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Pittosporum viridiflorum – Cheesewood

BOTANICAL: Pittosporum viridiflorum
COMMON NAME: Cheesewood / Cape Pittosporum / White Cape Beech
OTHER NAMES: Kasuur (Afr); kgalagangwe (Nortehrn Sotho); umkhwenkhwe (Xhosa); umfusamvu (Zulu)


FAMILY: Pittosporaceae (Pittosporum or Cheesewood family).

This family of plants belongs to the order Apiales, and are distributed from tropical Africa to the Pacific Islands. There are somewhat 9 genera of trees, shrubs or vine- like plants in this family, with only one genus indigenous to SA. Members possess long, leathery and evergreen leaves, white, yellow or red hued flowers, and often have a resin-like substance in the stem ducks.


The name stems from the Greek word pitta, which means resin, and spora, a seed, and is believed to refer to the fact that the seeds are often covered with a resinous layer. A most worthwhile garden tree – hardy, not messy, with a beautiful form, striking, colourful seeds, glossy foliage and fragrant flowers. Low maintenance, with non-invasive root system and a lovely rounded crown that provides deep shade. Protected in SA, and crowned tree of the year in 2002

  • HABITAT: Occurs over a wide range of altitudes and environments, from woodland, bushveld, rocky outcrops and forest margins, to riverine thickets. Widespread over the southern and eastern parts of SA, extending into tropical Africa.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: In higher altitudes, the tree tends to be deciduous, while it often remains evergreen near the coast.

  • BARK: Light grey and smoother on young trees, maturing to a pale, greyish brown. In older specimens, the bark is darker and coarser, and often streaked horizontally with conspicuous corky lenticels (spots). On very large trees, the trunk is often furrowed. The stem often exudes a resin, which runs down the trunk in long streaks.

  • FOLIAGE: The leaves are simple, alternate and often spirally arranged or crowded at the ends of branchlets. Oval to broadly oblanceolate in shape, wider above the middle part, but often very variable in size, ranging from 6-11 x 2-4 cm. The margin is entire, frequently wavy, with a rounded tip. More or less hairless, dark to bluish-green above, paler below, with conspicuous net-veining. One deformed leaf is often present, and 3 small dots set in a triangle can be observed in the cross-section of a broken off leafstalk. When crushed or bruised, the leaves give off a pungent resinous smell.

  • FLOWERS: Small, creamy-yellow to greenish white flowers. They are arranged in dense groups or panicles and emit a slight, pleasantly-sweet fragrance. Usually blooming in early summer, from September to December.

  • FRUIT: Creamy, yellowish-brown capsules, 5-10 mm in diameter, are carried in profusion from May to September. They are very attractive, and when mature, split open to reveal 4 bright red or deep orange seeds. These are coated in a pasty, sticky, resin- like substance.


  • HEIGHT: Varies from a large shrub up to 4m, to a forest giant of 30m. In the garden, usually between 3-15 m.

  • SPREAD: 3-6 m

  • TOLERANCE: Slight frost can be withstood, and moderate drought. The trees grow best with moderate, regular watering.

  • GROWTH RATE: Average – fast.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Full sun or light shade.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Well-drained, moist soils. Prefers a slightly acidic Ph.

  • ADVANTAGES: Very popular as an ornamental, and often labelled as an ideal garden tree, with a neat growth habit, non-aggressive root system, (can be planted close to pools, buildings and retainer walls) attractive and striking seed display, scented blooms and general hardy nature. It takes well to pruning, and makes a wonderful hedge or screening plant. Also, does well planted in a container, perfect for patios and, planted close together, the trees make for an excellent windbreak. The flowers are most fragrant towards dusk, and will fill the garden with a sublime scent. Transplants well, and is quick to recover.

  • WILDLIFE: The showy seeds are loved by many seed-eating bird species, especially the Red-eyed Dove. Honeybees, wasps, butterflies and a variety of insects will be lured by the honey-scented inflorescence, which will also attract insectivorous birds. The leaves are browsed by livestock, as well as game such as kudu, nyala and bushbuck.

  • PROPAGATION: Undamaged seeds have a high germination rate, and will sprout within 6-12 weeks after being sown in a well-drained and aerated growing medium mix of river sand and compost. Mist often, and allow adequate time to dry out between watering. To lessen the sticky coating, wash the seeds in warm water, then rub vigorously between the palms of your hand, and allow to dry beneath a light mesh. Hard or softwood cuttings, taken from active growths on the tree, strike easily and rapidly.

  • MEDICINAL: Mainly the bark, which has a sweetish, resinous smell and bitter taste, is used, most often as an emetic. It is reported to provide relief from stomach – (biliousness, pain) and chest complaints, as well as fever and dizziness. For people suffering from anaemia, a supplement of the bark is given, and the roasted bark of young trees is used to treat cases of dysentery. Infusions are said to have a calming effect, while also relieving pain. In cattle, it is used to treat black-gall sickness and red water.

  • PRACTICAL: The wood is a light, pastel brown colour. Soft and light in texture, it is not often used, though occasionally kitchen shelves and certain, small furniture items have been constructed from it. Makes for relatively good firewood. The bark contains tannins, and produces a red dye.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: Pittosporum undulatum, a variety from Australia, is now classed as a Category 1 invader, and cultivation in SA is prohibited. The tree is often confused with the White milkwood (sideroxylon inerme)

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