Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rothmannia capensis (Cape Gardenia)

The well shaped Rothmannia capensis must be one of the loveliest indigenous garden trees. This fairly small tree is as beautiful as the exotic gardenias when in flower, and the heady, sweet scent of the flowers remains, even when they have been dried. Although the Cape gardenia is not frost hardy, it will do well almost anywhere provided it is given some protection in very cold areas and is adequately watered in very dry or hot weather. The round, green fruits are edible but not very tasty, they are however relished by baboons, vervet and samango monkeys as well as bushpigs, bushbuck and duiker. When soft and ripe the fruit also attract a variety of fruit-eating birds.
Botanical Name
Rothmannia capensis
Common Name
Cape gardenia
RSA National Tree No’
The delightful Rothmannia capensis is suitable for even the smallest garden as it has a completely non-invasive root system and can be kept neatly trimmed where space is at a premium. The sweet, heady scent of the charming trumpet shaped flowers will permeate the garden on warm summer days and the lingering fragrance will enhance lazy summer evenings on the patio. Plant the gorgeous Cape gardenia as a specimen or, for a truly stunning effect, plant a grove of these beautiful small trees where their lovely shape and showy fragrant flowers can be most appreciated. Whether you are looking for a truly rewarding small tree for a large landscaping project or for a tiny townhouse garden, Rothmannia capensis is well worth considering.
5 – 10 m
3 m
Growth Habit
Rothmannia capensis grows naturally from sea level up to 1600metres and can be found in evergreen forest, wooded ravines, and on rocky ridges.
The bark on young branches is smooth grey-brown while older bark is dark brown and rough with fine cracks, allowing the pink under bark to show through.
The leathery, elliptic, glossy green leaves are approximately 100 x 40 mm and are crowded at the ends of the branchlets. The hairless leaves are darker on top and lighter underneath with some lateral veins on both leaf surfaces. The leaf margins are entire and slightly wavy with four small swellings at the leaf axils. 
The creamy-white, sweetly scented, bell shaped flowers are about 8 cm long with maroon streaks and speckles inside the flower tube. The flowers appear from December to February.
The 60 -70 mm diameter, round green fruit succeeds the flowers. The skin of the fruit is smooth, ribbed and leathery, becoming soft when mature.
A profusion of flat seeds are distributed by wildlife that feed on the soft, ripe fruit.
Growing regions
Rothmannia capensis is widespread from the southern Cape up along the coast to northern Kwa-Zulu Natal as well as Mpumalanga and the southern and western parts of Gauteng.
Growing conditions
The Cape gardenia prefers a sunny position with some protection from frost. Plant it in a large hole in well drained soil to which plenty of compost and bone meal have been added. Water regularly.
Best season
Rothmannia capensis should be protected from frost and should be given adequate amounts of water.
The seeds germinate easily when planted in a standard seedling mixture and should be kept damp. Plant into pots when the proper leaves have formed.
Growth rate
The Cape gardenia will develop relatively quickly, about 500 mm – 1 metre per year if well cared for.
The wood of Rothmannia capensis is hard yet pliable and is widely used for household utensils such as spoons and cooking sticks for porridge as well as implement handles. The powdered roots are used to treat rheumatism and leprosy being rubbed into incisions in the skin over affected parts. The juice of the fruit stains blue and when heated is applied to wounds to facilitate healing. Burning roots also assist in the healing process when affected parts are held over the smoke.
             R. capensis Flower Bud      R. capensis Leaves and Fruit         R. capensis Flower

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