Five indigenous trees to plant in your Lowveld garden

When adding a new tree to your garden, there are a number of reasons why you should consider planting indigenous. Not only are indigenous trees more drought resistant, they also require less fertilizer and pesticide treatments. They are mostly low maintenance and of course preserve our natural habitat and heritage. We take a look at five indigenous trees you could plant in your Lowveld garden.

1. Natal Mahogany (Trichilia emetica Vahl)
Fill you garden with the sweet smell of the Natal Mahogany. When flowering, this evergreen tree is a showpiece of beautiful green flowers that attracts bees and birds to your garden. On average, this tree can grow up to 25m high and features dark glossy leaves. The tree flowers from August to November.

The Natal Mahogany is a great source of food for various animals. Monkeys, baboons and antelope eat the fruit and birds eat the seeds. Moreover, the tree is well known for various medicinal purposes. The tree’s bark can be used for stomach ailments whilst the leaves can be used to treat skin diseases like eczema. The oil from the seeds can be used as a moisturizer and to make soap. Further medicinal uses include treating rheumatism and dressing wounds.

2. Acacia sieberiana (Paperbark Thorn)
The Acacia sieberiana is a hardy and drought resistant tree. Plant them in poor soil or near rocky areas and you can enjoy an authentic Lowveld tree for years to come.

It is a very popular tree for landscaping due to its umbrella-like appearance. They are flat-topped and when planting five or six trees in a row, can look quite impressive. It is often featured in movies when depicting Africa. They can grow up to 18m tall. This tree has creamy, puffball-like flowers that bloom from September to November. The tree’s bark has a cork texture and is yellow-brown in colour. It is a striking addition to any Lowveld garden!

The fragrant flowers attract a number of birds and insects such as butterflies. Cattle and game feast on the tree’s nutritious pods. Furthermore, the Acacia sieberiana is great for various medicinal uses. Throughout Africa, parts of the tree like the bark and leaves, are used to ail those with chest pains and inflammation. Since the tree’s gum is edible, it is widely used as an adhesive in twining.

3. Kiepersol (Cabbage Tree) – Cussonia paniculate
Cabbage Trees are very popular indoor plants at the moment but they have been beautifying Lowveld gardens for centuries. These evergreen trees can grow up to 4m tall. They flower from April to May and bear fruit from June to September.
It is easy to recognize a Cabbage Tree thanks to its large, grey leaves and striking appearance. The leaves have an odd shape and almost resemble wrinkled fingers. In winter, they may lose their leaves but new leaves will start showing in spring.
The Cabbage Tree is actually related to the parsley family aka Apiacae. The roots that are edible, can be used for treating Malaria. Bird species such as Louries, Bulbuls, Barbets, Starlings and Mousebirds eat the ripe fruit of the Cabbage Tree whilst Kudus enjoy the tree’s leaves. They can grow up to 5m tall.

4. Marula (Sclerocarya birrea)
The Marula tree is one of the oldest trees in existence. Archaeologists date them back to 10 000 B.C. The Marula fruit is known for driving elephants mad.
Growing a Marula tree is not difficult as they are quite fast-growing. It can grow 1.5m every year and requires a sunny spot. When full grown, up to 18m, they produce delicious fruit that is high in vitamin C. From September to November, the trees produce flowers and from January to March, bear fruit.

Marula fruit can be used for a great number of things as is evident at the annual Maroelafees. Enjoy the Marula fruit on its own or use it to make jams, juices, jellies and alcoholic drinks. The bark of the Marula tree can be used to stop diarrhoea and also act as a malaria prophylactic. Marula oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetic products. The Marula tree also produces a white nut that can be enjoyed as is or with other vegetables.

5. Kiaat (Pterocarpus angolensis)
Planting a Kiaat tree is great if you want to preserve your lawn. As is the case with so many trees, lawn tends to die due to lack of sun caused by overhanging branches. But the Kiaat tree casts a light shade and therefore, will not shade out lawn growing beneath it.

Kiaat trees have beautiful brown seed pods that make it easy to identify. These are sought after by monkeys whilst antelope feast on the leaves. The trees can grow up to 15m tall and have orange-yellow flowers in spring. Unfortunately, they only flower for 2 – 3 weeks a year.

What makes Kiaat wood unique is the fact that it does not shrink or swell. Therefore, the wood is very sought after when making furniture and canoes. As far as medicinal uses, Kiaat is believed to treat eye and stomach problems, ringworm, Malaria etc.

When planting a Kiaat tree, be sure to put it in well-drained soil. They will not flourish in heavy or shallow soils.

From left to right: Natal Mahogany, Acacia sieberana, Kiepersol

From left to right: Marula and Kiaat
Photo credits: Sun Trees, Kruger National Park, Seeds for Africa

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