Thursday, September 3, 2009

Schotia brachypetala – Weeping boer bean

The Schotia brachypetala is a handsome medium sized tree with a low branching habit, a straight trunk and an attractive rounded crown. When the sweetly scented, deep crimson flowers appear in spring, the Schotia is nothing short of spectacular. The flowers produce copious amounts of sweet nectar that literally drips from the tree giving rise to its common name and attracting multitudes of sunbirds, weavers and any number of other birds that come to feast on the nectar. The Weeping boer bean loses it’s leaves shortly before spring but quickly develops fresh new growth. The new leaves are light brown to bronze in colour maturing to a rich glossy green. After flowering the Schotia develops seed pods which burst open when ripe and attract parrots and brown headed loeries that come to eat the seeds, thereby facilitating the distribution of the tree.


Botanical Name: Schotia brachypetala
Common Name: Weeping boer bean
Genus: Caesalpinioideae
RSA National Tree No’: 202


The Weeping boer bean, with it’s attractive shape and exceptional flower display, is an excellent choice where a decorative garden tree is sought. The waxy crimson flowers create a sensational show and the copious amounts of nectar attract a host of birds, bees and insects to the garden. When planted on a lawn Schotia makes a lovely shade tree or, planted to the back of a large mixed border it forms a dramatic backdrop. This tree should not be planted too close to patios and driveways as it might damage paving and the large amounts of nectar may weep onto parked vehicles.


Height: 11 – 22m
Spread: 10 – 15m
Deciduous/Evergreen: Deciduous
Growth Habit: Schotia brachypetala occurs in warm dry areas in bushveld, deciduous woodland and scrub forest and can often be found along river banks or on old termite mounds.
Bark: The bark of young trees is light brown and quite smooth but becomes darker and rougher, with a block like pattern, as the tree matures.
Foliage: The leaves of the Weeping boer bean are compound with 4 to 6 leaflets opposite or sub opposite. The leaflets are broadly elliptic, the margin is entire and they are smooth and wavy. The apex is rounded and finely pointed and the base is rounded and asymmetrical. The leaf is 180mm long and the leaflets are 63 x 40mm. New leaves emerge as a pale brownish colour, changing to light green and becoming dark and glossy with maturity.
Flowers: The conspicuous crimson flowers are borne in dense panicles on older branches. The sweetly scented flowers appear from August to October and release copious amounts of nectar.
Fruit: The pods are large, brown, slightly curved and resemble broad beans. They burst open from March to July releasing their seeds.
Seed: The 20mm seeds are pale brown, flattened and ovoid with a large conspicuous yellow aril. They germinate readily.


Growing regions: The Schotia brachypetala occurs at low altitudes from the Eastern Cape through Kwa Zulu Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Northern Province and into Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Growing conditions: The Weeping boer bean enjoys warm dry localities and thrives where summers are hot with moderate to low rainfall. Keep young trees watered at regular intervals until established.
Best season: Spring
Hardiness: This lovely tree is drought resistant once established. In areas with frost, plant it in a protected North facing aspect.
Propagation: The seeds germinate readily even after being stored for a while. Transplant the seedlings into deep sandy soil.
Growth rate: Quite slow, especially when young, but growth rate increases as tree gets older.


The seeds of the Schotia brachypetala are edible when roasted and while they do not contain large amounts of fat or protein, they are high in carbohydrates and were widely used as a valuable food source and as a coffee substitute by the early settlers. Extract made from the bark was a popular cure for heartburn and hangovers whilst red-brown and red dyes were also made from the bark. The wood is dark, fine grained and termite resistant, making it much sought after for fine furniture, carvings, floor blocks and wagon beams.

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