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Willow Spikethorn

Gymnosporia bachmannii, Willow Spikethorn; Wilgerpendoring (Afrikaans)

This plant is a Pondoland endemic that grows on rock-strewn riverbanks where it survives alongside its growing companion, the Pondo Umdoni - Syzygium pondoense. Both these species make good garden shrubs either used in informal plantings or as clipped hedge plants. This delicate soft-looking plant is a real winner for our coastal gardens but prefers to be grown in full sun. I use it in damp areas along dams or seepage lines.

It has fairly dark foliage and the small, narrow, dark green leaves with pink petioles, give it a delicate look, but it is tough and survives being inundated during floods. The leaves have a sort of weeping habit, hence the Willow part of its common name of Willow Spikethorn. However, despite the second part of its common name, this species is seldom “armed” and the smallish spines only seem to appear on older plants.

I saw the plant used as a tightly clipped hedge at the entrance to Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden in Stellenbosch. Here Franchesca Watson and Dylan Lewis had set it amongst other shrubs that make good hedges: Coast Bladder-nut - Diospyros scabrida; Cape Box - Buxus macowanii; and Confetti bush - Coleonema pulchellum. However, the Confetti Bush is a Fynbos plant that prefers to grow in the winter rainfall or temperate summer rainfall parts of South Africa.

The ripe red fruits split to reveal an orange aril that surrounds the shiny brown seeds. As usual, the Vervet and Samango Monkeys eat the orange arils and either swallow or spit out the seeds. Birds like Starlings, White-eyes and Thrushes also take the bright orange arils and distribute the seeds up and down the streams of Pondoland.

This plant grows easily from seed and makes a good container plant for coastal gardens. I have also seen it used as a Bonsai subject - it takes to being bent and trimmed into the shapes that Bonsai growers want.

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