The water elder is an evergreen shrub or small tree (2-5m) found
along water courses, in riverine bush, in gorges or valleys and
sometimes in relict (existing due to past climatic factors) subtropical
forests. It also sometimes grows in between rocks in the actual
riverbed. It has a slender, elegant shape with thin, slightly weeping
branches. The distribution extends from northern Kwazulu-Natal,
eastern Mpumalanga and Northern Province into Zimbabwe. Nuxia
oppositifolia can also be found in the north of Namibia.
It is often multistemmed. Unlike other members of the genus, the
leaves are opposite, instead of whorled. The leaves are long and
narrow and may be entire or slightly toothed in the upper half of
the leaf. The leaves may also be slightly sticky when young.
The flowers are white, tubular, very small and borne in dense clusters
from October to February. The fruit is a small capsule which can
be found inside the calyx (January -May). Young branches and stems
four angled. The bark is textured, reddish to grey-brown and peels
in narrow strips. The main stem may be fluted.
Derivation of name Nuxia - In honour of French amateur botanist;
M. de la Nux from Reunion Island.
oppositifolia - opposite leaves.
The water elder's reddish-yellow wood is occasionally used for
furniture and ornaments. The stems and leaves are browsed by game
and Black Rhino also eat the bark.
There are approximately 40 species of Nuxia in Africa, Madagascar
and the Mascarene Islands. 5 of these can be found in Southern Africa
namely Nuxia congesta, N. floribunda, N. glomerulata, N. gracilis
and N. oppositifolia.
Growing Nuxia oppositifolia
The water elder is not common in cultivation, but it is useful
for planting alongside water in the garden. It will also tolerate
normal garden conditions, although the stature of the tree will
be determined by the amount of water it gets. It is reasonably hardy
to frost and is a fast grower under optimal conditions. Nuxia
oppositifolia is a valuable asset to a bird garden as it attracts
insects, which in turn attract insectivorous birds. It can also
be grown in a container and forms an attractive pot specimen. Not
much information is available about this plant, however it is likely
that it will respond well to pruning and can be used as part of
a mixed screen or as a clipped hedge.
Propagate from semi-hardwood cuttings using rooting hormone. Seed
will possibly be difficult to obtain but it should be sown in seed
trays on a fine seedling mix. Cover lightly and do not allow to
dry out. Avoid overhead watering as the seed is fine and will wash
away. Instead place the tray in a clean, shallow container of water
and allow the water to soak in to the tray from below. Once the
surface is wet remove the tray from the water. Transplant the seedlings
once they have formed their true leaves.
- Arnold, T.H. and de Wet, B.C. (eds) 1993. Plant Names of Southern
Africa: Names and
Distribution.. National Botanical Institute. Pretoria.
- Daydon Jackson, B. 1971. A Glossary of Botanic Terms. Gerald
& Co Ltd. London.
- Palmer, E and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa: Volume
Balkema. Cape Town.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.) 2000. Seed Plants of Southern Africa: Families
Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute. Pretoria
- Pooley, E. 1993. The Complete Field Guide to Trees of Natal,
Zululand & Transkei.
Natal Flora Publications Trust. Durban
- Van Wyk, B and van Wyk, P. 1997. Field Guide to Trees of Southern
Africa. Struik Publishers. Cape Town.
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden