Monday, 04 August 2014
Indigenous Plant Of The month
Spirostachys africana: Tamboti (English); Tambotie (Afrikaans); umthombothi (Xhosa and Zulu); umtfombosi (Siswati)
This is an enigmatic tree of southern Africa where it occurs in Central Namibia, Botswana, the northern Eastern Cape and then through KwaZulu-Natal up into tropical Africa. This is a Bushveld tree that lives in hot and humid river valleys. In Durban, Tambotis still occur in the patch of bush on the corner of Chris Hani Road and North Coast Road, just east of the Avoca KwaMashu interchange on the N2.
This species is deciduous, with the trees changing colour in autumn when the leaves turn beautiful autumn colours - yellow, orange, through to red - just before they drop for the winter. These trees tend to grow in groves where I presume there is some chemical warfare going on in the soil to keep out other tree species.
The Tamboti has an upright rounded form that makes it ideal as a street or garden tree. The dark bark is beautifully fissured into rectangular or block shapes, making the trunks alone, a wonderful garden feature.
The catkin-shaped flowers appear very early in the spring, before the tree has produced any new leaves. The seed capsules develop quickly on the female trees and will shed their seed in November or December so that the seed can take full advantage of the summer thunderstorms to hasten germination. The seed capsules are stung by a tiny moth known as the Jumping Bean Moth that cause the seed capsules to hop around the ground when the sunlight heats them up. There is also a very handsome Emperor Moth, known as the Lunar or African Moon Moth - Argema mimosae, that lays its eggs on the underside of the leaves and the caterpillars then hatch and feed on the Tamboti. This lovely pale green moth with two tail streamers, is a real find in the hot summer months in Zululand. The sturdy silken cocoons that the caterpillars pupated in and hatched from, were filled with small stones and used by Zulu dancers as ankle rattles. Seeds from non-parasitized capsules will germinate easily. Cuttings will root if taken just as the sap begins to flow again in Spring. A semi-hardwood to hardwood cutting will root in sharp river sand, but seed is still the simplest method of propagation.
The sap is poisonous, so do not cook food on an open fire where the smoke can touch the food. The wood dust too can cause irritation to soft tissue. The toxic chemicals in the sap seem to be ineffective on wildlife, as Black Rhino and antelope feed on the leaves and young stems, and Porcupine feed on the bark.
The bi-coloured timber of light and dark wood has long been used for furniture making. The Singh family of Stanger/KwaDukuza have made this wood famous over the years in their furniture. The highly perfumed wood can also be used in cupboards and kists where clothing is stored, as a natural insecticide to keep out clothes moths and silverfish.
WIN! One lucky reader can win a Spirostachys africana donated by Geoff. Send a postcard to: Paper Plume Giveaway: P.O.Box 41120, Rossburgh, 4072 to reach us by 31.07.14 (Please include your phone number).