This lovely tree gets its English common name from the masses of
white blooms which appear before the leaves in early spring. It
bears a resemblance to a true pear (Pyrus communis) in full
flower. It is no relation of the pear tree, which is in the Rose
family (Roseaceae) like the peach and apricot.
Like other Dombeya species the flowers remain on the tree
until after the fruit capsules have formed in the centre of each
flower. The petals turn brown and become dry and light. Once the
fruit is ripe and falls from the tree, the petals act as wings and
float it away. The wild pear grows in woodland, wooded grassland
and rocky mountain slopes from Kwazulu-Natal northwards to Ethiopia.
The name Dombeya was given in honour of Joseph Dombey (1742
- 1793), a French botanist who worked in Peru and Chilé.
Rotundifolia refers to the round leaves of this species.
This is a deciduous, very fast growing tree, 1 - 1.5 m per year.
It may reach up to 10 m in height but is usually between 3 and 6
m. The bark is dark brown, very rough and corky on mature trees.
It forms a protective, fire resistant layer around the trunk. The
leaves are almost round and are covered with the minute star-like
hairs, which are a character of Dombeya.
The wild pear is a lovely garden specimen, the spectacular show
of scented flowers is a herald of spring. It has a single stem and
a somewhat rounded crown. It is both frost and drought resistant.
The flowers appear from July to September, the earlier flowering
taking place in the warmer northern areas. The dried flowers can
be used in flower arranging. This is a good wildlife garden tree
as it attracts bees and butterflies. It is a larval food plant for
the Ragged Skipper (Caprona pillaana) butterfly. The wild
pear is also reportedly a good bonsai specimen, which develops the
corky bark and reduced leaf size after 2 - 3 years.
The wild pear has many traditional uses as well. Strong rope fibre
is made from the bark and the plant is used medicinally for various
purposes, including a love potion made from the flowers. It is a
useful tree on farms and nature reserves as game and stock browse
from it. The wood is termite resistant and often used as fence posts.
Bee farmers also appreciate the tree for the large amounts of nectar
and pollen which it produces.
Growing Dombeya rotundifolia
The wild pear can be propagated from seed in spring in deep seed
trays of good, fine seedling mix, lightly covered with sand and
kept moist. The seedlings should be transplanted once the true leaves
have formed, into small nursery bags filled with a 3:1 mixture of
sand and compost. They should be given protection from heat and
sun until they are hardened off.
- Henning, G.A, Henning, S.F et al. 1997. Living Butterflies
of Southern Africa, Vol. I. Umdaus Press. Pretoria.
- Thomas, V and Grant, R. 1998. Sappi Tree Spotting, Highveld
and the Drakensberg. Jacana Education. Johannesburg.
- Venter, F and J-A. 1996. Making the most of Indigenous Trees.
Briza Publications. Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B and van Wyk, P. 1997. Field Guide to Trees of
Southern Africa. Struik Publishers. Cape Town.
by Alice Aubrey
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden