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Schotia brachypetala – Weeping Boer-bean

BOTANICAL: Schotia brachypetala
COMMON NAME: Weeping Boer-bean / Weeping Schotia / Tree Fuchsia / African Walnut / Hottentots Bean Tree / African Greenheart
OTHER NAMES: Huilerboerboon / Boerboon (Afr) umGxamu / uVovovo (Zulu) umGxam (Xhosa) molope (Northern Sotho) mutanswa (Venda)
SA TREE NO: 202
FAMILY: Fabaceae or Leguminosae (Legume or pod-bearing family).

This family is also divided into 3 subfamilies; mimosa or acacia subfamily, cassia and pea. Regarded as one of the largest, as well as economically significant families, its members have been cultivated since early times for their plethora of uses – as food, medicine, fodder, for practical use (tannins) and ornamental displays.

BASIC OVERVIEW

The Schotia genus is relatively small, with only 4 species in Southern Africa, and is mostly confined to the well-wooded eastern and southern parts of the republic. Normally a medium to large, craggy and thickset tree, exceptionally ornamental, with a fairly widespread, densely branched, curved crown, magnificent flowers and strikingly beautiful spring colours. The new leaves are tinted with various shades of copper, yellow, orange and red, and turn first a pale then brilliant, rich green as they mature.

  • HABITAT: Normally found in warmer areas, occasionally in the Eastern Cape, throughout Natal, Transkei and further north into Zimbabwe, even in Swaziland and Mozambique. Frequently associated with bushveld, shrub forest, river and stream banks, drier types of woodland and amongst termite mounds. Widespread but not common. Typically, the trees are not naturally found too close to the coast.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Briefly deciduous. Usually remains evergreen in warmer climates, but may briefly lose some of its foliage in areas with very cold winters.

  • BARK: Russet to greyish-brown and coarse on older trees, with a tendency to flake in squarish pieces, smoother and paler on young specimens. The trunk often has a diameter of between 40 & 60 cm, and varies from being tall and single stemmed to low-branching with multiple trunks.

  • FOLIAGE: Compound leaves, up to 180 mm long. Each leaf is divided into 4-6 pairs of opposite or sub-opposite leaflets, (2-8.5 x 1.5-4.5cm), with the upper /end leaflets being the largest. These are carried on a common stalk/rachis, which is often slightly fluted above and has small projections or “wings” along its length. The leaflets are oblong to ovate oblong, roughly rectangular, with asymmetrical bases and a finely pointed or rounded apex. The leaves are dark green and glossy above, paler below, with wavy margins and with or without a sparse covering of fine hairs.

  • FLOWERS: The most remarkable feature of the tree – deep-red or crimson, with willowy, thread-like pink petals, each up to 1.5 cm long, that are occasionally heavily reduced or completely absent. The flowers frequently cover the entire tree, are typically borne on the old wood, but occasionally appear with the new leaves, and are carried in compressed heads, each 6-13 cm long. Uniquely, the flowers are cup rather than tube shaped, and the outcome is that the abundant supply of nectar is within reach of all birds, not just sunbirds. (August to November)

  • FRUIT: Large, dark brown, woody and somewhat flattened pods, 60-150 x 40 mm. The pods are inclined to split open and disintegrate whilst still on the tree, and have a characteristic “rim” that often stays behind after the rest of the pod has split away.

  • SEED: Pale, pinkish brown and smooth textured seeds, about 20 mm in diameter, each with its own waxy, yellow-orange coating (aril). January to August.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: 10-22m

  • SPREAD: 9-14m

  • TOLERANCE: Mature and well-established trees are remarkably resilient; against poor soil conditions and extended periods of very dry conditions, although this may negatively impact growth rate and flowering. Older trees are also tolerant of mild cold spells, and can withstand temperatures as low as -4 °c, but young trees should always be protected against extremes.

  • GROWTH RATE: Moderate to slow, 30-50 cm per year, especially in dry climates and in heavier soils. If young trees are given regular, deep drenching’s and planted in deep, sandy soils with plenty of fertilizer added, they can grow quite rapidly

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Full sun is essential.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Accepting of a variety of soil types, from sandy to loamy, with moderate water requirements. They thrive in areas with hot summers and winters with a distinguished cool period, when it enters its resting phase, with moderate to low rainfall.

  • ADVANTAGES: A first-rate shade providing tree, especially for large gardens and parks. Planted as an individual specimen or focal point, it is sure to attract a lot of attention, and is an indispensable part of any wildlife garden. It will also do well when planted in a mixed border, and respond well to occasional pruning.

  • WILDLIFE: Arguably one of the most quintessential trees to lure birds to your garden –the flowers are designed in such a way that the nectar is accessible to all birds, and the tree has no shortage of this golden syrup – it can often be seen “dripping” from the tree in copious amounts. As many as 20 different bird species have been observed visiting a single flowering tree! Monkeys, baboons and people also eat the flowers, and the leaves are browsed by game and livestock. The seeds are devoured by Louries, hornbills and parrots, and the flowers also attract honeybees, butterflies and insects. The tree is truly a cornucopia of delights for a multitude of wildlife.

  • PROPAGATION: Seeds sprout willingly, even if they have been stored for extended periods, and pre-soaking them overnight in warm water will accelerate the germination process. Sow the seeds in a well-drained, well-aerated mixture of two parts river sand and one-part compost. Store in bright and warm area, and keep the medium moist but not overly wet. Truncheon cuttings should be harvested when the tree is in its dormant phase, then placed into a well-drained, sandy soil and fertiliser mixture in a shady area and keep moist but not wet. First flowering can be expected at about 5 years of age.

  • MEDICINAL: The leaves have been proven to contain antibacterial compounds, and are generally crushed and applied to ulcers and skin lesions. Smoke from the burnt leaves is inhaled to stop nose bleeds. The bark also has numerous anti-inflammatory properties, and is used in various preparations to treat heartburn, hangovers, diarrhoea, mental disorders and as a blood purifier. It is also applied topically to swellings.

  • PRACTICAL: The heartwood is dark brown to nearly black, distinctly defined from the pinkish to yellowish-brown sapwood, and fine textured but hard, heavy and strong. It is only moderately durable, but makes beautiful furniture, ornaments, carvings, flooring and a good fuel. The bark yields a red-brown dye and is rich in tannins. Roasted seeds, traditionally harvested from green pods, are used as a coffee substitute and also, due to their high carbohydrate content, ground into a flour like substance. These bi-products were used by the native peoples and later by the early European settlers.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: The common name is believed to refer to either the flowers that tend to drip nectar in excessive amounts all over the tree, giving a ‘weeping’ appearance, or the Spit bugs, Ptyelus grossus, which often parasitize the tree and cover themselves with a dense foam that drips from the tree, creating tiny puddles.

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