This enticing little tree has so many wonderful features: dark
green, strikingly glossy leaves; creamy fragrant flowers; unusual
smooth, dark grey, almost black bark and distinctive reddish brown,
papery, balloon-like fruit pods. Altogether, it is a very attractive
and pleasing garden subject.
bladdernut is an evergreen shrub or small multi-stemmed tree with
a straight trunk that branches low down to form a dense, round to
pyramidal crown. The bark on young branches is yellow-green to pinkish,
covered by fine coppery hairs; but smooth and blackish grey on older
stems and branches. The shiny leaves, also with a fringe of ginger
hairs, are leathery, dark green above and lighter below. An occasional
bright red or orange leaf occurs adding to the overall attractiveness
of this plant.
Scented flowers, hanging from hairy stalks, appear in spring.
They are bell-shaped, white to creamy yellow and male and female
flowers occur on different trees.
fruits, borne throughout summer, are fleshy berries that turn scarlet
when ripe. They are enclosed in inflated, bladder-like capsules
that dry to red and remain on the tree for many months after the
fruit has fallen and so may be found on the trees at almost any
time of the year.
The name is derived from diospyros = divine pear (Greek)
and whyteana (Latin) = named after the Scottish plant explorer
This tree can be found naturally in forest, on mountain slopes
and in rocky places. It has a wide distribution occurring in all
the provinces in South Africa and stretching as far north as Ethiopia.
The leaves are browsed by stock and game. Birds (Rameron pigeon,
African green pigeon, loeries, barbets and bulbuls) open the papery
fruit covering as soon as it starts to turn red to get at the ripe,
fleshy berries inside. The fruits are edible but are somewhat bitter
and so not very tasty. The roasted seeds have been used as a coffee
substitute. The wood is variable in colour, mainly whitish with
brown to purple stripes, dense, evenly grained, strong and suitable
for furniture, but large logs are often not available. Smaller diameter
stems are used for implement handles. Bark extracts are administered
as enemas for treating menstrual pain, impotency and infertility.
A leaf and root infusion can be used to treat rashes.
Growing Diospyros whyteana
neat growth habit, glossy dark green leaves and masses of red fruit
make Diospyros whyteana an excellent tree for the garden.
It can be planted as an accent plant, particularly in a small garden
where space is limited. As it is decorative and responds so well
to clipping it is an outstanding plant to grow as a hedge. The bladdernut
makes an attractive container plant for the patio and is also a
good species for bonsai. It attracts birds to the garden and sweetly
scented flowers add that something special to the garden.
Diospyros is relatively slow-growing and can be cultivated
from seed, which should first be scratched (scarified) before sowing.
Fresh seed germinates readily in four to eight weeks.
Regular applications of compost, manure or inorganic fertilisers
will result in strong, healthy growth. Occasionally the plants are
attacked by brown scale or sooty mould, if this occurs, treat as
per usual with a recommended pesticide.
Ebenaceae is a widely distributed family worldwide. The ebony traded
by ancient merchants came from trees in this family. Only two genera
are native to South Africa, Euclea and Diospyros.
The latter includes the jackal-berry, blue bushes, monkey plums,
and bladdernuts. Diospyros kaki, the edible persimmon also
belongs to this genus, but it is not indigenous to Africa.
- Coates Palgrave, K. 1977 Trees of Southern Africa. Cape Town:
- Coates Palgrave K.P et al. 1985. Everyone's Guide to Trees of
Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.
- Thomas,V. and Grant, R. 1998. Sappi tree spotting :Highveld
and Drakensberg. Johannesburg: Jacanna.
- van Wyk,B. P. 1997. Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa.
Cape Town: Struik.
- van Wyk, B. P and van Wyk, B-E. 2000. Photographic guide to
the trees of Southern Africa. Pretoria: Briza.
- Venter, F. and Venter, J-A. 1994. Bladder-Nut in Farmers
Weekly 9 Sept 1994.p.66
- Winter, J. 1984. Diospyros whyteana in Veld& Flora Vol
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden