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BOTANICAL: Halleria lucida
COMMON NAME: Tree Fuchsia / White Olive / Halleria / Wild Fuchsia
OTHER NAMES: Witolyf / Notsung / Ouhout (Afr) iMinza / uNobhibhi (Zulu) umBinza (Xhosa) Murevhe (Venda) Lebetsa (Sesotho)
SA TREE NO: 670
FAMILY: Scrophulariaceae (The Snapdragon or Figwort family)
A large, cosmopolitan family of flowering plants, occurring worldwide but mostly in temperate to tropical climates, consisting mainly of shrubs and herbs, but also a few small trees and vines. Members usually have simple, opposite or alternate, rarely whorled, leaves, flowers that are carried in cymes or racemes, and fruits that are mostly berries or valved capsules. Various garden ornamentals, such as Snapdragons, Foxgloves and Penstemons are included, as well as certain parasites, like Witchweed, and the medicinal Digitalis purpurea, which is used to treat various heart conditions.
One of our most splendid indigenous ornamental trees, Halleria lucida often grows as a small to medium sized, willowy tree or large shrub, with a fairly rounded, elegantly spreading crown, drooping, sprawling branches and striking, vividly coloured flowers that cover the entire tree. The picturesque berries are borne en masse on the old wood, and the tree is highly attractive, both in flower and fruit, especially to birds.
Normally found in the wetter regions of the country, from the coast to elevations of about 2000 m. It is especially common in and on the margins of evergreen, swamp and mist belt forests, but also occurs in a wide variety of other habitats, from woodland, grassland and rock-strewn mountain slopes, to Karroo shrub and along the banks of streams. Particularly widespread in the Western Cape, extending to the Free State, Natal, Transkei, Lesotho and further north into tropical Africa.
Normally evergreen, but in areas with very cold and harsh winters it has been known to lose some of its foliage for a short time.
Whitish-grey to greyish-brown, flaking and longitudinally fissured. The main stem is tall, slender and erect, with a diameter of about 50 mm, but the tree often grows in a multi-stemmed manner, with grooved branches.
Oval, simple and oppositely arranged, with broad, almost square bases and tapering tips, 25-60 x 10 -35 mm. The leaves have a drooping, loosely hanging habit, finely serrated or scalloped margins, and a thin, fibrous and rubbery texture. They are glossy, dark or bright green above and slightly paler below, and typically hairless. The petioles are up to 10 mm long.
Showy, orange, white or deep-red, cylindrical and curved, with 4 -5 small petals. The flowers are very rich in nectar, occur singly or in pairs, and are usually borne in dense clusters close to the stem on the old wood, but may sometimes appear with the new growth, where they can be seen growing from the leaf axils. They hang on slender stalks, and normally measure between 30 and 40 mm. (April to August)
Oval to round, berry-like, fleshy capsules, frequently crowned by the remnants of the flowers, forming a slight, tail-like wisp. They are green, ripening to a lustrous purple-black, 1-1.5 cm in diameter, and are edible, quite sweet, but not very tasty, and usually leave a dry taste in the mouth. (June to February)
The seeds are minuscule, black and flake-like, and are embedded in the fleshy aril of the fruits.
2-10 m, occasionally reaching 30 m in forested regions. In cultivation, they normally only reach 5m, and in open, more austere habitats they may only grow as a small, rounded shrub of 1-2m.
A comparatively hardy tree, able to endure occasional frosty spells of up to -6 °c, but young and unestablished plants can be severely damaged or even killed, and should be protected against extreme cold for at least the first 2 – 3 years. It is mildly drought tolerant, but does not enjoy very high temperatures.
Growth is rapid in moist, temperate environments, up to 1.2 m per year, but if conditions are excessively cold or dry, growth will be significantly slower.
Full sun or partial, dappled shade.
SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS:
It is able to grow in a wide variety of soil types and conditions, from sandy to loamy, but optimum growth will occur in well-drained, slightly acidic, fertile soil (humus / compost enriched). Relatively water-loving, and prefers a steady supply of water all year round.
An essential part of every bird garden, but, if anything, it should be grown for its prolific flowering display and attractive berries. It does well in a large container, and does not have an aggressive root system, so it is safe to plant it close to paving and walls. Low-maintenance and relatively hardy, it will make a stunning single specimen, but looks equally beautiful when planted in groups or as a screening plant. It makes a good, if rather rambling hedge, and is suited for small, coastal or rocky gardens or large, sunny patios.
The flowers, being rich in nectar, attract Sunbirds and other nectar-feeders, and also lure a wealth of insect life – honeybees, wasps, beetles and butterflies among others. The leaves are browsed by game and livestock, while the fruits are eaten by various small, fruit-eating bird species, especially White-eyes.
Easily and readily propagated from seed or cuttings. It is best to sow the seeds in spring or early summer, in a well-drained, fertile mixture of compost and river sand (1:2). Germination usually occurs within 6-8 weeks. The seedling trays should be stored in a temperate, warm and bright area, but should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Optionally, and to conserve moisture, a thin layer of mulch can be spread over the soil. Keep moist, but allow adequate time for the soil to dry out between watering. Soft- or hardwood cuttings, taken from active growths on the tree, should be harvested during spring or autumn months, then treated with a rooting hormone and placed in a similar growing medium to seedlings. Mist often, and roots should start developing after about 4 weeks.
Various concoctions of the leaves and roots are used, mainly against skin and ear complaints. A liquid extracted from crushed and dried leaves is used as drops to relieve earache.
The wood is pale, creamy white, quite strong, solid and heavy, but is not often used except for small implement handles and occasionally, spear shafts. It is used to start a fire by friction, and makes a good firewood. The tree is believed to possess magical properties, particularly amongst native peoples, and the ashes from burnt twigs are mixed with crocodile fat and used as protective charms, said to deter evil spirits and lightning. Ashes are also smeared onto Rhamnus prinoides (Shiny-leaf Buckthorn) cuttings, and placed around a village to shelter it from malign forces and bad weather.
First flowering can be expected at 2 years of age, and every year thereafter.