Gymnosporia buxifolia
By Geoff Nichols | Mon, 20 November 2017

House and home improvement gardening

Gymnosporia buxifolia (was known as Maytenus heterophylla); Common Spikethorn; Gewone Pendoring (Afrikaans); ingqwangwane (Zulu); umqaqoba (Xhosa); sihlangu lesimnyama (Siswati).

Trees in Africa have to be tough to survive the rigours of this continent. Many of the trees from the drier parts of the Durban area enjoy our hot and dry river valleys. A few, like the Umgeni, Umlazi, Umhlatuzana and umDlothi Rivers, have gorges that have been cut down over the millennia by the waters of these rivers. Despite the best efforts of us humans, it is in these valleys and gorges that many of our most exciting trees survive today - fortunately, gorges are just too steep to develop on economically! Gorges too, are where the climate is moderated and relatively stable especially when the extremes of climate change begin to really bite in the years to come. It is no coincidence that gorges around the globe hold much of the local biodiversity of the local fauna and flora.
This is another of my favourite garden shrubs of about 4-8 metres. It can become a small tree if given space and light, but generally it is a background shrub for border or boundary plantings. The very long, woody spines that come off the stems will impale all comers, hence its value as a barrier plant and hedging species. It must be trimmed often to force it to become multi-stemmed and also to create the dense growth needed as a hedging plant.
The small, sweetly scented, white or cream flowers appear in spring, and the woody to leathery-textured fruit capsules will ripen from about November on the coast, where it is warmer, to mid-winter inland, where it is cooler and where flowering and fruiting maturity can be delayed by up to about 8 weeks. As the fruits split open, the double-matchhead-sized seeds with their yellow covering (or aril), are revealed to the world. It’s the relatively palatable aril that attracts birds, monkeys and even antelope to the plants.
To plant this species remove the yellow aril from the seed and sow the seed as quickly as you can - you’ll be rewarded with a seedling in about 3 weeks from sowing. These seedlings are quickish-growing and will make a reasonably sized shrub in about 3 years.

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