Chocolate is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind
when looking at the autumn dombeya, but the cacao plant from which
chocolate and cocoa (from tropical America) are made, is a member
of the same family (STERCULIACEAE). One of the main characters uniting
genera of this family is that most have hairs which are branched,
forming tiny stars. (You need a hand lens to see these.)
The name of this genus honours Joseph Dombey, a botanist who worked
in Peru and Chilé. Autumnalis - indicates the flowering time
of this particular species.
Some weeks ago another dombeya was featured, the pink wild pear-
D.burgessiae, which had large, velvety
leaves and heads of pink to white flowers. The autumn wild pear
has small leaves and delicate, creamy white heads of little flowers
which appear in a burst of blossom which is a feature of Dombeya.
These have a sweet scent and like other wild pears, the blooms retain
their shape, but change colour to reddish brown and remain on the
plant, the seed capsules forming in the centre. The dry petals help
to disperse the seed later on when they act as wings to float the
seed capsules away.
D. autumnalis is a small, often multistemmed, tree up to
4.5 metres which grows in the Lydenburg and Ohrigstad areas in Mpumalanga
and Northern Province. It is commonly seen along the Abel Erasmus
Pass where it grows in the rocky, wooded hillsides. It also occurs
in riverine bush. The area in which it occurs is restricted to this
small distribution and its occurrence may be related to the dolomite
rock formations in that area.
Growing Dombeya autumnalis
D.autumnalis is not commonly available to gardeners but
would make a pretty garden subject with its lovely smooth grey stems.
One could plant the common wild pear -Dombeya rotundifolia
as a herald of spring and the autumn wild pear to announce winter!
Like other Dombeya spp. it can be propagated from
seed in spring in deep seed trays of good, fine seedling mix, lightly
covered and kept moist. The seedlings should be transplanted once
the true leaves have formed into small nursery bags, where they
should be given protection from heat and sun until they are hardened
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden