Why this breathtaking tree is so rarely used in the horticultural
and landscape trade is a mystery. It possesses almost all the qualities
of the ideal city garden tree; very attractive with or without its
leaves, small to medium in size, interesting, smooth, light brown
bark, its showy deep orange fruit can be eaten by both humans and
birds alike and it is relatively frost hardy. What more could you
tree is usually small to medium but sometimes, in the wild, given
optimum conditions, can reach heights of up to 20 m or more. Although
it sheds its leaves in winter, the tree is still attractive, displaying
its light brown trunk and branches majestically. The bark is smooth
with patches flaking off, leaving behind interesting natural scars.
The stem resembles that of the lekkerbreek, Ochna pulchra
and also the smooth-barked guava tree.
The thin leaves are alternate, with a slightly toothed margin,
shiny dark green above and paler green below. The scented, cream-white,
bell-shaped flowers are borne in clusters at the end of the branches
in spring/early summer. The fleshy fruits are deep orange drupes
and look attractively appetizing to both humans and birds when ripe.
They are edible, but not very tasty. Birds, especially the coucal,
feast on them. The large calyx forms a saucer around the base of
the fruit and may account for the common name.
This forest margin dweller occurs along the Kwazulu-Natal and Transkei
coastal belt, in southern Mozambique, curving slightly northwest
into Limpopo. The tree occurs naturally in coastal and riverine
forests and bush. Although this tree thrives in semishade, it can
also be planted in full sun where it grows almost equally well.
it is found growing in warm climates, this tree can tolerate mild
frost. It is advisable to protect the stem of a newly planted tree
against frost for the first few winters, or until the stem at ground
level reaches at least 80 mm in diameter. Long veld grass can be
cut and tied against the stem which can be removed once the season
warms up. The Pretoria Botanical Garden has beautiful specimens
of this septee/saucer-berry tree growing in full sun as well as
in full shade in different parts of the garden.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Cordia is so called after a German student, Euricius
Cordus who lived in the 1500s and the epithet caffra is derived
from Kaffraria, an old name for part of Eastern Cape. This tree
belongs to the Boraginaceae or forget-me-not family, which also
includes the herbs comfrey and borage. Although Cordia is
a large genus of about 250 species, only five are found in South
Insects are attracted to the sweetly scented white flowers and help
pollinate them and birds enjoy eating the fleshy fruit.
Uses and cultural aspects
Parts of this tree are used medicinally to treat sore eyes, fever
and wounds. The sapwood is used to build huts, and dry sticks rubbed
together are used to make fire caused by friction heat. The durable
pinkish heartwood is used to make attractive furniture. It polishes
nicely and is easy to work with, as it does not chip when cut and
Growing Cordia caffra
This tree lends itself to various situations in the landscape and
is relatively fast-growing.
The seed with its pleated cotyledon germinates fairly quickly.
Use a mixture of 50% sieved river sand and 50% sieved compost as
the germination medium. The seedlings grow quickly, resulting in
mature, flowering trees after only seven years. The tree should
be planted in a large hole containing a sprinkling of super-phosphate
and generous amounts of compost. It can be used as a focus plant,
in full sun or even in semi-shade under existing mature trees. Protect
young stems from frost for the first couple of years if planted
in cold areas by wrapping them with veld grass or hessian. This
tree can be pruned successfully into any shape desired.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The complete field guide to trees of Natal,
Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Schmit,E., Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and
shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park. Redhotmoondog
Communications and Jacana, Johannesburg.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden