Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cunonia capensis (Red alder)

The Cunonia capensis is an impressive evergreen shade tree with a fine wide crown. It forms a thick stem that usually remains unbranched for a considerable distance. The new young leaves are bronze when they emerge, maturing to a beautiful glossy dark green. The characteristic large spoon shaped stipules give rise to the common name “Butterspoon tree”. The showy, dense sprays of bottlebrush shaped infloresences are sweetly scented, attracting butterflies and bees while the fruit is relished by a variety of birds. Although the beautiful Red alder enjoys a moist situation, it will grow extremely well in any temperate situation where it is kept well watered
Botanical Name
Cunonia capensis
Common Name
Red alder
RSA National Tree No’
The handsome Red alder is one of our loveliest autumn flowering indigenous trees. This fast growing tree is suitable for almost any situation where an adequate supply of water is available. With it’s attractive bronze to glossy green foliage and it’s abundance of bottlebrush like flowers in autumn, Cunonia capensis looks enchanting throughout the year. The Red alder is equally suitable for a large garden, where it will look stunning as a specimen shade tree, or in a small garden where it’s non-invasive root system ensures that it is safe to plant near patios or paving. This tree is a good choice for large pots on a patio where the lovely foliage can be appreciated and the sweet fragrance of the flowers can be enjoyed when many other plants are looking rather bleak as winter approaches. Cunonia capensis will do really well and look stunning when used to enhance a natural water feature.                                
5m - 10m
Growth Habit
Cunonia capensis is widespread throughout South Africa occuring naturally in montane forest, usually in moist areas and is especially numerous around Cape Town and the Garden Route.
The bark of the Red alder is dark and rough
The glossy dark green leaves are lanceolate consisting of 3 – 5 pairs of leaflets plus a terminal one and are roughly 70mm long. The margins are serrated. Young leaf stalks and shoots are reddish. Large appressed stipules enclose the growth tip forming a distinctive spoon like shape. 
The small, fragrant, creamy flowers that appear in autumn are bisexual with fine protruding stamens and are carried in dense upright racemes resembling a bottlebrush.
The fruit consists of 1cm long leathery, 2 horned capsules.
The seed is very fine and sticky and is distributed mainly by birds, as the seeds tend to stick to their feathers and beaks
Growing regions
This lovely tree occurs from Cape Town and the Western Cape, all the way eastwards to Swaziland and Mozambique.
Growing conditions
Cunonia capensis prefers a temperate climate that is neither too dry nor too cold and with adequate amounts of water preferably in full sun.
Best season
The Red alder can withstand light frost but is not suited to very dry conditions.
Cuttings taken and planted in early summer grow very successfully. The seeds also germinate readily when covered with a thin layer of fine soil and kept moist.
Growth rate
If kept well watered, Cunonia capensis is one of the fastest growing South African trees.
Various parts of the Red alder are traditionally used to treat nervous complaints. The hard wood is pale to rich red in colour with a lovely fine grain making it suitable for turning. This lovely wood is used to make a variety of attractive household articles and fine furniture.
        C. capensis Foliage & Flowers         C. capensis Seed               C. capensis Stipules

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