Friday, 11 April 2014
Indigenous Plant Of The month
Cussonia spicata; Cabbage-tree; Kiepersol (Afrikaans); umsenge (Siswati); motshetshe (North Sotho); motsetse (South Sotho); musenje (Tsonga); umsenge (Xhosa & Zulu)
This cabbage tree is the most commonly occurring species within our borders. It tends to hug the eastern coastal belt and interior, from near Cape Agulhas right up into all the other provinces, then up through Swaziland into Mozambique, Zimbabwe and further into tropical east Africa. In my part of the world, it is a species that does get into the interior, but it tends to be replaced at high altitude by its cousin, the Mountain Cabbage Tree, that has a very distinct blue-green foliage.
The Cabbage Tree is a species of Bushveld and Forest and its size depends on where it is growing - in a forest it can be forced up into the canopy as it tries to reach for the light, thus making it a taller than a normal plant, whereas in the Bushveld it will stay short and squat with a distinctly rounded canopy. The branches are large and take on all sorts of twisted shapes, making this a very useful sculptural plant for gardens and it has gained in popularity in these days of hard, structured landscaping using pots and pebbles. The growth habit as a young sapling of having a clean stem and rounded topknot of leaves, makes it ideal for the planting fashion of lollipop-shaped plants in the garden.
But beware - the pots that it is planted in will split if the plant is left too long in the same place. The large, fleshy, water-storing roots simply expand to fill the given space, and more, causing what you thought to be a well-made pot to split apart. This is then the time to release the plant into the open garden and allow it the space to reach its full potential of feeding the local wildlife - beginning with the insects that flock to the flowers for pollen and the sugary nectar and then the birds and mammals arriving to feed on the ripening fruits within the finger-like fruiting branches.
The Cussonia now gets clever and only allows random single fruits, within the hundred or so fruits on each arm, to ripen at any one time. What this does is it spreads the time of fruiting over a longer period thus increasing the likelihood of more seeds finding a suitable place to germinate, plus it allows more time for dispersal agents (birds and other animals like monkeys, bushbabies, baboons and even antelope) to transport the seeds further away from the parent plant.
So if you have a sunny, well-drained spot away from browsing game and in amongst rocks, then this is the tree for you. It will survive frost and fire to give you a great show of its branches and pale green heads of palmately divided leaves.
The roots are soft and pulpy, yielding plenty of moisture if squeezed and are used as a survival food by both humans and digging animals like porcupine. The dead stems are soft and often used by woodpeckers and barbets for excavating their nesting holes.
These plants are easily grown from seed. The normal rule of Òclean and sowÓ applies. Seedlings grow quite quickly in a warm place. Just remember not to over-water young plants as they like to be in a well-drained soil medium that is allowed to dry out before the next watering.
Win! One lucky reader can win a Cussonia Spicata donated by Geoff. Send a postcard to: Cabbage Tree Giveaway: P.O.Box 41120, Rossburgh, 4072 to reach us by 31.05.14 (Please include your phone number).