Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ekebergia capensis (cape ash)

The stately Ekebergia capensis is a large evergreen tree, and is a member of the well represented tropical and sub-tropical Mahogany family of trees and shrubs. This superb tree is often confused with Harpephyllum caffrum which is a member of the Mango family and has stiff, sickle-shaped leaves, whereas the leaves of the Cape ash are drooping and don’t have a watery secretion when a leaf is detached. The sweetly scented flowers of this superb tree attract butterflies and bees to the garden while the berry-like fruit is enjoyed by barbets, bulbuls and mousebirds as well as the magnificent purple crested and Knysna loeries. Although the fruit is rather acid it is perfectly safe for human consumption.
Botanical Name
Ekebergia capensis
Common Name
Cape ash
RSA National Tree No’
This magnificent ornamental shade tree may be too large for an ordinary city garden, but will make a superb specimen tree in a larger garden where it will not only provide shade, but will attract a diversity of wildlife as well. Ekebergia capensis makes a stunning street tree and has been extensively used in cities where it provides welcome relief from the heat when planted along hot sidewalks and streets as well as in public parking areas, city parks and open spaces. As this lovely tree grows rather fast when given sufficient water, a shady area can be created in a relatively short time.
10m – 15m
Growth Habit
Ekebergia capensis grows naturally from high altitude evergreen and riverine forest, and right down to sea level.
The bark of the Cape ash is rough and ranges in colour from light grey to almost black. There is some buttressing at the base of more mature trees.
The glossy green, compound leaves are unequally pinnate with 9 – 13 leaflets per leaf and often have a pinkish tinge at the edges. 
The sweetly scented, white to pinkish flowers are carried on lax axillary panicles from September to November.
The subglobose, fleshy, berry-like fruit starts out green then gradually turns pink and ripens to a bright red in February and March.
Each fruit contains 4 small dark seeds.
Growing regions
Ekebergia capensis grows from the Eastern Cape northwards through Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mocambique, Zimbabwe and as far north as Ethiopia and the DRC.
Growing conditions
This impressive tree grows best when planted in a large hole with plenty of compost in full sun. Water generously and it will grow quickly in warm parts of the country.
Best season
The Cape ash prefers adequate water but can tolerate dry conditions for a short while. The tree tolerates light frost but is sensitive to heavy frost.
This lovely tree propagates readily from seed but a quicker, easier method is from hardwood cuttings or truncheons planted directly into the ground.
Growth rate
If given the right conditions the Cape ash grows very fast but will grow more slowly in less favourable conditions.
The Cape ash is well known for the attractive, pale wood which is often used to make beautiful furniture. Many parts of the tree are used medicinally. The bark is used as an emetic as well as for treating dysentery. The roots are used for ailments such as headaches, heart burn and coughs while the leaves are used for intestinal worms. Some parts of the tree are traditionally used to protect the local chief from witchcraft.
                  E. capensis Bark                   E. capensis Fruit                E. capensis Flowers

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