Monday, November 18, 2013

Sterculia murex (Lowveld chestnut)

The magnificent Sterculia murex is generally associated with the warm, lowveld region of South Africa but beautiful specimens can be viewed in many of our botanical gardens, including Kirstenbosch, which has a Mediterranean climate. Provided these superb trees are planted in a sheltered position and provided with adequate water, they will thrive in all but the coldest and driest parts of the country. The fascinating form of the amazing fruit as well as the dense sprays of sunny yellow flowers with crimson spotted centre, make this one of our most handsome indigenous trees.
Botanical Name
Sterculia murex
Common Name
Lowveld chestnut
RSA National Tree No’
The selection of indigenous trees that lend a truly tropical feel to the landscape is fairly limited but this is where the strikingly beautiful Lowveld chestnut comes into its own. The cool green, foliage has a distinctly tropical appearance while the highly decorative sprays of flowers and the unique, spiky fruit provide added interest throughout the growing season. This extraordinary, medium sized tree will greatly enhance a tropical themed landscape while a single specimen will create an unusual and rewarding focal point in any garden. As Sterculia murex is deciduous, it will allow sunlight into the garden in winter and the magnificent bronze hue of the newly sprouted, young foliage adds instant colour in spring. Wherever a unique and interesting tree is sought for the landscape, the superb Lowveld chestnut is an excellent choice.
Height6 – 12m
4 - 5 m
Growth Habit
Sterculia murex is found growing naturally in open forest areas, stony wooded hillsides and rocky ridges as well as in bushveld regions.
The Lowveld chestnut has thick ribbed bark that is grey brown in colour. As the tree ages the bark becomes almost black and develops distinctive cracks in rectangular sections.
The spring foliage of Sterculia murex is a lovely bronze colour becoming bright green as the foliage matures. The velvety, palmately compound leaves comprise 5 to 10 oblong leaflets on short stalks that are joined at the centre.
The attractive waxy yellow flowers are marked with crimson spots towards the centre and are borne in large, axillary clusters in spring.
The unusual 5 lobed fruit are large, measuring 30cm diameter in some cases. The woody shells are covered with hard, spiny protuberances. The seeds are embedded in hairs that can cause severe skin irritation.
The large seeds are black or charcoal grey.
Growing regions
Sterculia murex is endemic to the warm lowveld region of the country namely Mpumalanga, but a few specimens can be found as far as Swaziland. There are some fine examples on the hills near the Pretorius Kop entrance of the Kruger National Park.
Growing conditions
The Lowveld chestnut prefers a well watered or moist location with well drained soil in full sun or semi shade.
Best season
Spring / Summer
These beautiful trees do not tolerate heavy frost so they should be given some protection in the colder regions of the country.
The large seeds of Sterculia murex germinate readily and should be placed on top of a coarse potting mixture or fine bark for best results. The roots develop before the leaves appear. Propagation from cuttings is generally quicker and easier however.
Growth rate
Although the wood of Sterculia murex is not suitable for use, it is the amazing, 5 lobed spiky fruit that are much sought after. The hard pods of the fruit are almost indestructible and last indefinitely. This makes them extremely popular as ashtrays and snack bowls as well as for making unusual ornaments. The large, black, edible seeds are very nutritious having a high protein and oil content. The seeds have a lovely, sweet flavour and are absolutely delicious when roasted over a fire.
Sterculia murex flowersSterculia murex barkSterculia murex seed
       S. murex Flowers and Foliage        S. murex Bark                     S. murex Seed

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