Shrub medium; Shrub large
2 - 6
pale white-mauve, lilac or purple; spring summer autumn
sun; afternoon sun; semi-shade; shrubbery; container; screen security; slope bank; wildlife birds; fast-growing easy-care
fynbos; hot dry; coastal eastern cape; coastal kzn; grassland; bushveld; urban streets
thicket; western cape; karoo; subtropical east coast; highveld; bushveld savanna
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Ehretia rigida – the Puzzle bush - is a remarkable plant. Driving through valley bushveld just outside Pietermaritzburg in KZN this month after a long dry season with scarce rainfall, I am struck by the drab appearance of the veld. The Acacias have not yet burst into leaf and the valleys are a sea of brown branches devoid of colour. Except for great splashes of bright green – these are the Puzzle bushes. Ehretia rigida has come through the harsh winter unscathed. Emerging from rock faces and shale surfaces they appear to thrive in the hottest driest positions. Some are a haze of lilac in full flower. I like to think of this shrub / small tree as our indigenous “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” (the exotic Brunsfelsia). Buds appear purple and fade through lilac to white. They attract bees, wasps, beetles and butterflies – perfect for a wildlife friendly garden. Heavy crops of fruit follow – red, sweet tasting berries that are a great favourite with birds and people. One of the Puzzle bush’s best attributes is its arching branching pattern – one of the most attractive Ehretia’s I have ever seen was about 4m high and its branches arched over to touch the ground , forming a perfect hidey hole for kids. A green tent courtesy of Mother Nature, what a delight. Strangely enough, this unusual shape develops better in a garden than it does in the wild. If your objective is not a children’s green tent then, Ehretia is perfect in a bush clump – a mixed planting for wildlife. An interesting combination would be an Acacia nilotica, Ehretia rigida, Cussonia paniculata or C. spicata if better suited to your area surrounded by a sea of veld grasses like Melinis nerviglumis, Aristida junciformis, Andropogon eucomis (Snowflake grass). Keep the Ehretia on the sunny edge of such a clump. If your garden receives heavy frost, the Puzzle bush will survive this too. Birds will spread them via seed – hopefully establishing them in neighbour's gardens too!