Monday, November 18, 2013

Important Plant Families in South Africa - Celastraceae

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.

Celastraceae (Spike Thorn family)

This very large, familiar family is represented by approximately 60 tree species in southern Africa. Although this is a rather indistinct family, once one becomes more familiar with it, plants with a typically ‘celastraceous’ appearance can more easily be identified.

The young twigs on most species are generally angular and greenish in colour. Some species are unarmed while others are conspicuously spiny.

The mostly leathery leaves are either alternate or borne in clusters with translucent venation on the lower surface. There are a few species that have rubbery threads where the leaves are broken. Although the shape of the leaves varies, most taper at the base.

The small white or greenish flowers are inconspicuous, bisexual or unisexual and are solitary or in cymes or groups.

The fruit is a roundish or lobed capsule that splits open revealing I – 8 distinctive seeds with a fleshy orange or whitish aril.

The Celastraceae family has no particular economic importance but some species with decorative, often variegated foliage, are well known ornamentals. These include Euonymus and Celastrus.

Some examples of this widespread family include: Maytenus heterophylla (Common spike thorn), Maytenus senegalensis (Confetti tree), Maytenus undata (Koko tree), Catha edulis (Bushmans tea), Cassine crocea (Red saffron), Cassine papillosa (Common saffron) and Cassine peragua (Bastard saffron).

Classification Annonaceae

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