White Witch-hazel

Trichocladus ellipticus, White Witch-hazel; Withaselaar (Afrikaans); isiduli, ithambo, umvawenyathi (Xhosa): umgqonci, ngonci (Xhosa and Zulu)

 

I first encountered this shrub, which grows to about 5m tall, in the escarpment forests in the Illovo River Valley. These plants tend to grow along the edges of the forest and amongst the rocks on scree slopes below south-facing cliffs. They flower from about September-December each year and the greenish-yellow, scented flowers with their fine, 10mm or so, long ribbon-shaped petals, are clustered in the leaf axils on thin flowering stems. It is an evergreen shrub that will survive light frost. 
This shrub has an olive green to brownish green hue about it. The undersides of the leaves are a silver colour that flashes when brushed against. The young stems are covered in velvety, brown hairs, and the upper sides of the leaves are dotted with tiny white spots.
As a garden plant it makes a good background shrub in a wild planting, mixed with other shrubby plants, or as a shrub border. It is becoming popular as a hedging species especially in shady gardens, but I have also seen it used as a hedge in full sun. Its coppicing habit, when large stems are cut away, is what makes it such a successful hedging plant. Although I have only seen hedges of just under 2 metres tall, I have no doubt that this shrub will make a 3-4 metre high hedge in time. 
Various insects like solitary bees and flies visit the flowers for nectar or pollen and I have watched Forest Canaries prizing open the seed capsules to extract the little brownish seeds during the winter months. 
In the Transkei forests in the early 1900s and probably to this day, it used as building poles and for firewood as described in T. R. Sim's book on 'The forests and forest flora of the Cape Colony’ published in 1906.

 

 


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