Tree small; Tree medium
cream October to January; spring summer
sun, semi-shade; Wildlife Birds, insects, butterflies; screen; sandy soils
woodland forest; grasslands; wetland pond; coastal kzn
Subtropical East Coast; thicket; highveld
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While the English common name, Tassel-berry, is a delightful description of the tree, the Afrikaans name of Voelsitboom gives a wonderful idea of its value to the gardener and other wildlife! A wide variety of bird species eat the fruits; Red-capped Robin chat, Natal Robin, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, White throated Robin-chat and Purple-crested Turaco, for example. Guineafowl and francolins feed on ripened seed that has fallen to the ground, while others feed on seed still on the tree. Species like Vervet monkeys, baboons and other mammals feed on the fruits, and the flowers bring in a wide range of insects. It is, therefore, a superb choice for wildlife gardens in frost-free regions. Description: The Tasselberry normally achieves a size of up to 7m in a garden situation (up to 15 m in the wild), but is very variable in shape: it can either be a short and chunky tree or a taller and more slender specimen. As it produces multiple stems from the ground and produces densely covered branches from low down, it also works well as a large screening shrub. The canopy is compact and rounded in shape and the tips of each branch droop giving a slightly weeping appearance. Leaves of the Tasselberry are quite large, oval in shape with a bluntly pointed tip, dark green and glossy above, with a lighter, bright green under-surface. The veins are prominent on the underside of each leaf, hence the species name of ‘venosum’. The leaves grow alternately along the branches, and catkin-like sprays of white/cream flower spikes of up to 160 mm long hang down from where the leaves join the branch. They cover the tree from October to January to be followed by large beautiful tassels of berries from January to May. It is important to consider though that male and female flowers appear on separate trees and only if both sexes are present, enabling fertilisation, will berries be produced. You will need to plant at least 3 – 5 specimens to increase the chances of having a female seed bearing plant. These species grows easily from seed, so your best option is to collect seed from both sexed trees once they have been identified. How to identify: male flower spikes are twice the length, up to 160 mm long, with blood-red anthers (The part of the stamen where pollen is produced) while female flowers are 80 mm long, strongly scented and reddish in colour. Otherwise, there is no way of telling by looking at the seedlings which gender you may or may not have. The fruits give the tree the common English name and hang in heavy bunches from January to May. The ripen at various intervals so on a single bunch the fruit colours will range from white to green, red and black. This helps to prolong the feeding time and keeps the birds around for a while longer increasing chances of pollination and seed dispersal. Natural habitat: the edges of evergreen forests, woodland and wooded grasslands and on stream banks. Ensure the soil drains well. In the garden, it can be used in any of these habitat types, or as a screening tree, a component of a mixed shrubbery with other fruiting varieties. Its growth rate is relatively fast, between 80 and 90 cm a year in ideal conditions (warm temperatures, moderate rains and healthy soils). The word dioecious is used when male and female flowers are on different individual plants. From the Greek "oikos" meaning house. Separate houses. Monoecious is when both sexes are in a single flower.