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Bauhinia Natom

This is a natural garden hybrid between Bauhinia natalensis that has white, Azalea-like flowers, and Bauhinia tomentosa that has yellow, bell-shaped flowers. Its official name is Bauhinia ‘Natom’ and it has Plant Breeder Rights (PBR). It was discovered by Simon and Audrey Woodley at their Indigiflora Nursery in Munster on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast during the late 1990s, growing in a batch of seedlings produced by one of its parents. PBR was applied for in 2009.

The plant behaves like Bauhinia tomentosa in its shape as a scrambling shrub and in its growth rate, but its flowers are a creamy-yellow colour and shaped more like Bauhinia natalensis. There is a faint red line in the centre of the standard petal that gives the clue as to its white-flowered parent, Bauhinia natalensis.

This plant will scramble into a tree or dense shrub border to a height of about 5-6 metres, with a spread of about the same size. If you want the plant to flower profusely then it must be planted in full sun. Here on the coast, I have seen a plant doing well in fairly heavy shade, but it does not flower as profusely as when grown in full sun.

Both parents live under harsh conditions - B. natalensis lives in the Valley Bushveld of the uMzimkhulu River which is hot and dry, and B. tomentosa lives more in Dune Forest edges and valleys of Coastal Forest, which get buffeted by strong winds near the coast and have dry spells in winter.

All the plants I have seen in various plantings, both on the coast and inland as far as Pietermaritzburg (and in Roodepoort, at the Random Harvest Nursery) do well and survive some frost. However, it will not survive severe frost in exposed places like Himeville or Underberg, where a plant there succumbed to the first winter frosts. The urban “heat island” effect will keep frost away from gardens in the densely populated Highveld cities.

Use ‘Natom’ as a screening hedge row or even as a clipped hedge but allow it to flower by not clipping it from about September through to end of April. There are always flowers on the plants but the peak flowering is from October through to April. If you want the plant as a specimen feature, then keep it clipped and pruned to the size and shape that fits with the scale of the place in which the plant is being grown.

The wood is exceedingly hard and dense, with a lovely dark-coloured heartwood.

Simon Woodley told me that the ‘Natom’ plants are sterile as no seed pods have ever set on the plants in his garden or nursery.

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