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Nuxia Floribunda – Forest Elder

BOTANICAL: Nuxia floribunda
COMMON NAME: Forest Elder / Forest Nuxia / Wild Elder
OTHER NAMES: Bosvlier (Afr); iThambo/umKhobeza (Zulu); isiKhali (Xhosa); motlhabare (N.Sotho); mpupumwa (Venda)

SA TREE NO: 634

FAMILY: Loganiaceae (Strychnoc & Buddleja family)

A family of flowering plants classified in the order of Gentianales. Consisting of about 13 genera, 4 of which occur in SA. These plants are mainly tropical and subtropical, occurring worldwide. Characteristically, plants from this family are usually in the form of woody vines, shrubs or trees with attractive, wonderfully fragranced flower clusters, leaflike appendages at the bases of leafstalks and fleshy or capsule-like fruits.

BASIC OVERVIEW

A delightful, visually appealing and graceful tree, especially when in flower. With a lovely, clearly rounded, densely leafy crown, prolific flowering display and attractive, often patchy bark, it makes a stunning focal point in any garden, big or small. The name floribunda means “many flowered”, and these large, prolific flowerheads are a distinguishing feature from other species of Nuxia, which comprises of about 20 species, 5 of which occur in SA.

  • HABITAT: Occurring mostly in and around evergreen forests, also along watercourses, from the Cape to Mpumalanga, extending towards East and central Africa.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen

  • BARK: On younger trees, the bark is smooth, pale-grey and finely hairy. As the tree ages, it becomes darker and coarser, turning grey-brown, and fissuring slightly. A slight flaking of the bark can often be observed. Often fibrous and sinewy. The main trunk is tall, up to 600mm in diameter, and often grows in a twisted fashion.

  • FOLIAGE: Oblong to elliptic in shape, soft textured, glossy and light green. Simple leaves, arranged in whorls of 3. Carried on slender leaf-stalks, with a somewhat drooping habit, they normally measure 50-150 x 10-55 mm, and are 3 times as long as wide. The midrib is raised and purple in colour on immature leaves, and the margin is entire or vaguely toothed, often wavy, tapering to a pointed tip. Hairless, with a petiole (leafstalks) of up to 45mm long. (15-45mm).

  • FLOWERS: Small and lacy, tubular-shaped, white flowers, carried in large, loose, much-branched sprays up to 300mm long. The flowers themselves are small, only measuring 3mm, and are very pleasantly fragranced. The flowering heads are carried towards the ends of branches, during the autumn to winter season. (May-September)

  • FRUIT: A tiny, oval capsule, up to 4mm in diameter. Often enclosed up to halfway by the persistent remains of the calyx, it splits into 4 lobes, and turns from a pale creamy colour to brown as it develops. (June to October)

  • SEED: Fine, inconspicuous, released from the fruit capsule as it splits open.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: 3-10m, occasionally reaching 18-25m.

  • SPREAD: 3-5m.

  • TOLERANCE: Sensitive to frost and drought. In colder areas, it is recommended to try and plant the tree in a sheltered, North or West facing position.

  • GROWTH RATE: Average. Under optimal conditions, 1m per year.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Prefers full sun, but will grow in semi-shade.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Loamy soil. Requires a deep, rich, moist soil for optimum growth. Very water-loving.

  • ADVANTAGES: The roots are non-aggressive, so it is safe to plant near buildings or in small gardens with rather limited space. It does well in a container, and as an accent plant in decorative gardens. Planted in neat rows along street avenues it is sure to attract attention. As the roots are not invasive, it will look beautiful planted along a driveway, and makes a good screening tree, especially if planted together. Because the flowers are nectar-rich, it makes a good honey tree.

  • WARNINGS: Seedlings are prone to attacks from diseases such as the fungi Fusarium, and Meliola, which often proves fatal if not treated in time. The tree is sensitive to cold, particularly when young, and does not tolerate dry conditions very well.

  • WILDLIFE: The flowers attract honeybees in profusion, as well as butterflies. Certain fruit-eating birds will flock to the fruits. Numerous butterflies are known to host this plant, and the myriad of insect-life it attracts, will in turn lure insectivorous birds.

  • PROPAGATION: Difficult and tricky grown from seed, as the seeds have a low germination capacity and they are very small. The small seeds should be spread evenly across the surface of a good fertilizer and river sand mix, then lightly covered with more sand, to prevent too much moisture-loss. Place in a bright, warm area, where they will be protected from low temperatures, and keep moist. Germination will occur at 8-12 weeks. If propagation from cuttings, select healthy, actively-growing semi or hardwood cuttings, at least 10cm in length, and place these into a well-drained mixture of compost and river sand (equal parts). Keep a wary eye on all new growth, to prevent the onset of disease and mould.

  • MEDICINAL: The leaves are dried and burnt, and the smoke, if inhaled, is said to ease convulsions, especially in children and babies. Other uses for the leaves include relief from coughs, fevers, indigestion, colds and influenza.

  • PRACTICAL: The wood is a pale, yellowish-brown, sometimes pinkish and close-grained. Hard and heavy, it is suited for use as a general timber, and was used for wagon-building by the early pioneers. A good fuel wood, also popular for carpentry, fencing, furniture and turnery.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: Typically, the tree will flower in full every second year, and this will lead to a bumper crop of fruits.

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