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Rauvolfia caffra

BOTANICAL: Rauvolfia caffra
COMMON NAME: Quinine tree / Kina tree
OTHER NAMES: Kinaboom / Waterboekenhout / Koorsboom (Afr) umHlambamanzi (Zulu) umThundisa / umJelo (Xhosa)
SA TREE NO: 647
FAMILY: Apocynaceae (Oleander family)

A family of trees, shrubs, woody vines and herbs belonging to the order of Gentianales, with more than 400 genera and 4500 species, found primarily in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Many members possess a milky or watery latex, which is often poisonous, but is also used medicinally or as bird lime. Leaves are typically simple and opposite, or arranged in whorls of 3 or more, with smooth, entire margins. Flowers are small and grouped in clusters, rarely solitary, and the fruits are either berries or drupes, usually occurring in pairs but sometimes singly. Many members are highly decorative, such as the Frangipani and Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum).

BASIC OVERVIEW

A medium to very tall, elegant tree, with brilliantly coloured, decorative foliage, a bare, clean stem of soft and corky, pastel coloured bark, a spreading, rather upright, fairly rounded crown and delicate white flowers. A brilliant garden subject, nearly always associated with the presence of water in the wild.

HABITAT:

  • This tree is nearly always associated with water, occurring predominantly along the south-eastern coast and immediate interior, widespread in the Eastern Cape, also found in Natal, Transkei, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and further north into Kenya. Found in and on the margins of evergreen forests and riverine bush, alongside wooded stream and river banks, or in swamps.

DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN:

  • Almost evergreen, briefly deciduous in colder areas, where it may lose some of its foliage, but the pale new growth is rapid and usually appears before all the leaves have been shed.

BARK:

  • The main stem is tall, straight and bare, occasionally buttressed, with a diameter of 1 – 1.4 m. On young trees, the bark is smooth, pale yellow-brown and distinctively rippled. As the tree matures, it darkens and roughens, turning grey-brown, with distinctive corky patches and squarish cracks. The branchlets are brown, distinctly angled or winged, with visible leaf-scars, numerous small dots and copious amounts of milky sap.

FOLIAGE:

  • Exquisite, simple, long and narrow, obovate to lanceolate or oblong leaves (12-28 x 3-6 cm), crowded together in whorls of 3-6 at the ends of stubby branchlets. Finely leathery, hairless, with a prominent main vein and a dense fringe of tiny glands on the axils. They are a dark, bright and shiny green above, paler below, with entire margins that tend to merge into the leafstalks 20-30 mm).

FLOWERS:

  • Small (4 x 2 mm), somewhat trumpet shaped, waxy, white, greenish white or yellowish white flowers, growing in large, compressed and branched heads (100-200 mm). They have a sweet fragrance, usually grow at the ends of the branchlets, and are bisexual. (July to October)

FRUIT:

  • A globose to ovoid, large, fleshy, berry-like drupe, ripening green to purplish-black with distinctive creases. When in the green-stage, it is often covered with conspicuous white dots. The fruits occur either singly or paired, and are 5–20 mm long when 1 carpel (female reproductive organ of a flower) develops, 10–30 mm long when both carpels develop.

SEEDS:

  • Seeds ellipsoid, 7–13 mm long, obliquely compressed, 1-2 per fruit.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

HEIGHT:

  • 5-40 m

SPREAD:

  • 3-12 m

TOLERANCE:

  • Highly frost sensitive and water-loving. It can withstand being waterlogged for extended periods, and is also mildly resistant of high winds, but it is advisable to plant the tree in a protected area.

GROWTH RATE:

  • Fast. Under favourable conditions 1-1.5 m per year.

LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS:

  • Young plants prefer a sheltered, shady area, but as they grow a sunny position is essential.

SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS:

  • Sandy, coarse soil that drains easily, or loamy, moist and gritty, with a neutral Ph. It seems to prefer deep, good, fertile soils, but in the wild it even grows on clay-loam soils. When growing away from its preferred, wet conditions close to rivers and swamps, it is always associated with the availability of ground water. Compost can always be added to the soil to give the tree a nourishment boost. Very water-loving, water every 3-5 days in very hot conditions.

ADVANTAGES:

  • Rauvolfia is a fine, fast-growing tree, and will thrive in soggy spots unsuited for most other vegetation. It makes a fine shade tree, growing tall and spreading, and makes an ideal background foliage feature in large gardens or parks. For broad street avenues, it makes a handsome addition, and as it is not a generally messy tree, it will do well in parking lots, but care must be taken against the large root system, and adequate room for expansion provided. It is also planted for its decorative and ornamental properties in sheltered gardens.

WARNINGS:

  • Has an invasive, somewhat aggressive root system, so plant well away from permanent structures and paving. Some parts may be toxic to children and livestock, and Its bulky size and invasive root system make it inappropriate for smaller gardens.

WILDLIFE:

  • The flowers attract insects, wasps, bees and butterflies, which will in turn lure insectivorous birds. The berry-like fruits will entice the occasional fruit-eating bird species.

PROPAGATION:

  • The fleshy pulp must be removed from the fruit, washed with warm water and sown in seedling trays filled with a well-drained mixture of river sand and compost (2:1) The seeds should then be covered with a thin layer of sand or left on the surface. Germination is rapid and often very successful, and normally occurs within 2-4 weeks. Seedlings and young plants transplant well, and this should be done after the 2-3 leaf-stage. Water regularly for the first 3-4 months until they are established.

MEDICINAL:

  • The roots and bark, less often the leaves, are used. The crushed bark (sometimes the milky latex) is applied to rashes caused by measles and severe itching, also as a dressing for wounds. A decoction of the bark is taken as a purgative or emetic, to treat fever, insomnia, swellings, rheumatism, pneumonia, constipation and stomach pains. A piece of bark is chewed to relieve persistent coughs and toothache. A root bark infusion is taken to treat internal parasites, such as roundworm and tapeworm. The steam of a bark decoction is inhaled to treat epilepsy and eye diseases, while the sap of pounded fruits is used as ear drops. The thin and bitter latex was previously used to treat malaria, but is now known to be an ineffective treatment. It does however contain a large amount of indole alkaloids, such as reserpine, which in used in various preparations for the treatment of high blood pressure, erratic heart rate and as a sedative, and ajmalicine, which is said to increase blood flow to the brain, and is used to treat certain psychological aberrations caused by senility or cerebrovascular trauma.

PRACTICAL:

  • The wood is yellowish-white to pale brown, soft, moderately light with a rather featureless grain. It is used for general carpentry, to make kitchen utensils and shelving and occasionally smallish furniture, spoons, bowls, curios and fruit boxes. Craved drums are occasionally made from it and it is also used for poles in old-style buildings and for making bee hives. It also makes a good quality firewood, and the inner bark is fibrous, and is sometimes used to make bow strings and cords.

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