Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Calodendrum capense - Cape Chestnut

Calodendrum capense is without doubt one of our loveliest ornamental and shade trees. Calodendrum is derived from the Greek language and literally means “beautiful tree”. This magnificent tree has a dense rounded crown and literally covers itself in lightly scented, spectacular pink flowers in spring and summer. Those of you who have driven along the Garden Route at this time of year must have noticed these splendid trees in the Knysna area, where they are so easily identifiable by their profusion of blooms. The Cape chestnut is not a true chestnut, the knobby fruit however is reminiscent of the edible chestnut. The leaves of this member of the citrus family give off a distinctly lemony fragrance when crushed and in autumn they turn a rich golden yellow before dropping to the ground.

Botanical Name: Calodendrum capense
Common Name: Cape chestnut
Genus: Rutaceae
RSA National Tree No’" 256


Whether your landscaping project requires an ornamental shade tree for street planting, a park, a residential or office development, or for a small or large garden, the Cape chestnut is a truly lovely choice. This striking tree has a completely non invasive root system and, when flowering, creates a captivating sight, making it a wonderful option for planting along driveways and pathways or near any other paved areas. As the Calodendrum capense is an extremely successful container subject, it can add variety and interest to even the smallest townhouse garden. The seeds of the Cape chestnut are eaten by cinnamon doves, rameron pigeons and Cape parrots and the tree is host to the beautiful swallowtail butterflies, namely the citrus swallowtail, the green banded swallowtail and the emperor swallowtail.


Height: 7 – 10m
Spread: 4 – 10m
Deciduous/Evergreen: Deciduous
Growth Habit: Calodendrum capense occurs in Afromontane forest and occasionally in scrub or dry ravines.
Bark: The bark of the Cape chestnut is greyish and more or less smooth.
Foliage: The smooth, dark green leaves are simple, opposite and elliptical, 200 x 100mm with translucent gland dots. The edges are somewhat wavy and the margin is entire.
Flowers: Large pink, faintly sweet, scented flowers are borne in conspicuous terminal panicles from October to December. Each flower consists of 5 long, narrow pink petals alternating with 5 pale pink stamenoids that are conspicuously dotted with maroon glands.
Fruit: The rough fruit is green, maturing to a brown, 5 lobed capsule that splits open in late summer releasing the seeds.
Seed: Seeds are 1,5cm long, angled, oily, smooth and jet black.


Growing regions: Calodendrum capense occurs naturally all the way from Kenya to Cape Town along the coast and up to 2000m above sea level.
Growing conditions: The Cape chestnut should be planted in a large hole, 1mx1m to which ample compost and old kraal manure have been added. Keep well watered at first. Apply thick mulch in Spring.
Best season: Spring - Summer
Hardiness: This superb tree is semi – hardy and will tolerate light frost when mature but protect it from frost when young. Although the Cape chestnut can withstand some drought it is preferable to water the tree in very dry Summer weather.
Propagation: Calodendrum capense is easily propagated from ripe seed but will take about 6 years to flower. When propagated from cuttings the tree will flower a little sooner.
Growth rate: Slow to medium depending on the conditions.


Calodendrum capense has white to pale yellow timber which is fairly hard but bends easily. It is suitable for making tent bows, yokes, planking, shovel handles and a variety of furniture. The bark is used as an ingredient in skin ointments and is also sold as a traditional medicine. The well known Yangu oil is derived from the seed and is used extensively throughout Africa in skin care products and soap. The Xhosa believe that the seeds have magical properties. Hunters tied the seeds around their wrists as this was believed to bring skill and good luck.

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