Harpephyllum caffrum

Water Needs

moderate; high

Harpephyllum caffrum
Tree large
Wild Plum

12 x 11 m

Size

Light Conditions

sun; semi-shade

Frost

moderate

Flowers

cream October to February; spring summer

sun; Screen; wildlife birds butterflies butterfly host; shade; carpark tree

Garden Situation

Habitat

bushveld; woodland forest; wetland; coastal eastern cape; coastal kzn; urban streets

Region

thicket; subtropical east coast; Highveld; bushveld savanna

Rain Season

summer

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Description

Creating wonderfully cool shade year round the Wild Plum is one of the neatest evergreen trees for gardens around the country and, is one of the best species to use as a street tree. Reaching upwards of 20 m in the wild and 35 m in a natural forest setting, in a garden setting it grows to no more than 15 m. Already a well-known tree it deserves to hit the headlines again, for the fruits are some of the most popular and nutritious for urban frugivores (fruit-eating birds), monkeys and bushbabies. Fruits are favourite snacks of Knysna and Purple-crested Turacos, Trumpeter Hornbill, African green pigeons, barbets, bulbuls, mousebirds, and starlings, for example. Planted in natural reserves and conservancies they will feed bushbuck and bushpigs too. Larvae of the common hairtail (Anthene definita) butterfly live on flowers and buds, and it is also the host plant of a number of moth species. Description: The evergreen Wild Plum forms a dense, rounded crown with thick branches growing in a candelabra formation from the central trunk. Leaves are long, 200 – 300 mm in diameter, tapering to a point; between 4 and 8 pairs of opposite leaves with a terminal leaflet (at the tip) crowd the tips of branches. Older leaves are leathery, and a dark, glossy green, with new red/ pink growth often seen through the year, but mostly in spring. Leaves have a conspicuous mid-rib, interesting in that it is slightly off-centre along the blade length. Flowers are a whitish-cream, forming sprays from the tip of the branches, each flower between 100 and 200 mm long. With the male and female flowers of separate trees, plant at least three plants to ensure fruiting as only the female tree produces fruit. Flowering is from October to February, with fruiting from December to March. Fruits are oblong, up to 30 x 17 mm in size, with a single stone with a thin fleshy outer-covering. Fruits change from green to a dark red as they mature, attracting a range of birds and animals. Even humans eat the fruit, though the fruits can vary from sweet to sour if sourced from different trees. Jelly, jam and a drink similar to lemonade can be made from the peeled fruit. The bark is smooth and dark grey, often with leaf scars on younger branches. In older trees, the bark is dark brown and rough, often splitting and exuding sap, said to resemble the skin of a crocodile, hence the Zulu name of UmGwenya. As roots are non-invasive, this is an attractive street and car-park tree offering year-round shade. A few dead and red leaves can be seen on the tree year round and is one of the features of this species. The Wild Plum can withstand mild frost and short periods of seasonal drought. Speed of growth is fast, between 1 and 1.5 m a year. Propagation: The Wild Plum will grow readily from seed or truncheons: remove the outer flesh and soak in water for a couple of days, then scrub clean to remove any further residue. Sow in river sand, no deeper than 10 mm. Germination can be erratic, so plant numerous seeds to ensure a decent number of successful germinations, which can be as quickly as 8 to 12 days after sowing. When they have reached the two-leaf stage, transplant into nursery bags. Growing from truncheons: after cutting off a truncheon there will be a fair amount of leaking fluid from the wood; leave in the shade for a couple of days until this has dried up. Plant into a hole lined with a layer of course sand to ensure good drainage. This will also encourage root formation and help to prevent fungal diseases from too much moisture. Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga

Harpephyllum caffrum
Harpephyllum caffrum