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Rare (uncommon) Trees of the Year 2016

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Maerua cafra Picture courtesy www.wildflowernursery.co.zaMaerua cafra Picture courtesy www.wildflowernursery.co.zaCommon Bush-cherry, White-wood, Gewone Witbos (Maerua cafra) National Tree Number:133

Maerua is a large genus with about a hundred species in Africa and Asia. Eleven occur in Southern Africa, and can commonly be found in bushveld regions, rocky areas, in wooded grasslands and along forest margins. It is widely distributed along the eastern side of South Africa, but is also found in Gauteng and the Northern Province towards Zimbabwe.The origin of the name Maerua is uncertain, but it may come from Arabic. Cafra is an unusual spelling of caffra, a name given in the past to many plants from the eastern regions of southern Africa. It is derived from the Hebrew kafri and means “a person living on the land". The common name "white-wood" or "witbos" refers to its light-coloured trunk.

Maerua cafra is an evergreen shrub or small tree that grows 2 to 10m tall. Plant growth is variable, depending on local climatic conditions. In dry regions and on the sand dunes it can occur as a straggly shrub, but in wetter regions can grow as a small tree, up to 9m tall. The bark is mottled with white, and the green leaves are broadly elliptic.  Scented flowers appear in early spring, from August to October. They are borne in terminal clusters and consist mainly of a tuft of spreading white stamens, tipped with green. The slender stamens give the flowers a spider-like appearance. The flowers are followed by oval, plum-like, pale green fruits, in October to December, which are relished by many different bird species. The leaves are browsed by game and the ground roots have been used as chicory substitute.

Although it is slow growing, the common brush-cherry is a wonderful drought resistant shrub, which will grow in full sun, semi-shade, and even full shade. It is an excellent coastal plant and will even grow in cold regions if it is planted in a sheltered spot in the garden, and protected until established. If grown to an acceptable height, it is an ideal shrub for the mixed border.

The common bush-cherry can be propagated from fresh seeds and although the germination rate is often very high, growth is said to be slow, with reports claiming that plants can take 3 to 7 years to reach 1m tall! This may be the reason why commercial growers don’t grow this tree, making it rare in gardens. Hopefully some keen growers and gardeners will make the effort to cultivate this plant.

Maerua angolensisMaerua angolensisMaerua angolensisBead-bean Tree, Knoppiesboontjieboom (Maerua angolensis) National Tree Number:132

This attractive small to medium-sized evergreen tree can grow up to 10m tall and has a rounded crown. The branches are covered with small white spots and the green leaves are broadly elliptic. Attractive, creamy white flowers appear from July to December, they are sweetly scented and fade to yellow with age. Showy drooping pods, up to 160mm long follow the flowers from September to April, and are thought to be poisonous.

If the trees of the year are not suitable for your garden, you may want to take a look at our list of indigenous trees to find the perfect tree for your garden and region. If you don’t have space to plant a tree, try to plant anything indigenous, even a small groundcover will do! Our plant index has an excellent selection of indigenous plants. Members have full access, so if you have not signed up yet click here to learn more.

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