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Syzygium cordatum – Water berry tree

BOTANICAL: Syzygium cordatum
COMMON NAME: Water berry tree
OTHER NAMES: Waterhout / Water boom / Waterbessie (Afr) Umdoni (Zulu); umSwi (Xhosa); onDoni (Tshonga); montlho (N.Sotho); mutu (Venda)

SA TREE NO: 555

FAMILY: Myrtaceae (Eucalyptus and Guava family)

A very large and diverse family, with somewhat 3000 species, growing mainly in tropical zones, but occurring globally. In Africa, we have very few members, but in America (numerous Guava trees) and Australia (Gum trees) they are much more common. Many trees from this genus contain oils borne in special gland in the fruit, twigs and flowers.

BASIC OVERVIEW

A small to medium sized indigenous tree, with beautiful, blueish-green foliage, masses of fairy-like, nectar rich flowers, picturesque, colourful berry-like fruits and a neat, elegant form that will grace the garden all year with its stately presence. A protected species in SA.

  • HABITAT: Grows predominantly near water, along watercourses, in riverine thickets, forest areas, as well as certain grassy zones, especially the Eastern and North-eastern parts of South-Africa. In the Natal province, they have been known to form strands of almost purely swamp forest, where certain bird species such as the Woolly-necked Stork apparently make their nesting sites.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen

  • BARK: On young trees, the bark is paler, being a whitish-grey, and as the tree ages, it darkens and roughens, becoming a dark grey-brown, corky and reticulately fissured. A lovely pinkish hue can often be observed between the cracks. The main stem is tall, but frequently twisted and gnarled, some 1 m in diameter, and commonly branches low down.

  • FOLIAGE: Broad, oval to round leaves (usually 5.5 to 7.7 x 4.5 cm) are carried at right angles to each other at the end of stout, 4-sided branchlets. Simple, opposite. The leafstalks are slight to absent. The leaves are thick, leathery textured, with entire, often wavy margins. Colouring ranges from a beautiful reddish-brown in young leaves, becoming bluish-green as they age with paler undersides. Veins can be observed on both surfaces.

  • FLOWERS: Compressed heads (up to 10 cm in diameter) of shiny, creamy-white to pink blooms (2 – 2.5 cm) with numerous hairy stamens are carried at the ends of branches. These are strongly perfumed and rich in nectar. (Aug-May).

  • FRUIT: A fleshy, oval, berry-like drupe, about 1.5 cm long. Edible, ripening to a deep-purple, often tipped by the remains of the calyx. (Oct-Jun)

  • SEED: Single seed, whitish in colour.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: Small to medium sized tree, 8-15m, up to 20m. Dwarf specimens only 30-50 cm have been documented.

  • SPREAD: 2-6m.

  • TOLERANCE: Fairly cold, but not frost resilient, can tolerate temperatures between 10 & 35 °C, but grows best in stable ranges of about 25 °C. Fire resistant, and can survive prolonged periods of waterlogging.

  • GROWTH RATE: Relatively fast-growing, especially if given sufficient water, up to 1m per year.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Prefers a sunny position.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Very water-loving., plant in fertile, compost-enriched soil and spreads a rich layer of mulch (organic material such as leaves, compost, bark etc.) around the tree to help conserve water in the surrounding soil.

  • ADVANTAGES: A tree wonderfully suited for the rehabilitation and stabilisation of river and stream banks, as it can withstand being waterlogged. Makes an effective screening or hedge tree if planted gregariously. Also makes a gorgeous ornamental specimen, with attractive bark, a lovely dense spreading crown and decorative, grey-green foliage.

  • WARNINGS: Has a spreading, fairly strong and often invasive root system, so plant well away from structures and buildings, allowing room for it to spread.

  • WILDLIFE: The nectar-laden flowers attract honey and Carpenter bees, butterflies and insects. The fruit is eaten by people, monkeys, birds, bush pigs and bush babies. The tree is also host to the larvae of the large Microgone cana moth, and these caterpillars are eaten by Crowned Hornbills and native peoples.

  • PROPAGATION: Best grown from fresh seed, harvested from the tree during spring/summer. To prevent the seeds spoiling from too much damp, it is advisable to treat them with a pre-emergence fungicide. Germination is usually good, but the seeds need to be removed from the surrounding, fleshy pulp. Sow directly into a mixture of river sand and fertilizer, do not wait longer than one day after removing them from the pulp, and also do not let the seed dry out. Water well, keep moist at all times, and place in a warm, bright spot. After the first few true leaves emerge, they are ready to be transplanted into bigger containers.

  • MEDICINAL: Concoction of dried and/or boiled roots and leaves are used to treat respiratory ailments such as coughs and tuberculosis, also stomach disorders like indigestion and diarrhoea. Ash from the burnt wood is said to alleviate headaches if rubbed directly onto the forehead. Taken internally, the roots help ease giddiness, and applied topically, speeds up wound healing. Also used as an emetic.

  • PRACTICAL: An alcoholic beverage, similar to wine, can be made from the fruits, as well as a purple dye and a delicious preserve. The bark likewise produces a reddish-brown dye, and in powdered form is an effective fish poison. In small ponds, it is said to turn the water blue for several days. The wood is light reddish-brown, of medium hardness, heavy, and fine-grained. It works well, and is durable in water, if seasoned properly. Because it remains strong in water, it is often used for jetties, slipways, and boat-building. Also used in the construction of huts and as firewood. The wood smoke gives off a lovely aroma.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: In nature, they are believed to grow where underground water is present, and are often seen as a good indicator of an underground reservoir.

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