Maytenus 'Silky Showers' is a superb garden plant originally
found in the warm, partially shaded valleys of the Little Karoo.
It grows to about 10 m high in these valleys and displays long cascading
branches adorned with delicate, small leaves that shimmer in the
breeze. The leaves are much smaller and narrower than most examples
in the Cape. The overall impression one gets is of the fine trees
illustrated in traditional Chinese paintings.
This evergreen tree is quite variable growing up to 15 m tall in
sheltered positions or reaching a height of only 1.5 m in exposed
places. The trunk is appreciably thickened at the base and the grey
or reddish brown bark may be furrowed in old specimens. The young
branches are slender, and bear alternately arranged, drooping leaves.
Some of the most attractive specimens are the old gnarled plants
growing in remnant afromontane forests on the high scree slopes
of the Cape mountains. These trees exude age and atmosphere with
their adornments of old man's beard lichen.
young shoots are reddish in colour becoming grey or grey-brown with
age. The leaves may be either ovate (egg-shaped and attached to
the stem at the broad end), elliptic (oval and narrowing to the
ends) or narrowly lance-shaped with pointed tips. They also vary
in size from 13 to 100 mm long and 6 to 40 mm wide. These differences
are evident from area to area or even tree to tree. The leaves are
darker green on the upper surface with margins that may be toothed
The leaf is often used to identify this species. Silky elastic
threads become visible if the leaf is folded and gently split. These
threads hold the broken parts attached to each other even after
the two sections of the leaf have been pulled apart. These threads
are also evident when the bark is broken and separated.
small flowers are produced in the axils of the leaves in summer
and are small, cream-coloured, yellow-green or reddish.
The fruit is a small, 1-3-lobed capsule and when produced in great
numbers gives the tree an attractive orange hue. The capsules split
open to reveal a small seed surrounded by a fatty orange aril. This
aril is popular with birds, which aid distribution of the seed.
Distribution and Habitat
Maytenus acuminata var. acuminata occurs south of
the Zambezi River to the Western Cape, whereas a second variety,
var. uva-ursi, is confined to Mount Mulanje in Malawi. M. acuminata
is a relatively common, small, evergreen tree, growing in forest
or forest margins, often along stream banks in well-drained, sandy
and acidic soils. It is also found growing as stunted specimens
on cliffs and rocky outcrops on mountain slopes up to 1 500 m.
The name Maytenus is based on the Chilean common name Mayten.
The specific name is derived from the Latin acuminatus, referring
to the tapering point of the leaves.
Growing Maytenus acuminata
Maytenus acuminata is a lovely small tree for gardens protected
from strong coastal wind or from frost. It may be planted in full
sunlight or light shade. A mature specimen will be a lovely and
somewhat unusual feature tree in your garden. Maytenus 'Silky
Showers' is a particularly good selection of this species with its
fine, cascading branches. This plant also has the potential to be
an excellent bonsai subject.
Plant in a well-drained medium consisting of a mixture of course
river sand, well-rotted compost and some of the natural garden soil.
Feed regularly with an organic fertilizer or slow-release chemical
fertilizer such as 3:1:5 (SR). Add bonemeal and superphosphate to
the medium when planting in the ground.
Maytenus acuminata is easy to propagate from fresh seed.
Collect the seed when the capsules are splitting and revealing the
orange fruit. Remove the soft aril by washing the fruit in clean
water. The remaining seed is small and should preferably be sown
when fresh and during the warm summer months when the plant is in
Sow the seed in trays in a well-drained seed mixture consisting
of two parts well-rotted compost, one part river sand. It is recommended
that you pre-treat the seed with a pre-emergence fungicide to control
damping off. This is usually applied by placing a little fungicide
powder in a paper bag with the seed, closing it and shaking the
packet. A fine layer of fungicide adheres to the surface of the
seed and greatly helps prevent infection during the early stages
of germination. Make sure that you are careful not to inhale the
fungicide dust. Place a dust mask over your mouth and nose if possible.
Sow the seed evenly over the surface and lightly cover with soil
medium and water gently. Place the seed tray in a warm, ventilated
and well-lit position. Keep the medium moist, but not too wet or
dry. Seedlings should begin to appear after 8-10 weeks. Prick the
individual seedlings out into individual pots when they are about
20 mm tall.
This species can also be propagated from cuttings. Take cuttings
in spring or early summer. Heel or tip cuttings using semi-hardwood
cuttings is recommended. This method of propagation is recommended
for growers with access to heated mist propagation units. The cuttings
are rooted in a well-aerated medium consisting of milled semi-decomposed
pine bark and perlite or polystyrene balls. Use a rooting hormone
for semi-hardwood cuttings.
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of
southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa,
vol. 2. Balkema, Cape Town.
- Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees
of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.