Olinia emarginata Thunb.

Common Names: Mountain hard pear, Berghardpeer
Family: Oliniaceae

Berries of O.emarginata

This is a small family of about ten species of trees and shrubs endemic to southern and eastern Africa of which Olinia is the only genus. In the past there has been a great deal of confusion in identifying the species. This is because the species tend to resemble one another in leaf characters. The specific name is from the Latin 'emarginatus', meaning 'notched', in reference to the typically notched tips of the leaves.

Olinia emarginataOlinia emarginata is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree, which makes for an attractive garden ornamental. This particular species originates in Kwazulu Natal, the Drakensberg and Gauteng Provinces, where it is fairly wide spread. It grows in mountain forests, in kloofs and in gullies, protected wooded ravines and riverine fringes and occasionally on rocky hill slopes in high-altitude grasslands.

Bark of Olinia emarginataIt can be a single- or multi-stemmed tree, with glossy green foliage, which forms a nice round crown. This tree is fast growing and frost tolerant. It has a straight, smoothish, grey or creamy-white trunk, sometimes mottled or marked with orange.
The leaves are glossy dark green above, pale green and dull below, they are hairless and give off a faint smell of almonds when crushed, indicating the release of cyanide. The leaves are opposite, simple, entire-margined, oblong to lanceolate. The tip of the leaves is rounded, notched and is usually tinged with pink or red. The flowers are very small, pale to dark pink in colour, and are slightly fragrant. Flowers are in loose, axillary heads that are usually more than half as long as the leaves. Flowering time is from spring to summer. After flowering, the tree forms clusters of small round fruit which turn red in autumn and hang on the tree until well into winter. These attract birds to the garden.

Growing Olinia emarginata

This is a very difficult species to propagate, from either seed or cuttings. Numerous techniques have been tried, with air layering giving the best results. Seed can be sown in a 1:1 mixture of river sand and compost. Germination is erratic and can take up to nine months. Do not allow the mixture to dry out at any stage. Olinia emarginata can withstand frost, but not drought.

· Braam van Wyk, Piet van Wyk and Ben-Erik van Wyk, Photographic guide to Trees of Southern Africa.
· Braam van Wyk and Piet van Wyk, Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa.
· Eve Palmer and Norah Pitman, Trees of Southern Africa
· Flowering Plants of Africa.

Berenice Carolus
Kirstenbosch Garden
May 2001

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.