stem is about 480 mm in diameter. When young, the bark is pale-grey to white, smooth with fine fissures, and as the tree matures it changes, becoming a dark-grey to almost black and coarser. Young branchlets are covered in fine, rust coloured hairs.

  • FOLIAGE: The leaves are alternate, elliptic to oblong and spirally arranged. The margin is entire, thickened and often wavy. From above, the leaves are dark and glossy, with prominent veins, while underneath they are paler, and densely covered in soft rust coloured hairs, especially when young. The leaves have a tough, leathery texture, with a bluntly pointed to rounded tip. A black, fungus-like dust often covers the upper surface of the leaf. In spring, the new growth is very striking, being pale-gold tinged and velvety, and forms a lovely contrast to the existing, dark foliage.

  • FLOWERS: Small, bell-shaped, greenish-white to cream. They occur in dense heads, in profusion, from May to January. They have a heavy, even unpleasant scent, and all parts, except the petals, are densely covered with fine, woolly hairs.

  • FRUIT: The round, smooth to finely haired fruits are 7 to 10 mm in diameter, carried on hairy stalks in branched clusters and are edible. They are red, yellow and orange, ripening to black.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: In areas that are arid or very windy, with a lot of aerosol salt (coastal) growth will be slightly stunted, and it may only reach 2 -7 m, but under favourable environments, or in a forest, it can grow much taller, reaching 12 to 18 m.

  • SPREAD: Similarly, the spread will be reduced in aforementioned arears, and the crown tends to be droopier, (2-5 m), but in ideal conditions it can cover 5 – 10 m.

  • TOLERANCE: Wind resistant, and once properly established, quite drought tolerant.

  • GROWTH RATE: Average – slow.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Can be grown in full sun or semi-shade.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Prefers loamy soil. Plant the tree in a warm position, in rich soil, and water well during first few years to assist the tree with establishing itself, especially during the warm summer months.

  • ADVANTAGES: Appropriate for windy coastal gardens, as well as warm, subtropical, zones. It will grow well even in drier, bushveld areas. Attracts birds and insects, provides a reasonable amount of shade and excellent screening. Makes a lovely and fascinating specimen tree.

  • WARNINGS: Shelter from frost when young. The trees are dioecious, (male & female flowers carried on separate trees) and if the seed and fruit is sought, you will need to grow both sexes.

  • WILDLIFE: The flowers will attract honeybees, butterflies and insects, while the fruits are eaten by birds, monkeys and people.

  • PROPAGATION: Easily grown from seed. To start, clean off the fleshy layer as the pulp inhibits germination. Sow in early summer or spring, in a mixture of river sand and fertiliser. Place in a warm, bright spot, but not in direct sunlight. Keep moist, but well-drained. After the first few, proper leaves develop, they can be transplanted into individual pots.

  • If propagating from cuttings, make sure to take robust, well-developed, hard cuttings, and harvest during the active growing months (spring/summer). Place these into a well-aired and well-drained rooting medium, mist often, and keep at a stable temperature of about 22 -24 degrees Celsius.

  • MEDICINAL: Infusions and concoctions of the roots and bark are used to treat: intestinal worms, stomach disorders, chest complaints, urinary tract infections, head- and toothache, leprosy, abnormal skin growths and as a purgative.

  • PRACTICAL: Juice from the boiled roots is used to make a black dye, used to colour basket ware. Toothbrushes are made from the twigs. The wood is hard, tough and heavy, and is not used often, even as firewood.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: Euclea natalensis is divided into 6 subspecies, each with its own variations of height and appearance; acutifolia, angustifolia, capensis, magutensis, obovata and rotundifolia.

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