The resplendent Pride-of-De-Kaap can be trained as a shrub, climber or small tree

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Bauhinia galpinii Picture courtesy Carl E LewisBauhinia galpinii Picture courtesy Carl E LewisThe Pride-of-De-Kaap flowers for a very long time in summer and can be grown in pots or pruned to keep it smaller. It is a good coastal plant and also tolerates frost. Read all about growing and using it in the garden below.

Bauhinia galpinii is a magnificent South African tree (SA Tree No: 208.2) and is also called “Motshiwiriri”, “Mutswiriri”, “Tswiriri”, “Kisololo”, “Umvangatane”, and “Usololo” It is one of the most resplendent of its genus and grows wild in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Northern Province, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and into tropical Africa, occurring in predominately moderate to high rainfall areas, and from elevations of about 200m to just above 1 000m. It can be found in thickets, in bushveld and scrub, in hot, rocky places close to termite mounds, and along the banks of streams.

The pride-of-De-Kaap is multi-stemmed and in the wild it tends to clamour like a climber through the trees and shrubs in the dense thickets where it occurs, but in the garden it is invaluable because it can be trained as a climber or pruned into a medium to large shrub, or even a small tree. It is also remarkably long lived, usually living 20 to 35 years, but can reach a ripe old age of up to 120 years!

The Pride-of-De-Kaap takes its name from the De Kaap Valley near Barberton, south of Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, where it grows in profusion. However, it is quite widespread and can be found growing wild right across the moister bushveld areas of South Africa.

The bark varies in colour from light grey-brown to darker grey-brown, and has a smooth, yet somewhat powdery texture, and its attractive, broad green leaves resemble butterfly wings. The masses of orchid-like flowers are quite spectacular, and the colour of the flowers can vary considerably from vivid crimson to deep apricot and a dark brick-red, appearing during the summer months from September to March, but it will also flower sporadically throughout the rest of the year. Long brown seedpods follow the flowers and eventually split with a loud crack to disperse the seeds.

Its flowers are of value to pollinators, including nectar eating bird species, and certain birds like Louries also eat the flower buds, and the densely scrambling twigs provide a safe nesting site for smaller birds.  The leaves and pods are also a source of food for several moth and butterfly species, and the two-tailed pasha or foxy emperor butterfly (Charaxes jasius) and the orange-barred playboy butterfly (Deudorix diocles) use it as a host plant and are dependent on Bauhinia galpinii, as their larvae eat the leaves and later pupate on the plants. It also provides fodder for black rhino and several species of antelope.

Uses:

Farm animals and livestock like sheep and goats can safely browse the leaves and twigs, and the long and flexible branches are used by local people for the construction of roof trusses for their huts. Even the smaller branches are utilised, and are woven together by local women to make baskets.

In the Garden:

This species is a very popular garden plant because of its beautiful flowers and long flowering period, however, if planted on open ground it requires space, and even if it is regularly pruned, and is not really suitable for small gardens. Thankfully it does well in pots so people with small gardens can still grow one. It also makes a lovely bonsai subject.

In medium-sized gardens it can be pruned regularly to keep it small, but in large gardens, schools, estates, parks and office parks it really comes into its own, and can be used to great effect to form a good barrier plant along fences and boundaries. And, if given a bit of assistance, it will also scramble up a trellis or over a pergola, and if allowed to cascade over a wall it is quite spectacular.

It is resistant to strong winds and makes a sturdy windbreak, working well as either as a formal or informal hedge or screening plant. Because it is water-wise it is a good choice for large rockeries. Its upright yet sprawling growth habit makes it invaluable to plant on a bank, but it can be used just as effectively in a mixed shrub border, or even as a specimen plant.

Because it does not have an aggressive root system, it is safe to plant it in close proximity to permanent structures.

Because it acts as a magnet for butterflies, it is a ‘must have’ for butterfly and wildlife gardens.

Cultivation/Propagation:

The Pride-of-De-Kaap flourishes in all the frost free regions of the country, thriving in areas with moderately high summer rainfall, and where the winters are dry and cool, but not freezing. It can take humidity and does well in coastal regions, but in the winter rainfall regions it must be watered during the summer months and needs protection from extremely strong winds. Inland it is semi-hardy to moderate frost as long as it is planted in a protected position like against a north facing wall in the garden, and is covered for the first two to three years of growth. In cold regions it is best to plant in spring or early summer, to maximize establishment before winter arrives.

It is largely evergreen but may become deciduous, depending on where it is cultivated. This vigorous plant loves full sun but will take some light shade, and grows quickly, varying in height from 2 to 3m, with a 5m spread, if left unpruned.

The Pride-of-De-Kaap requires moderate watering to keep it looking at its best in the garden, but once established it will tolerate long dry periods, making it essential in water-wise gardens.

It adapts to most garden soils, thriving in well-drained and nutrient rich sandy, peaty or loamy soil, with a more acidic pH. Soils that are too alkaline may hamper nutrient absorption and cause leaf yellowing. It will also tolerate poor soil conditions, but will benefit greatly from the addition of compost to the planting hole.  It also tolerates slightly clay, moisture retentive soils. This plant responds well to feeding with a balanced fertiliser in spring or early summer, and mulching the roots will help to conserve moisture.

Pruning can be done at any time, but is often done in winter, or after it has finished flowering.
It is mostly grown from seed which germinates readily, but it can also be propagated from semi-hardwood cuttings taken in mid-summer.

If growing from cuttings, plant them in trays filled with a well-drained mixture of equal parts river sand and rich loam or compost, and mist them often.

Seeds are generally sown in early spring, and it is advisable to soak the seeds in warm water overnight to help soften the hard outer layers of the seeds which inhibit germination. Sow into deep seedlings trays filled with a well-drained mixture of equal parts river sand and rich loam or compost. Place the trays in a warm, temperate and brightly lit area and keep the soil moist. Germination usually occurs within a few weeks, and as soon as the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves they can be transplanted into their individual containers.   

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Bauhinia galpinii is susceptible to attacks from aphids which do not do much damage, but because it is also susceptible to borers, it should be checked regularly for signs of infestation.

Warning:

Bauhinia galpinii is not listed as poisonous but it is always advisable to prevent pets from chewing on plants, and small children should always be supervised in the garden.