Masses of lovely fluffy pink-white flowers are displayed on bare
branches in early spring. Fragrant and resembling small powder puffs,
they lure a variety of pollinating insects.
deciduous knobbly creeper has long trailing branches and usually
easily scrambles into surrounding bush, where its flowers can be
seen to advantage. However, it may also form either a shrub or small
tree (3-4 m high, 3 m wide). Flowers appear from August to November
(spring to summer), and are followed by five, or sometimes four,
winged fruits that are tinged pink for a while before ripening to
brown and papery in summer (October to January). The grey to brownish
bark is smooth.
This species is found in low-lying bushveld and thicket in hot,
dry areas, on hills (koppies) and often near rivers in South Africa,
Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and northwards into the
dry, hot parts of tropical Africa.
is a name used by the Roman writer Pliny (23-79 A.D.) for a climbing
plant, and mossambicense means 'from Mozambique'. There are
30 species of Combretum in South Africa. Most are trees or
shrubs, but a few are scramblers (e.g. C.
microphyllum and C. bracteosum). Several of the trees
such as C. kraussii and C.
erythrophyllum are also suitable for gardens.
Most browsers enjoy feeding on this Combretum, and the larvae
of the Striped Policeman and Guinea-fowl butterflies feed on the
leaves. The flowers draw insects, in turn attracting insect-eating
birds such as the Brownheaded Kingfisher.
Uses and cultural aspects
Roots and leaves of C. mossambicense and Acalypha villicaulis
are crushed and boiled in plenty of water. The extract is used to
steam the face to reduce swelling caused by a tooth abscess, or
for eye inflammation. Hot compresses are made from the dregs. The
extract is also used for gargling or eye baths, or it is tossed
onto red-hot coals and the steam is used to ease swollen body parts.
The liquid can be rubbed into small scratches over swellings.
Growing Combretum mossambicense
it from seed or possibly from cuttings. It is suitable for gardens
medium to large, especially in drier areas where water may be scarce.
In the home garden it can either be pruned back heavily to discourage
its climbing tendencies or, space permitting, it can be allowed
to scramble up a dead tree, or to form a rambling shrub. Plant a
group of these shrubs in a large shrub border, or train a plant
up a trellis if space is limited. Train a plant over a pergola,
where it can provide shade in summer, but some sun will filter through
Moderately fast-growing and fairly drought-resistant, the knobbly
creeper prefers fertile well-drained soil that contains plenty of
compost. Mulch well and replenish regularly. Once established, it
won't need overly much water. It will probably produce a better
flower display if it is kept reasonably dry in winter (do not let
young newly planted shrubs dry out!).
Frost-hardy and relatively pest-free, it prefers a place in the
sun and can tolerate temperatures ranging from about -4°C to
40°C (or higher?).
- Coates-Palgrave, K. 1988. Trees of southern Africa, edn 2.
Struik, Cape Town.
- Joffe, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants-a
South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa.
Balkema, Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The complete guide to trees of Natal, Zululand
and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust.
- Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees
of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Von Koenen, E. 1996. Medicinal, poisonous and edible plants
in Namibia. Klaus Hess Publishers, Windhoek.
- Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. The medicinal
and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. Livingstone,
Pretoria National Botanical Garden