Loxostylis alata A.Spreng.

Common names: Tarwood, Wild pepper tree, Teerhout
Family: Anacardiaceae
National Tree Number: 365

Loxostylis alata

The name Loxostylis is derived from the Greek loxos meaning 'crooked' or 'oblique', and the Latin stylis for style, a reference to the lateral attachment of the style to the ovary. The common name tarwood presumably refers to the oily residue from the fruits, which has probably been used as or compared to the wagon grease of the pioneers of the past. The name 'tierhout' is a mystery and probably due to a spelling mistake. Some writers suggest it may refer to the strength of the wood, but this is not particularly strong. The other suggestion is that leopards (tiers) liked to sharpen their claws on the bark.

The genus Loxostylis contains a single species that only occurs in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. See Distribution map for Loxostylis alata in South Africa. It occurs along forest margins, beside rivers and on outcrops of quartz and sandstone.

Tarwoods are evergreen, ornamental trees which grow in cultivation in a wide range of ecological habitats. This tree closely resembles the Brazilian pepper tree, Schinus terebinthifolius of the same family, which does not have the characteristic red sepals. Pooley (1993) in Trees of Natal reports that the bark and leaves are widely used in traditional medicine, particularly at childbirth.

The leaves are alternate and compound with 2 to 5 pairs of leaflets, including a terminal leaflet. Typical of the species is the conspicuous winged rachis (midrib). The specific name is based on the Latin alatus meaning 'winged'. Young leaves are red. The bark is grey, with vertical fissures and shows bright red if injured.

The flowers are male or female, on different trees and produced from November to February. The male flowers are white and pleasantly scented and the female flowers are greenish white. The petals of the female flowers fall soon, but their sepals enlarge substantially and turn pink-red, covering the developing fruit and creating a very attractive display.

Male flowers
Female flowers with sepals enlarged


Growing Loxostylis alata

This is a very attractive small tree or large shrub for gardens. It is also useful for screening and boundary plantings. It grows to 6 m or higher in favorable conditions, but can form a large, dense shrub.

Seeds germinate easily, but often transplant poorly. Avoid disturbing the rootball when planting out young trees. This is a fast growing tree and it will tolerate mild frost.

Other recommended trees in this family are the red currant (Rhus chirindensis), wild-plum (Harpephyllum caffrum) and the marula (Sclerocarya birrea).

Text: Robert Archer and Yvonne Reynolds
Photographs: Pitta Joffe
July 2001

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