The Camphor Bush is as tough as nails

TTarchonanthus camphoratus. Picture courtesy Bernard DUPONT See his Flickr pageTarchonanthus camphoratus. Picture courtesy Bernard DUPONT See his Flickr pagehe camphor bush tolerates coastal exposure, impoverished soils, wind, drought, and severely cold weather. For such a tough plant it is also remarkably attractive with its overall silvery look. Read more below about this amazing plant, how to grow it, and its many uses.

Tarchonanthus camphoratus (SA Tree No. 733) is called by many common names in South Africa, including: Camphor Bush, Wildekanferbos, Moologa, Mofahlana, Igqeba emlimhlophe, and Mofathla. It can be found growing wild in all the provinces and is most prominent in the dry west. Its range also extends into Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and northwards into tropical Africa.

Tarchonanthus camphoratus belongs to the Asteraceae, or Daisy family, which is probably the second biggest plant family, and includes garden favourites like sunflowers, lettuce, chicory, and marigolds. It occurs at altitudes ranging from sea level to 1,800m and can be found in a diversity of habitats, growing just as well at the coast as it does in cold, dry inland regions. Inland it inhabits thickets of forest, grasslands, bushveld, and semi-desert regions, and in coastal regions it can survive salt water better than most trees, and is very commonly found growing in groups on the sandy soils of low-lying coastal forests, but is equally happy growing in coastal swamps.

The camphor bush is semi-deciduous and varies greatly in height from 2 to 9m tall, depending on the climate and rainfall of the region in which it is grown. In very harsh coastal or semi-desert regions it will remain a small and stunted shrub, often branching from the base of the plant, but in regions with better soils and more rainfall it will grow a lot larger and tree-like, often with a clean trunk up to 30cm wide, with bark that is rough, brownish grey, and vertically fissured.

The twigs and younger stems are white-felted, and even the narrow leaves are felted underneath, and display a rich olive green above, giving the plant an overall silvery appearance. All parts of the tree give off a wonderfully strong camphor fragrance when crushed.

Sprays of white, thistle like flowers covered in white woolly hairs are borne in summer, and flowering times may vary according to province. The trees are dioecious, meaning the male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. Male florets are small, greenish-white balls with initially joined petals, which become recurved.  They are more numerous than female florets which are woolly, whitish, and form many-headed sprays at the ends of the branches. The attractive fruiting heads are also strongly scented.

Click here to see Google images of Tarchonanthus camphoratus

Uses:

The camphor bush can be used in all kinds of gardens, be they small or large, and because it is so tough, it is wonderful in large parks and business parks. Because it tolerates poor soil, strong winds, coastal sea spray, severe cold and frost, as well as drought, the camphor bush is a most effective pioneer species. Its fibrous root system is used for binding the soil, making it an excellent choice to control soil erosion. As a pioneer plant it is planted to create shade and shelter for slower growing trees and shrubs. It is also fire resistant and can make good fire breaks.

Its hardiness and many uses make it an essential plant to grow on large properties such as farms and game farms, where it is indispensable for creating tall hedges or windbreaks, and if it is grown as a single specimen it will grow larger and more densely, forming a good, v-shaped canopy of leaves.

This drought resistant shrub is browsed heavily by game, attracting Kudu, Impala and Springbok, as well as Giraffe when they are unable to find other food due to drought. In times of need, the leaves become an invaluable food asset for domestic stock, and farmers in the North West province of South Africa use the young leaves in a feed mix, due to their relatively high (30%) protein content.
Honeybees love the flowers and this plant should be utilised more by beekeepers.

The essential oil obtained from the leaves has been found to have excellent cosmetic and dermatological properties and is used as a soothing, anti-irritation, decongestant remedy for sensitive skins, dermatitis, sunburns, bedsores, etc.

It is still used extensively as a medicinal plant today, and a tea made from the leaves is used to treat coughs and bronchitis and to relieve headaches, abdominal pain and toothache. The smoke from the burning leaves is used to relieve headaches and blocked sinuses, and the warmed leaves are massaged into the skin to relieve stiffness of the body.

The fluffy seed heads were once used to stuff pillows, and Zulu women use the fresh leaves to decorate and perfume their hair.

The wood is beautiful and among other things has been used to make musical instruments, and because it is relatively dense and works well on a lathe it produces attractive furniture when polished.  The wood is also used for building punts (flat-bottomed boats), and because the wood is fairly hard and termite proof, it is used to make long lasting fence poles, spear shafts and walking sticks.  Because of its aromatic oils, if burnt as a fuel, it gives off a strong smell and burns very well, even when green.  The wood also makes excellent charcoal.

Cultivation/Propagation:

As described above, the camphor tree is as tough as nails and grows wild in all our provinces. It requires no special nurturing, but will grow quicker if the soil is composted and mulched and the tree is watered moderately, until established. It tolerates virtually all soils and is suitable for light (sandy), medium (loamy) and even heavy (clay).

It loves full sun but will take some shade, and with regular watering it will grow quickly and produce more luscious growth. When the plant is still young it can easily be pruned to train it into a tree, or to keep it as a large hedge or windbreak.

Young plants transplant fairly easily and the camphor bush is propagated by seeds or softwood cuttings. Seed is traditionally sown in situ and takes about 56 days to germinate. Cuttings usually require rooting hormone to help them root.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

The camphor bush is remarkably free of pests and diseases, being apparently repellent to insects.

Warning:

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment offered by healthcare professionals.