Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cussonia spicata (Cabbage Tree)

The distinctive Cussonia spicata is a very decorative evergreen tree with dense heads of palmately double compound leaves at the ends of the branches, giving the appearance of a huge feather duster. The growth form varies from a thick single bole to specimens that form several stem branches 1-2m above the ground.
These lovely trees have a spreading, much branched, rounded crown and can grow to a height of 15 metres. The Cabbage tree is easily recognizable in the veld where Kudu and domestic stock browse on the leaves while Baboons relish the young shoots, and in times of drought the juicy roots are eaten by both man and beast.
Botanical Name
Cussonia spicata
Common Name
Cabbage tree
RSA National Tree No’
The architectural form of the Cussonia spicata makes it unsurpassed as an indigenous accent plant while the striking grey-green leaves create an interesting contrast with other plants in the landscape. Plant the Cabbage tree as a single specimen, or, create an attractive focal point by planting a group of 3 or 5. This strikingly beautiful tree with it’s unusual form is fast growing as well as being long-lived, making it a perfect choice as a permanent decorative feature in any garden or landscape. Young specimens of this splendid tree look spectacular when planted in large pots on a sunny patio or any other paved area. The ripe fruit of the Cussonia spicata are a favourite food of Bul-buls, Loeries, Starlings, Mousebirds and Barbets.
3 – 15 m
Growth Habit
Cussonia spicata occurs in bushveld, on forest margins and rocky outcrops in grassland.
The corky bark is pale grey or brown with longitudinal fissures.
The thickly leathery, grey-blue to dark green leaves are clustered at the ends of the branches. They are palmately compound each with 5-9 leaflets arising from the end of a long petiole. Leaflets are also compound, incised up to the midrib in places. 
The insignificant greenish yellow flowers that appear from April to May are arranged on long cylindrical terminal spikes. There are 8-12 spikes per unit giving the appearance of a large candelabra.
The fruit develops from June to September and takes the form of a fleshy round to angular drupe about the size of a pea.
The seeds of the Cabbage tree are purplish and about 6mm in diameter.
Growing regions
Cussonia spicata is widespread and is commonly found growing from Sudan in the North right down to the Western Cape in the South.
Growing conditions
The Cabbage tree prefers a position in full sun and will grow successfully in almost any soil type but will reward you with quick, luxuriant growth when planted in a large hole to which plenty of compost and bonemeal have been added.
Best season
All year
Cussonia spicata can withstand light frost as well as low water conditions.
To propagate from seed, wash the pulp off the seed and plant in prepared seed trays immediately. The seedlings can be transplanted into bags in the second growth year. The tree can also be easily grown from cuttings.
Growth rate
The growth rate is average to fast, depending on prevailing conditions.
Cussonia spicata has long been well known as a medicinal plant with a wide variety of uses. The Zulu’s use the mashed succulent roots as a treatment for malaria while the leaves are used for indigestion. Decoctions are used to treat such ailments as madness, amenhoerroea, convulsions, heart pains, venereal disease and pains of the uterus. The soft wood has been used to make mole traps as well as brake blocks for ox wagons.

                      C. spicata Bark                                    C. spicata Leaves                                  C. spicata Fruit

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