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Scientific name: Calodendrum capense  

Family: Rutaceae 

 

Common Names: Cape chestnut, wild chestnut (Eng.); wildekastaiing, Kaapsekastaiing (Afr.); umbaba, umsitshana (Xhosa); umbhaba, umemezi omhlophe (Zulu), molalakgwedi, mookêlêla (N.Sotho); muvhaha (Venda)

Dicoma capensis

Leaves and flowers of Calodendrum capense

Description: At the coast this tree is often evergreen, but inland it is deciduous with rich yellow autumn colours. In a forest environment, this tree can reach heights of up to 20 m, but at the forest margin or in the open it is shorter, approx. 7 m, with a more spreading canopy. In general this is a handsome well-shaped tree with a single trunk a dense rounded canopy and when in bloom, the whole canopy turns pink.

The trunk is smooth and an attractive mottled streaky grey, buttressed and lichen-covered in older specimens.

Leaves are dark green, relatively large (5-22 cm long x 2-10 cm wide), simple, with untoothed undulate margins, and elliptic in shape.

Flowers are large and striking, faintly sweet-scented and carried in conspicuous terminal panicles Close up, each delicate flower has five long narrow pale pink petals (4-5 cm x 0.5 cm), alternating with five petal-like sterile stamens, also pale pink but conspicuously dotted with purplish to maroon glands. The calyx is star-shaped and persists after the flower has dropped off.

Flowering time: October to December.

Fruits : The ovary, on a long gynophore (stalk carrying the female organs), swells to form the fruit which is green, maturing to brown, 5-lobed woody capsule with a rough warty surface, splitting during late summer to autumn, to drop the large smooth black seeds which are hard but surprisingly light in weight.

Origin: South Africa, Swaziland, and into tropical Africa as far north as Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Plant Uses: The timber is white or light yellow, fairly hard but bends well and is easily worked. It is used for tent bows, wagon-making, yokes, planking, shovel handles, and furniture, and is considered one of the most generally useful hard woods.
The bark is used as an ingredient of skin ointments and is sold at traditional medicine markets.
Seeds are crushed and boiled to obtain oil that is suitable for making soap. The Xhosa believe that the seeds have magic properties, and hunters used to tie them around their wrists when hunting to bring them skill and good luck.

Propagation: Cuttings should be taken from new growth in spring to early summer.

References

Coates Palgrave, Keith, 1977, Trees of Southern Africa, First Edition, C. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
Leistner, O.A. (ed.), 2000, Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera, Strelitzia 10, National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa, A.A. Balkema, Cape Town.
van Wyk, B. and van Wyk, P. 2009. Field guide to trees of Southern Africa. Struik Nature Publishers, Cape Town.
http://pza.sanbi.org/calodendrum-capense