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SA TREE: 18
Real Yellowwood / Broad-leaved Yellowwood / East African Yellowwood / Red-fruited Pondo
Opregte Geelhout (Afr) umKhoba / umSonti (Zulu) umCheya (Xhosa)
Podocarpaceae (The Yellowwood family)
A large family of conifers mainly found in the southern hemisphere, belonging to the order Pinales, with more than 17 genera and 110 species of ornamental and valuable, evergreen timber trees and shrubs. Members typically do bear traditional flowers, but instead produce primitive and reduced cones, with globose or elliptical seeds that mature within fleshy arils. The male and female reproductive organs are carried on separate trees (dioecious). Leaves are generally needle-like, broad or narrow, with entire or toothed margins, occurring in sub-opposite, alternate or spiral arrangements.
Yellowwoods are deeply entrenched in the legacy of our country. Not only did they play a large part in the history of the early pioneers, (many of the beautiful floorboards in the early Cape Dutch homes are made from their wood), they are also our largest indigenous trees. They are conifers, yet bear little to no likeness to their Pine kin. P. latifolius grows as a medium to tall tree, capped with a conical, often pyramid shaped crown that is often small in proportion to its giant form.
Occurs mainly in forests, be they coastal or mountainous. It is most common in the mist-belt forests of the country, and seems to grow in areas where many other Yellowwood species are almost completely absent. The trees are found from the Cape Peninsula, throughout most of Natal, Transkei, in the Eastern Orange Free State, up to Tanzania and wherever there are evergreen forests.
The main stem is tall, straight and a pale, yellowish, greyish-brown to dark brown, and can be very large, with a diameter of 1.5 to 3 m. The bark is very showy and distinct on older and larger specimens, as it flakes into long, narrow, vertical strips.
Large, (5-15 x 0.5-1.5cm), simple, somewhat drooping, thickly leathery leaves, normally found crowded at the ends of branchlets, set in a spirally, somewhat horizontally spreading style. The leaves are thick, tough and rubbery, dark, lush-green, narrowly elongated and sharp tipped, with tapering bases and entire margins that are often slightly rolled under. New leaves are very pretty, soft, pale-purple, suddenly fading to white before developing their mature colours. This tree has the broadest leaves off all the Yellowwood species.
These trees do not bear flowers in the conventional sense, but instead produce fleshy, berry-like cones. The male and female “flowers” are carried on separate trees. Male trees bear large (4-5 x 0.5-1 cm), solitary, catkin-like cones, with a rosy hue, (July – September), while female trees yield pointed, fleshy, bright-red, pinkish to magenta receptacles (female bracts that develop into a woody or brightly coloured fleshy base), which increase in size as the seeds mature. (December – February)
Each female receptacle carries 1 or 2, thinly fleshy, spherical seeds, (10-15mm). Blue-green, ripening to pink then red. (December – February)
Variable. In its natural forest environment, it can reach gigantic heights of 40 m, whereas it will only grow as a stunted, short tree rarely exceeding 3 m in heavily exposed areas, such as rocky mountainsides. In the garden it usually grows between 8-13 m.
The trees are not drought tolerant, but can withstand a reasonable amount of frost. Young and exposed trees should however be given adequate protection against extreme lows, and if distinct yellowing of the leaves is observed within their first two winters, it is best to replace the tree with something else. This tree is however the most frost resistant of all the Yellowwoods.
Slow growing, 30-50 cm per year.
Tolerant of full sun or semi-shade. (In their natural, forested environment, young trees, growing beneath the dense canopy, are often exposed to extended periods of shade, and this is a rather essential part to them growing tall, straight trunks).
SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS:
Yellowwoods prefer good, deep and fertile, humus enriched soils, but will tolerate slightly loamy or sandy, coarser soils. They also grow best in areas with a high annual rainfall, and their development can be stunted in very hot, dry areas, especially if the summers are extreme and the soils more shale. Although they do not naturally occur near the coast, they seem to grow extremely well in this normally humid environment. They will benefit from an added mulch layer on the surrounding soil and regular, deep watering, especially in the first 2-3 years.
As they are evergreen trees, with dense, lush foliage, they will exert a magnificent presence in the garden all year round. Birds love to roost and build their nests in amongst the thick, concealing branches, and the fleshy cones will also lure wildlife, as well as being very decorative. In cultivation, the trees tend to retrain branches near ground level, and very rarely attain their true stature, but this makes them good candidates, with a little training, for sturdy screens in large gardens. With their conical shape and glossy, lustrous growth, they make very ornamental roadside trees, and will also look beautiful when planted n public parks. In springtime the trees are very attractive, as the fresh, brightly coloured new eaves contrast with the dark-bluish older foliage.
The fleshy cones are a vital source of food for many birds, and numerus fruit-eating species, such as parrots, Lourie’s, and Hornbills are especially fond of them. People, monkeys, baboons and bush pigs have also been known to eat the ‘fruits’.
The decoction of the bark is used to treat stomach pains, and an infusion of the leaves is used to clear the intestinal tract of internal parasites.
Propagating from freshly harvested seeds is the most viable option, and has the highest success rate. Remove seeds from the receptacle, clean, then sow within 3-4 days. A well-drained and aerated mixture of river sand and compost (2”1) should be used, and seeds should not be covered too thickly with soil, only 3-5 cm. Store the seedling trays in a bright, but not sunny, spot, and mist often, keeping the soil moist at all times but not overly wet. Germination is rapid, and should occur within 2 months. (to hasten germination, the outer seed coat can be fractured) The saplings can be transplanted into larger containers once they have developed their first true leaves, and are about 15-20 cm tall. The seeds can be cold stored for up to a year, but care should be taken against moisture loss.
This is one of the Yellowwoods most valued for its beautiful timber. The wood is pale yellow to amber, fine-grained, relatively light and not very durable, but works very well and responds well to polishing, it does however need added support when drilling and mortising because of its fragility. Previously, the wood was in high demand, particularly for flooring, furniture and railway sleepers, and it was harvested on a large scale. Presently it is still prized for furniture and ship building, but it is also used for poles, panelling, boxes, construction, joinery, musical gadgets, novelties, agricultural implements, coffins, containers, vats, carving and turnery. It is also used as firewood, and it is considered a high-quality pulpwood. Numerous epiphytic orchids grow almost exclusively on the trees in the wild.
All species of Yellowwoods are protected in South Africa.