- Article and news on the Web

Topic : Botanical : Fruit

Article 26 bullet 14 March 2007

One of our Forest Giants – Wild Plum Harpephyllum caffrum

by Geoff Nichols

This is one of the more common trees known to the gardening world of this country. The tree is often used in municipal parks and as a street tree in our coastal cities. It is a very distinctive tree that gets confused by the uninitiated with the Cape Ash – Ekebergia capensis. The Cape Ash has drooping leaves and round fruits whereas the Wild Plum has oval shaped fruits and terminal clusters of leaves that form a whorled shape. Also the Wild Plum belongs in the Mango family whereas the Cape Ash is in the Mahogany family of plants. For me this is one of our largest tree species in the forests of KZN and the Eastern Cape through up into Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces and into Swaziland, Mozambique into Zimbabwe.

Welcome ripe fruit for frugivorous birds such as turacos and hornbills.

The roots of these trees often resemble large snakes lying on the forest floor. I mean large in the order of an 8 metre long python in diameter and larger in some specimens. There is a famous specimen in Eshowe where there is an aerial boardwalk in the forest sub canopy that is about 10 metres up the main stem of this tree and still there are a good 6 metres above this where the first branches start to radiate out from the huge trunk.

Purple-crested Turacos Gallirex porphyreolophus and the Trumpeter Hornbill Bycanistes bucinator are the prime distributors of Harpephyllum seed over the forest.

The bark of these trees is dark in colour and deeply fissured. This texture allows a myriad of other plants to get a toehold and earn a living high up in the forest under canopy. The carrot fern - Asplenium rutifolium is an obvious hanger on, plus on the higher branches of the Eshowe tree there are at least 7 species of epiphytic orchids fitting in the various moisture and light niches created by the branches.

Purple-crested Turacos feed their ugly black chicks almost entirely on regurgitated fruit pulp.

The fruits are palatable to humans, monkeys, baboons, bats, bushpig and forest antelope plus many species of fruit eating birds. In our forests the two species that come to mind are the Knysna and Purple-crested turacos and the Trumpeter Hornbill are the prime distributors of seed over the forest. The fruit are relatively large, the size of the outer digit of a human thumb. When ripe the seeds are bright red and stand out like miniature lanterns against the dark green foliage.

The terminal cluster of leaves form in a whorl shape

The terminal cluster of leaves form in a whorl shape.

To grow this species one needs to remove the outer flesh and sow the quite fibrous seed in a tray of seedling mix that is one part sharp river sand to one part compost. The seeds take about a month or so to germinate in the summer months and grow rapidly.

If you are going to use it as a garden subject please give it plenty of room and on the coast it makes an ideal windbreak plant if planted close together as a giant hedge. In this instance the wind does misshape the trees but they survive well. In sheltered areas use this as an avenue tree. This tree will take some frost but I would not use it much higher than Pietermaritzburg.

Harpephyllum caffrum, Wild Plum, Wildepruim (Afrikaans), umGwenya (Siswati, Xhosa, Zulu), Mothêkêlê (North Sotho).



Site Search