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  • Common Name: Karee, Rooikaree, mokalabata, iNhlangutshane, Mosilabele, umHlakotshane, Mushakaladza
  • Latin Name: Searsia lancea
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Searsia lancea. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaSearsia lancea. Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaalt (This tree used to be called Rhus lancea.)

This medium-sized Indigenous tree naturally has a low branching habit, producing multiple stems from groundlevel, but it can be pruned into a single stemmed little tree. It has a graceful, weeping form, with a softly rounded crown. In older specimens, the dark grey bark has fissures that show beautiful reddish hues and the branches are reddish to brownish-grey. The willow-like leaves are divided in three (trifoliate) and its aesthetically pleasing drooping habit makes it an excellent substitute for the exotic weeping willow tree (Salix babylonica); which is native to northern Asia and a declared Category 2 invasive plant in South Africa.

The karee occurs from Zambia to the Western Cape, occuring in all the provinces except for KwaZulu-Natal. It is one of the most common bushveld trees on the Highveld and can be found throughout the Freestate. It ocurs naturally in Acacia woodland and alongside rivers and streams and is often found growing on lime rich soils, like those of the Karoo and Namibia. There are about 80 species of Searsia in South Africa. Searsia lancea belongs to the (Anacardiaceae) family of plants, which includes mango, cashew and pistachio nuts.

The Karee produces an abundance of sweetly-scented yellow-green flowers in from mid winter to spring, but they are small and inconspicuous. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, and only the female plants bear fruit. Clusters of pea-sized reddish-brown berries follow the flowers, in spring or summer. The ripe fruit is edible but has a tart taste, and they were once an important ingredient of mead or honey beer; and the name karee is believed to be the original Khoi word for mead. A tea was also brewed from the dried fruit. In the past the hard wood was used to make fence posts, tool handles, wagon parts etc; while the bark provided tannin. The fruit is relished by many fruit eating birds, including ground birds like guineafowl. Game love to browse the leaves, which serve as an important food source for them in times of drought. The trees provide valuable shade for livestock and the leaves can also provide valuable fodder for livestock, but because of their high resin content, can taint the milk of dairy cattle.

The karee is an excellent evergreen shade tree; especially in hot dry regions, that are subject to prolonged droughts and severe frost. It makes an unusual specimen tree but also looks lovely if planted in groups. It does not have an aggressive root system and is suitable to grow around the home, in lawns, near paving and tarred surfaces. It is a useful soil stabiliser and increases the soil penetration of rainwater, reducing erosion and raising the ground water table. In very cold regions it is planted to establish a protective canopy for frost sensitive and shade loving plants.Because of its dense growth habit the karee makes a most effective windbreak and informal hedge or barrier for large properties and farms. If required, it can be clipped into a formal hedge. It is a hardy park or street tree that can be planted underneath powerlines. It thrives if grown next to a water garden, dam or river. It is also good to plant in wooden decking on patios etc. where its attractive trunk can be admired. It makes an excellent bonsai tree.
 
This tough evergreen is both frost and drought hardy and loves growing in full sun. It will grow quickly if it is watered regularly. The eventual height and spread can very greatly, according to climatic regions and rainfall, but in the garden it normally reaches between 5 and 8m tall and can spread as wide. It will grow in any soil as well as alkaline, clay and waterlogged soils.

The Karee is propagated easily from ripe seed, cuttings or layers. Cuttings are taken from early to mid-summer.

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