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Tree of the Month: Naboom Euphorbia (Euphorbia ingens) Tree no 351
This cactus-like tree is a common sighting on hillsides along the N1 from Johannesburg towards Polokwane. The Naboom Euphorbia is fairly wide-spread throughout the bushveld, preferring well-drained soils.
Flowers and pollinators with warmer days
As usual, this month, our chosen trees represent the regions covered by the five Sappi Tree Spotting series of books: Four trees, one each from Highveld, Lowveld, Bushveld, and KwaZulu-Natal and two more trees from the Cape (southern and northern areas). These regions are listed on the left side of this text – and by clicking on the name/region that interests you, you will discover your Tree of the Month.
How to ID trees using their flowers
Plants, including trees, are scientifically classified and named according to their flower-shape and anatomical structure. Looking carefully at flower-shapes can help with family identification, but this is often rather technical and difficult without magnification.
Sugarbush Protea - Protea repens (Tree no 94.2)
The Sugarbush Protea, Protea repens, is one of the most widely distributed Proteas in the Cape Region, and where one grows, others can almost certainly be found in the vicinity. It is easiest to find in Fynbos on Mountain slopes, and can also be found in Renosterveld.
Chinese-Lanterns - Nymania capensis (Tree no 295)
Chinese-lanterns, Nymania capensis, grow in semi-arid sites, and where there is one, there are mostly others in the vicinity, most often found along watercourses or among rocks. Along roadsides it is not browsed and can be common.
Sacred Coral-trees - Erythrina lysistemon (Tree no 245)
Sacred Coral-trees, Erythrina lysistemon are found growing among other species of trees. It is easiest to find in low-lying, dune, riverine and swamp forests of northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Glossy Bottlebrush - Greyia sutherlandii (Tree no 446)
Glossy Bottlebrush trees are most easily found when it occurs on exposed, rocky hillsides and steep mountain slopes of the Drakensberg and other high-lying areas of the Highveld and KwaZulu-Natal.
Knob-Thorn Acacia - Acacia nigrescens (Tree no 178)
Larger Knob-thorn Acacias grow singly with many scattered trees in the area. They are often near drainage lines and rivers. Smaller, mature Knob-thorns grow in dense groups in clay soils.
Broad-leaved Yellowwood - Podocarpus latifolius (National Tree Spotting Tree no 18)
The Broad-leaved Yellowwood is evergreen and can be massive. It is found along rivers and in forests, throughout the eastern side of the whole country, from well into the Bushveld, through the Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal and down into the Cape to Cape Town.
Giant-leaved Fig - Ficus lutea (National Tree Spotting Tree no 61)
The Giant-leaved Fig, Ficus lutea, not only has huge leaves, but is an enormous, wide-spreading, evergreen tree with a very dense canopy. It is unmistakable along the eastern side of KwaZulu-Natal.
Shepherds-tree - Boscia albitrunca (National Tree Spotting Tree no 122)
Shepherds-trees, Boscia albitrunca, are not usually taller than 6 metres. They can be trees with a single fluted, often crooked trunk, or a small rounded shrub.
Lala-palm - Hyphaene coriacea (National Tree Spottting Tree no 23)
Indigenous Lala-palms, Hyphaene coriacea, are evergreen and are South Africa’s tallest, indigenous Palm, growing up to 7 m in height. They occur throughout the Lowveld and along the coastal strip of KwaZulu-Natal, into the Eastern Cape.
Squat Star-chestnut - Sterculia rogersii (National Tree Spotting Tree no 477)
This tree is not really common, unless you are in a rocky area or in sandy soil, virtually anywhere in the Bushveld or the Lowveld
Mountain Cabbage-tree - Cussonia paniculata (National Tree Spotting tree no 563)
Mountain Cabbage-tree is not always evergreen, but has such an unusual shape and corky bark that it is easy to identify in the few areas where it loses its leaves for a month or so.
Use tree canopies to help identify trees
Previously we looked at trunk shapes to help you form your Search Image of a tree - the or general information form and features (GIFF) of a tree. This month we are concentrating on the canopies and their shapes.
The Wonders of Evergreen Spotting
Two things seem to make people believe that Tree Spotting is difficult. Firstly, they say that “all trees have brown trunks and green leaves”, and that “too much variety in the greenery is confusing”. Then secondly, they think that “in winter, without leaves, it is hard to know what tree you are looking at!” This always seems to be a contradiction in terms, so, being an optimist/opportunist, I suggest we make the most of both statements and turn this into a win-win situation.
This August look for these evergreen trees
Our main emphasis this month is on trees that are either evergreen or have really unusual shapes or bark. Thus they are easy to spot in the late winter landscapes when many trees are bare.
It's July and these trees have all lost their leaves
The six trees featured this month all lose their leaves in winter (in most areas where they occur). However each one of them is still easily recognisable by their bare branches and or trunks and bark.
Tamboti - Spirostachys africana (National Tree Spotting Tree no 341)
In many ways Tamboti trees, Spirostachys africana, are more dramatic in winter when leafless, than they are in summer. They have a number of striking features that make them distinctive. Primarily, they most often grow in patches of uniform Tamboti forest, either fairly close to a river, often on clay, or in a rocky area. The first thing you will notice about the trees, is that so many of them grow surprisingly close together.
Then you will become aware of the unusually dark, regularly cracked, blocky bark. In the canopy above, Tamboti are the opposite of Baobabs. The branches divide many times into gradually finer and finer twigs, creating a mass of thin, grey twiglets. These inter-tangle into a ‘smokey’ grey crown. Being close together these crowns often merge into one mass.
Marula - Sclerocarya birrea (National Tree Spotting Tree no 360)
Most people will say that their favourite tree in the winter, in the Lowveld is the Marula Sclerocarya birrea. This indigenous tree has two distinctive features that make it easy to find when there are no leaves in its canopy and less general greenery around to hide its characteristic bark. Firstly, the bark often peels in unusually rounded depressions, revealing smooth, pink-brown under-bark. Secondly the large main branches divide rapidly into branchlets that end in short, stubby ‘finger-like’ twigs, which are conspicuous against the winter sky.
The shape of things - Identifying the form of indigenous trees in southern Africa
One of ther easiest, most striking feature of any tree is its trunk and these characteristic forms of sourthern Africa indigenous tree trunks and branching patterns can help you to identify indigenous trees.
Baobab - Adansonia digitata (National Tree Spotting Tree no 467)
This is one of the easiest trees to find and identify all year round, as long as you set out to look for it in the right places! Baobabs are most often found alone, with others nearby. In winter, from a long distance away, you will see the large, bare branches reaching up into the sky, with relatively short, thin branchlets and twigs.
Robust Acacia - Acacia robusta (National Tree Spotting Tree no 183)
Robust Acacias Acacia robusta are one of my favourite trees, because of the robust way that it reaches high into the sky with strong, upright branches. Historically it was called the Splendid Acacia, which is a really good name – but I personally call it the Halleluja Acacia for the way its sturdy main branches (arms) reach upwards, as if giving thanks!
The branchlets and twigs have two features that make them even more distinctive in the winter. They have conspicuous, dark, prickly, cushion-like thickenings at the base of straight, pale thorns, and the twigs tend to zigzag at these same points, giving the canopy a characteristic spikey outline.
Cape Willow - Salix mucronata (National Tree Spotting Tree no 35)
To find Cape Wilows Salix mucronata start looking along a pristine river. Often you will find these indigenous trees in closely grouped clusters, literally on the river bank. In places, the roots could actually be in the water. When they are leafless you can still recognise them easily by their bark. Young bark is smooth and greenish grey, and the branchlets and twigs are often pinky-red. Older bark becomes rougher and browner, with deep lengthways fissures and narrow peeling flakes.
Tree ID made easy! How to find indigenous trees the Sappi Tree Spotting way
The Sappi Tree Spotting series is specifically designed to help new Tree Spotters, in any place in South Africa, to find their first indigenous trees in that area.
Jackalberry - Diospyros mespiliformis
Jackalberrys are members of the Ebony family and are common across the Lowveld. Fruit is usually present throughout the year, albeit in varying quantities and hence these trees are often alive with monkeys and birds such as African pigeons.
Mitzeeri - Bridelia micrantha
One of the Euphorbia family Mitzeeri trees have been used for parquet flooring, furniture and its root extracts are apparently good for infant coughs. Black rhinos enjoy the bark while the fruit is eatne by a variety of birds.
River Bushwillow - Combretum erythrophyllum
The River Bushwillow is one of the more comomonly encountered species of the bushwillow family in South Africa – worldwide there are morethan 60 genera and 400 species of bushwillow. River bushwillows occur almost exclusively along streambanks throughout the region.
Willow Boekenhout - Faurea saligna
This attractive tree, often used by gardeners as an ornamental, tends to grow where grass is less palatable or 'sour'. Interestingly, this wood was used in the first butter churns and also for telephone poles in the then Transvaal and Natal. Where they co occur they are often grazed by elephants.
African White-stinkwood - Celtis africana
The Cape is so different because, being winter rainfall in the south west, there are in fact very few easy-to-spot trees which have autumn colours and are easy and widespread. For this area of the southern and south western Cape, for June, we have a tree, which has fantastic flowers the African White-stinkwood Celtis africana.
Silver Protea (Protea roupelliae)
Protea roupellia or the Silver Protea is one of the most widespread proteas flowering at the moment (flowering season is February to June). It occurs on grassy ridges and in rocky areas on the slopes and tops of hills and mountains favouring the cooler south-facing slopes.