Nuts about the Lowveld Chestnut

The Lowveld Chestnut (Sterculia murex Hemsl) is a beautiful southern African tree that grows in a limited number of areas in the Lowveld and Swaziland, most often on wooded, rocky hills.

We have a number of these stunning Lowveld Chestnut trees all over the estate. It is seldom that a big complete fruit is collected as they grow high on the tree and shatter as they fall. Residents who enjoy walking or riding on the estate would have noticed the shells of the fruit on the ground around these trees the last couple of weeks.

Lowveld Chestnut (Sterculia murex Hemsl) at Likweti Bushveld Farm Estate

The genus Sterculia was named after the Latin god Sterculius. The specific epithet “murex” is also Latin meaning, “having rough parts” or “prickly” in reference to the spiky fruits. Despite its common name this tree is not related to the true chestnuts.

The Lowveld Chestnut is a fairly hardy, drought resistant, mostly deciduous tree with a spreading growth form and thick ribbed grey-brown bark. As the tree ages the bark becomes almost black and develops distinctive cracks in rectangular sections. The unusual, large palmate leaves are velvety on both sides. Lovely yellow flowers shaped like shallow cups, are borne in great bunches in spring before the leaves appear.

What makes this tree unique and easily identifiable are without a doubt its unusual spiny fruit, which, if fully formed, can reach a diameter of 30cm. These nuts are edible and delicious both raw and cooked. The sweet, oily seeds are also relished by baboons and monkeys.

Lowveld Chestnut fruit

Lowveld chestnut trees flower between August to October (spring). The beautiful yellow and orange waxy flowers only last for about two weeks though.

Lowveld Chestnut flowers

The tree is mainly grown for decorative effect as the wood is soft and of little use.

Family: Malvaceae
Common names: lowveld chestnut (English), laeveld kastaiing (Afrikaans) umbhaba (Swazi), mohlatsane (N Sotho)
SA Tree No: 475

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