Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rapanea melanophloeos (Cape beech)

Rapanea melanophloeos or Cape beech is a large, handsome evergreen with a dense, spreading crown. These, straight, slender trees are found growing up to altitudes of 1700m and are common in the kloofs on Table Mountain. The pinkish red colour of the young leaves and stalks as well as the striking purple of the profusion of berries makes this a very decorative addition to the landscape. Birds, bees and small mammals find the flowers and berries irresistible while the many branched crown has the added advantage of providing excellent nesting sites for birds as well. Cape beech is not related to the well known Beech of the northern hemisphere but is a close relative of the Rhododendron.
Botanical Name
Rapanea melanophloeos
Common Name
Cape beech
RSA National Tree No’
 The elegant Cape beech will add a truly lovely dimension to the large garden. This hardy species is especially useful as a formidable windbreak in coastal gardens while its dense, bushy habit makes it an excellent option as a screening plant where privacy is needed. Rapanea melanophloeos requires very little maintenance but as the roots are invasive and it tends to send up suckers, it is advisable to plant these decorative trees away from paved areas and buildings.  
Height6 – 18m
3 – 6 m
Growth Habit
The Cape beech is usually found in moist coastal and mountain forests as well as in bushy areas and swamps.
The bark is grey  or white and fairly smooth becoming darker and somewhat rougher and fissured in older specimens.
The thick, oblong, leathery, leaves are simple and crowded at the ends of slightly knobby branchlets. The hairless leaves are dull dark green on top and paler green underneath with young leaves often appearing bright pinkish red with a purplish leaf stalk.
The small greenish white or cream flowers appear on older wood below the leaves from June to December.
The round, fleshy, fruit is up to 5mm in diameter, green when young and turning purple as they ripen.
The single, small dark seeds are roundish.
Growing regions
Rapanea melanophloeos is widespread along the east coast of South Africa and can be found from the Cape Peninsula through the Eastern Cape to Kwa Zulu – Natal and up as far as Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Growing conditions
The Cape beech enjoys a sunny or semi shaded position. Spread thick mulch around the base of the tree to keep the roots cool and moist. Feed with high nitrogen organic fertilizer and water regularly to encourage optimum growth.
Best season
Winter / Summer
Rapanea melanophloeos is hardy and can withstand wind as well as some drought.
Sow seed in spring or early summer in a well drained seedling mix and place in a moist, shady position until germination takes place.
Growth rate
Average to fast depending on conditions.
The superior quality, hard, heavy, pinkish brown wood of the Cape beech has long been sought after for the manufacture of fine furniture that shows off the beautiful grain to best advantage. This lovely wood is also used to make violins. The bark and roots are used medicinally for the treatment of respiratory, muscular and heart complaints. The Nguni people believed that the bark would ward off evil and protect them from lightning.

Rapanea flowersRapanea fruitRapanea Leaves
          R. melanophloeos Foliage and Flowers                   R. melanophloeos Fruit                               R. melanophloeos Foliage

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