Monday, February 16, 2009

Combretum erythrophyllum (River bushwillow)

For the month of October, we discuss the deciduous Combretum erythrophyllum. This is an incredibly characterful tree that offers a wonderfully soft, willowy growth habit and an outstanding autumn display of yellow and red foliage. C.erythrophyllum stands out as an incredibly tolerant species, particularly to very cold, frosty conditions. As a fast grower that is easily propagated, this remarkable tree offers the landscaper a refreshing variation to the more commonly used Combretum caffrum.

Our 50 litre and 100 litre stocks of Combretum erythrophyllum are looking really lovely this spring so be sure to contact Rudi or Leske to find out more.


Botanical Name:
Combretum erythrophyllum (Burch.) Sond.
Common Name: River Bushwillow
Genus: Combretaceae
RSA National Tree No’: 536


Makes a wonderful avenue tree or a good natural windbreak. As a garden feature, preferably away from a swimming pool, this deciduous tree offers a stunning display in Autumn as its leaves turn from yellow to red.


Height: 5-12m
Spread: 9-10m
Deciduous/Evergreen: Deciduous
Growth Habit: C.erythrophyllum occurs naturally along river banks. It is distinguished by its multi-stemmed, low-branching and almost willowy growth habit with dense foliage and a spreading crown.
Bark: The pale brown older bark is characterised by its gentle flaking habit, which reveals pale grey, smooth younger wood. This results in a mottled appearance. Knob-like outgrowths appear on older specimens giving the tree a gnarled character.
Foliage: The leaves are oblong, elliptic in shape and range in size from 5 x 2cm to 10 x 5cm at maturity. Young leaves are yellow in colour, maturing to fresh green colour, with the oldest leaves turning a dull green. In April the leaves start to turn from yellow to red, providing a vibrant autumn display of colour. C.erythrophyllum is generally leafless for 2-3 months in winter.
Flowers: Flowers appear just after the first young leaves have sprouted (September to November). They resemble 1cm diameter puff-balls in shape and are coloured cream to pale yellow.
Fruit: Fruits are 4 winged and light greenish to brown-pinkish in colour. They are sized at 1-1.5cm in length. Young fruits dry to a pale honey-brown and remain on the tree until the next flowering season.
Seed: Seeds are situated within winged fruit capsules and are poisonous.


Growing regions: C.erythrophyllum occurs naturally in Kwa-zulu Natal, the former Transvaal and Eastern Cape.
Growing conditions:
· Good drainage and light soil
· Withstands heavy frost
· Water regularly during dry weather
· Full sun to semi-shade
Best season: Spring - Autumn
Hardiness: Frost hardy. Tolerates a fair amount of climatic and soil variation.
Propagation: Propagates easily from seed and cuttings.
Growth rate: Fast – tree can grow up to one meter per year if given good soil and sufficient water. Offers good shade after about 4 years.


Attracts a variety of butterflies and birds. The wood is highly versatile for carpentry as it is tough, easily worked and a pleasant yellow in colour. As a traditional medicine, the fruits are often used as a de-worming remedy, however it must be noted that the seeds are poisonous and cause severe hiccups.

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