Thursday, November 5, 2009

Brachylaena discolor – Coast Silver Oak

The Brachylaena discolor is highly adaptable and particularly well suited to our harsh coastal conditions. The tree looks attractive throughout the year with its dense silvery foliage and, when in full bloom, the huge sprays of creamy-white thistle like flowers create the impression of snow in summer. These hardy, fast growing trees are invaluable as windbreaks and are excellent for stabilising sand dunes, where they will tolerate the extreme conditions and salt laden winds.


Botanical Name: Brachylaena discolor
Common Name: Coast Silver Oak
Genus: Asteraceae
RSA National Tree No’: 724


The Coast silver oak is useful for everyone with a seaside holiday home or garden, as it grows willingly and requires no special care. Being especially well suited to coastal conditions, these trees form excellent windbreaks and since they tolerate extensive pruning they can easily be trained into a dense, attractive hedge that will provide complete privacy within a year. The silvery foliage is an excellent foil for other garden plants and when in flower, the Brachylaena discolor is absolutely stunning, with the added advantage of attracting a host of butterflies to the garden. Whether it is planted as a specimen tree, pruned into a shrub or used as a hedging plant, the Coast silver oak is invaluable where a fast, attractive and care free solution is required.

Height: 7m
Spread: 4m
Deciduous/Evergreen: Evergreen
Growth Habit: Brachylaena discolor occurs naturally on dunes and in coastal forests up to 2km inland.
Bark: The bark is dark grey to brownish grey and is rough and vertically fissured.
Foliage: The leaves of the Coast Silver Oak are lanceolate to obovate - 5-12 x 1,5-5cm. They are thin, leathery and dark green above with short silvery grey hairs underneath, giving rise to the name discolor.
Flowers: In spring the profusion of creamy white flowers are borne in large terminal panicles, the individual flowers resembling large, plump shaving brushes.
Fruit: The fruit, which is very small in size, appears as small nutlets tipped with tufts of yellowish hairs.
Seed: Seeds are located within the fruit and are exceptionally small.

Growing regions: Brachylaena discolor occurs in coastal bush along the east coast, from Kwa-Zulu Natal through to the Eastern Cape.
Growing conditions: The Coast Silver Oak is a willing grower and requires no special care when planted in ordinary garden soil.
Best season: All year
Hardiness: This useful tree is drought tolerant and moderately frost hardy.
Propagation: Propagation is quickest by hardwood cuttings taken in early spring and planted in sandy soil which should be kept moist.
Growth rate: The tree is fast growing, well over a metre annually.


The leaves of the Coast silver oak were traditionally used by rural dwellers to treat diabetes and an infusion of the roots is still used as an enema to stem stomach haemorrhaging. Early settlers used the ashes from the tree as an alkali in soap making. The yellow coloured wood, which has a slightly brown tinge, is hard and is highly valued for building and for implement handles.

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