The snarled branches of Greyia radlkoferi make this small
tree or shrub an attractive structural element for any garden. In
nature, growing in misty gullies along rivers, its scarlet flowers
stand out as if painted on the landscape. There are also white forms
that are worth cultivating too.
radlkoferi is a small tree or shrub growing up to 5 m in height.
The branches have yellowish smooth bark when young, turning grey
and deeply furrowed as the tree ages. The leaves are oval to heart-shaped,
coarsely toothed and lobed at the base, sparsely hairy above and
deeply woolly underneath, a characteristic that gives this tree
its common name and distinguishes it from its more commonly planted
cousin G. sutherlandii. The petioles of G. radlkoferi
are also very hairy and the longest of all three species.
The dense clusters of flowers are deep scarlet, blooming in upright
racemes. The individual flowers are 20 mm long, with deep red stamens
projecting from the mouth of the petal tube, which are slightly
narrowed at the base. The 80 mm long racemes are borne at the end
of the stems, before or with the young leaves in July to October,
which makes them all the more conspicuous. The cylindrical fruit
capsules split open at one end to release seed in the autumn.
Distribution and Habitat
Greyia radlkoferi occurs mainly in the mist-belt mountains
of Mpumalanga, in KwaZulu-Natal near Ngome and in Swaziland. It
grows in deep channels along streambanks, bordering evergreen forest
and among rocks.
The genus Greyia is named after Sir George Grey (1812-1898),
explorer and governor of South Australia, the Cape Colony and New
Zealand. The species name is derived from Ludwig Radlkofer (1829-1927),
Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanical Museum in Munich.
The Swazi name means dassie's ear.
Growing Greyia radlkoferi
The plants are easy to grow from seed or cuttings. For best results
take woody cuttings in spring and keep misted, but not damp. When
sowing seed place them in a sunny location and keep moist. Both
cuttings and seeds will root faster if they have bottom heat.
Prick out seedlings into trays or small packets in midsummer and
leave them there for the remainder of the season. When the cold
weather arrives the young plants will drop their leaves. Transplant
to the garden the following spring. G. radlkoferi will grow
at the coast but it won't flower as well, as this plant needs colder,
drier winters to set bud. It does flower in Cape Town at Kirstenbosch,
where it receives winter rain.
The open structure of the G. radlkoferi provides a dappled
shade perfect for growing Agapanthus, Dietes or Tulbaghia.
This Greyia is susceptible to aphid infestations during
its flowering and leafing out period.
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of
southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Nichols, G. 1998. Lively up your garden. Farmer's Weekly
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa,
vol. 2. Balkema, Cape Town.
Paula de la Cruz