Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Heteropyxis natalensis - Lavender Tree

The Heteropyxis natalensis, or Lavender Tree as it is commonly known, is an incredibly versatile little tree that should indeed be used more often where a striking, characterful alternative is required for landscape projects. Suited for very small to large landscapes, the Lavender Tree has a tidy growth habit, making it ideal for clustered plantings, boundary plantings, as well as a feature plant on its own. With its rich green spring/summer colour and its beautiful yellow-red autumn/winter colour, the H.natalensis offers diverse, year-round beauty.


Botanical Name:
Heteropyxis natalensis Harv.
Common Name: Lavender Tree
Genus: Heteropyxidaceae
RSA National Tree No’: 455


The Lavender Tree is a small to medium tree that is grown as single or multi-stemmed specimens. This characterful little tree is ideal for planting within a container or confined plant bed where space is limited. In the larger landscape, the H.natalensis is highly successful when planted as a cluster or as a boundary. This tree, although termed deciduous, offers year round leaf colour with its dark green leaves in spring/summer and yellow-red leaves in autumn/winter. The H.natalensis attracts numerous insect-eating birds who feed off the insects attracted to this tree. When crushed, the leaves and stems exude an aroma reminiscent of lavender - hence its common name.


Height: 4-10m
Spread: 2-6m
Deciduous/Evergreen: Deciduous
Growth Habit: The H. natalensis occurs naturally in bushveld areas, as well as forest margins in riverine fringes and on rocky hillsides.
Bark: The bark is pale grey in colour and as older bark areas flake, light grey-white or orange-brown tinged under-bark is revealed.
Foliage: The foliage of the Lavender Tree has a drooping growth habit. The leaves are narrowly to broadly lanceolate ranging from 2,5-9 x 1-2,5cm. The leaves are shiny dark green above and a paler green below. In autumn the leaves turn to rich hues of yellow to red which remain on the tree all through winter, followed by beautiful, slightly more muted red new leaves which appear in spring. Spring and autumn colours develop best in the dryer regions.
Flowers: The flowers are small, sweetly scented, chartreuse (yellowish-green) in colour and appear from December to March.
Fruit: The fruit, which appears between March and May is a small shiny brown oval capsule measuring 4 x 2.5mm. When ripe the fruit splits into 2-3 valves, releasing the seeds.
Seed: The seeds are small and are released from the fruit after it has ripened (in the manner described above).


Growing regions: The Lavender Tree occurs along the coastal and inland regions of Kwa-zulu Natal and can also be found growing in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
Growing conditions: The H. natalensis grows best in a full sun position, although it will tolerate light shade. It does require protection from frost for the first year and requires well drained soil with moderate water.
Best season: All year
Hardiness: The Lavender Tree can withstand up to 6 months of drought.
Propagation: Easily propagated from seed.
Growth rate: Medium – approximately 1m per year.


Leaves are browsed by Black Rhino. Crushed twigs and leaves emit a fragrance reminiscent of lavender. Leaves can be used in herbal tea and potpourri. As the wood is exceptionally hard, it is ideal for use as fencing posts and charcoal. Leaves and roots are often used medicinally to treat worms in livestock. African healers prescribe the inhalation of steam from a decoction of the roots to heal a bleeding nose, as well as a preparation of the roots which can be used for several mental disorders. Essential oil is extracted from the leaves of this tree and has considerable antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

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