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Syzygium guineense – Water berry

BOTANICAL: Syzygium guineense
COMMON NAME: Water berry / Woodland Water berry /Bushveld Water berry / Water-pear / Snake-bean tree
OTHER NAMES: Water peer / Water boom (Afr); umdoni (isiNdebhele); umDoni-wamanzi/ umDonivungu (Zulu)

SA TREE NO: 557

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 medium to large evergreen tree, with handsome appearance and drooping habit. The upright, somewhat rounded crown grows densely and makes it is valuable shade tree. The pale bark and deep-green foliage are very attractive, and the tree is known to bear a substantial amount of fruit. Comparable in appearance to the Waterberry, with the only noticeable differences being the leaves, which are tapered at both ends and the distinct leafstalks.

  • HABITAT: Much-like the Waterberry (S.cordatum), it loves to grow near water, but also flourishes in open bushveld, woodland, on forest margins and savannah, usually where a fair amount of underground water is present.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen

  • BARK: On young trees, the bark is smooth, light, silvery-grey and mottled, and the tree ages, the bark darkens and roughens, becoming a dark grey-brown to black and scaly. The main trunk can be 600mm in diameter, and grows tall but often crooked.

  • FOLIAGE: The leaves are broadly elliptic to lance-like in shape, simple and occurring in opposite pairs at right angles. Measuring 4-15 x 1-5 cm, but normally only 5-9 x 3-4 cm. They are leathery textured, dark green to yellowish-green above, and paler below with clearly visible gland dots (slightly fragrant) and net-veining. The margin is entire, and the midrib is sunken at the top, while being prominent below. Importantly, it has a distinct leafstalk of up to 2.5cm. Young leaves are a beautiful purplish-red colour.

  • FLOWERS: Large, multi-branched heads of white, heavily scented, white flowers with an abundance of fluffy stamens bloom from August to May. These have copious amounts of nectar.

  • FRUIT: Fleshy, oval to round, usually dark-purple drupes (13 x 8-12mm) appear from December to June. They are often tipped by the persistent remains of the calyx.

  • SEED: A single, rounded seed carried in the fruit.

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: 10-20m (Dwarf-sizes have been reported)

  • SPREAD: 3-10m

  • TOLERANCE: Fairly frost and drought distant, but as it is a water-loving, warmer temperate tree, it won’t endure any of these in extremes. Can withstand occasional waterlogging. Prefers zones with a high summer rainfall. Grows best in areas with a daytime temperature of between 15 and 35 °c.

  • GROWTH RATE: Relatively fast growing, 1- 1.5 m per year, under favourable conditions.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Prefers full sun, but if planted in semi-shade, make sure it at least receives strong morning or afternoon rays.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Can tolerate sandy, clay or loamy soils, and prefers well-drained but moist growing conditions, with a high water-table. Favours a pH in the range 5.5 – 7.

  • ADVANTAGES: Loved for the deep shade it creates, especially in certain plantations, such as coffee and tea. In the garden, it likewise gives plentiful, deep shade all year round, and makes a wonderful screen and sound barrier if planted in rows.

  • WARNINGS: Although the bark is used medicinally, it is considered poisonous and deaths have been recorded.

  • WILDLIFE: Young buds and flowers are eaten by monkeys, while the juicy fruit is also eaten by them, baboons, birds and people. Bees flock to the nectar-rich flowers.

  • PROPAGATION: Best grown from fresh seed harvested from ripe fruit straight off the tree, as it has a very short viability period, and is prone to damping off. Best sown in autumn. Place seeds into a rich compost mix, with a little added river sand to ease drainage., keep very moist as they are sensitive to desiccation. Keep in a warm, bright area (not direct sunlight) The seeds usually germinate well and uniformly.

  • MEDICINAL: Extracts of the bark, leaves and seeds have shown antibacterial and antifungal activity. The roots are used as a purgative, and, as a decoction, to treat stomach disorders, intestinal worms and epilepsy. The bark is made into a tonic, which treats coughs, asthma, fevers and sore throats. Applied externally, it is said to help heal wounds. The fruit are used as a remedy for dysentery, and crushed leaves are also applied to wounds and boils. A liquid made from crushed leaves and water is used an eyedrops to treat ophthalmia.

  • PRACTICAL: The wood is a pale reddish-brown, fine to medium textured, with district growth rings. It is strong, hard, easy to work, and, if cured properly, relatively durable. It is used in construction, as poles, furniture, tools and utensils, flooring, panelling, stools and carvings. Due to its flexible nature, it is suitable for bows and dug-out canoes. Also, a good fuel and charcoal wood. The fruit, raw or cooked, is made into a pleasant beverage and vinegar substitute. A dye is also made from the tannin-rich bark.

  • ADDITIONAL FACTS: The name Water-pear is thought to originate from early collectors, who thought the wood looked similar to that of the pear tree. In some areas, subsistence farmers rely on its bountiful fruit in times of famine, when their harvests fail.

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