The forest elder is an attractive, moisture-loving, floriferous
tree and it makes a conspicuous feature in the forest patches it
floribunda is a small to medium-sized tree, usually 3 m to 10
m tall, although heights of up to 25 m may be attained. The main
stem is often somewhat contorted and up to 600 mm in diameter. The
fissured bark is rough and flaking and is grey to brown in colour.
A lovely dense and rounded crown is often evident, contributing
greatly to the visual appeal of the species.
The branchlets are angular and purplish, becoming paler with age.
They may be smooth or finely hairy and prominent leaf scars are
usually evident along their length. The leaves are simple, 40-160
x 10-70 mm, oblong to elliptic in shape, and taper to a pointed
may be opposite but more often are 3-whorled and this, together
with the distinctive red to purple midrib visible on immature leaves,
represents a valuable identification feature of the tree. The leaf
margins are entire or faintly toothed and are often clearly undulating.
The slender leaf stalks vary from 15 to 45 mm in length.
The sweetly scented, cream-white flowers are small in size, around
3 mm long, and are borne in large, branched inflorescences (cymose
panicles) produced terminally and in the axils of leaves nearer
the ends of the branches. Bracts are around 1 mm in length and both
the calyx and corolla are 4-lobed, the stamens protruding. Flowering
has been recorded from autumn to spring, mostly between the months
of May and September.
fruit is an ovoid capsule that protrudes slightly from the persistent
calyx and splits into 4 lobes, revealing numerous tiny seeds. N.
floribunda can be readily distinguished from other members of
the genus by its large, striking inflorescences.
The natural distribution of the species extends from the Cape midlands
and Eastern Cape through Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo province
to Mozambique and up into eastern and central tropical Africa. It
is fairly widespread in forests and on forest margins in the coastal
and mountain forest belt, occurring frequently along watercourses
(Von Breitenbach 1965). It is relatively sensitive to frost and
drought which effectively excludes it from the very cold or arid
regions. Cultivation of this species however is now commonplace
outside of its natural range.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Nuxia is found from South Africa to Arabia
including Madagascar, the Comores and Mascarene Islands. It is a
small genus with around 20 species in all, five of which occur in
southern Africa. It is comprised of trees and shrubs with bark that
is fibrous and stringy. Leaves are in whorls of three, but occasionally
are opposite and rarely alternate in their arrangement, and the
flowers which are bisexual are borne in terminal or axillary inflorescences.
Another species occasionally cultivated is N.
Nuxia previously formed part of the family Loganiaceae, which was a fairly
large family of trees, shrubs and climbers, comprising approximately
600 species in 29 genera, spread across various temperate, subtropical
and tropical regions of the world (Allaby 1998). Nuxia together with genus Buddleja (Search
this site for descriptions of some of the SA species) and Gomphostigma, now form part of the family Buddlejaceae.
The genus Nuxia was named in honour of M. de la Nux, a
French amateur botanist on Reunion Island, and the species name
floribunda translates as many-flowered or flowering profusely,
in reference to the floriferous nature of the tree. The very descriptive
Zulu name umHlambandlazi literally means mousebird-washer
(Palmer & Pitman 1972).
flowers of the forest elder are seen to be self-pollinated as well
as by bees in search of nectar and pollen (Von Breitenbach 1965).
Numerous other insects also effect pollination and their presence
in turn attracts many insectivorous birds. Full flowering occurs
usually every second year after which very large numbers of fruits
develop. The tiny seeds are effectively dispersed by wind as well
as on the bodies of birds, yet many which are still underdeveloped
at this stage, fail to germinate (Von Breitenbach 1965). Foliage
is browsed by both game and stock. Diseases known to attack N.
floribunda include Fusarium spp., which prove fatal to
many of the younger seedlings, and leaf moulds such as Meliola
spp., which attack and kill older seedlings (Von Breitenbach 1965).
Uses and cultural aspects
The forest elder has a number of useful attributes. As a traditional
Zulu medicine the bark is used as a strengthening medicine after
a kraal (village) member has passed away, while in other parts of
Africa the leaves are recorded being used to treat coughs, colds,
influenza, fevers, indigestion, infantile convulsions as well as
in rituals (Hutchings et al. 1996). Nectar is produced in abundance
making this a good honey tree (Venter & Venter 2002).
The wood is a pale yellow, is close-grained and is hard and heavy.
As a result it is used for fencing and general carpentry (Van Wyk
& Van Wyk 1997), as well as for furniture, turnery and fuel
and previously in the construction of wagons (Immelman et al. 1973).
The bark is rich in tannins at 5.71% (Hutchings et al. 1996).
It is becoming an increasingly popular garden subject, noted for
its conspicuous flowers and shapely crown and, with a growing number
of plantsmen now offering the species for sale, its economic value
is on the increase too.
Growing Nuxia floribunda
N. floribunda can be successfully grown from either seed
or vegetatively from cuttings. Propagation from cuttings involves
selecting healthy semi-hardwood or hardwood cuttings up to 100 mm
in length (Venter & Venter 2002). These should be inserted into
a well-drained growing medium for rooting, suitable media being
river sand or equal parts of river sand and compost mix, this latter
medium being suitable also for the sowing of seed. The seeds which
are very small in size should be scattered evenly over the surface
of the medium and very lightly covered with fine river sand. Place
in a warm, brightly lit position and keep moist. Germination times
generally vary between 6 and 12 weeks. According to Von Breitenbach
(1965) the germinative capacity of the seed may however be very
low. This species will enjoy a moist, sunny to partly-shady position
in the garden but as mentioned previously is not suited to frost-prone
areas. In addition, its root system is not aggressive or invasive,
allowing for planting in close proximity to roads, buildings and
paving (Venter & Venter 2002). Plant in deep soil with plenty
of compost. Given these favourable conditions, N. floribunda
is a medium to fast grower. Its very attractive nature makes it
a winner in most gardens where its lovely presence is sure to be
References and further reading
- Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds) 2006. A Checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 41. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Allaby, M. 1998. A dictionary of plants sciences. Oxford
University Press, Oxford.
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of
southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town
- Hutchings, A. et al. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory.
University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Immelman, W., Wicht, C. & Ackerman, D. 1973. Our green
heritage: the South African book of trees. Tafelberg, Cape
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa,
3 vols. Balkema, Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The complete field guide to trees of Natal,
Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees
of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Van Wyk, B., Van Wyk, P. & Van Wyk, B-E. 2000. Photographic
guide to trees of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Venter, F & Venter, J-A. 2002. Making the most of indigenous
trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Von Breitenbach, F. 1965. The indigenous trees of southern
Africa. Department of Forestry, Pretoria.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden