Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Important Plant Families in South Africa - Annonaceae

In order to facilitate the identification of our wealth of lovely South African trees, it is helpful to be familiar with the most prominent plant families in an area as well as the characteristics that distinguish each plant family. Every month we will feature one of the most important and well represented plant families, focusing on easily recognisable features to assist identification.

Annonaceae (Custard Apple family)

This large and fascinating family of mainly tropical and subtropical trees and shrubs consists of over 100 genera and is represented by approximately 20 native species in southern Africa.

All the members of this family are generally easy to recognise as they have simple, alternate leaves that are aromatic, occasionally somewhat blue tinged and are without stipules.

The inconspicuous, bisexual flowers are greenish with three sepals and six petals that are often arranged in two rows. There are frequently many stamens with few to many carpels. The carpels which have a very insignificant style are most prominent during fruiting. These often develop into clusters of fleshy fruits that radiate from the tip of the original flower stalk.

Many species produce edible fruit which are not marketed commercially but rather consumed locally, as well as being used medicinally or used for their believed magical properties. The fruits are generally known as ‘custard apples’ due to the custard like flavour of many or them.

The flowers of Artabotrys odoratissimus are an important and valuable commercial product as the oil produced by distillation of the blooms, yields one of the best known oils used in the French perfume industry, namely, ylang-ylang.

Some examples of this species include; Annona senegalensis (Wild custard apple), Artabotrys monteiroae (Red hook berry), Hexalobus monopetalus (Shakama plum), Monodora junodii (Green apple), Uvaria caffra (Small cluster pear) and Xylopia parviflora (Bush bitterwood).
 Classification Annonaceae

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