of attractive creamy-white nectar-rich flowers hang from branches
of glossy dark green foliage and their sweet fragrance fills the
air at Christmas time, while whitebellied and black sunbirds sip
Usually a deciduous shrub (3 m high x 2 m wide), Pavetta gardeniifolia
may occasionally develop into a small tree up to 4 m high. The light
brown bark is either smooth or slightly fissured. Leaves are scattered
with dark dots (bacterial nodules). The plants flower from November
to January (summer).
pea-sized fruits ripen to shiny black from February to May (late
summer to autumn).
This species occurs on rock outcrops, granite koppies, and in open
woodland in South Africa, Zimbabwe and tropical Africa.
Pavetta is derived from 'pawetta', the Sinhalese vernacular name
for a small tree species found along the Malabar coast in India,
and gardeniifolia (Latin) relates to the leaves which are
said to resemble those of the genus Gardenia.
The flowers lure a variety of insects, which become food for insect-eating
birds like the southern boubou. The nectar is also popular with
birds. The fleshy fruits entice crested and blackcollared barbets,
blackeyed bulbuls and mousebirds-and possibly many others too. People
and monkeys also eat the fruits.
Growing Pavetta gardeniifolia
Propagate from seed sown in spring. This is an excellent plant for
attracting birds to the garden. Suitable for gardens of all sizes.
Use it in an informal mixed border, a small townhouse garden, or
in a natural rock garden. Experiment with it in a large decorative
container on a patio, where the lovely flowers can be appreciated
at close hand.
Relatively slow-growing, neat and compact, it seems to prefer a
light, well-drained soil enriched with plenty of leaf mould (and
then some more) and/or lots of compost. Mulch well and replenish
the layer regularly. Water well in summer. In winter, once established,
it seems fully able to withstand a long dry spell.
Fairly frost-hardy and pest-free, this Pavetta likes a moderate
amount of water, sun or even a little shade (in nature, it often
grows in the shade of larger trees). It maintains its shape fairly
well and needs little by way of pruning. It can tolerate temperatures
ranging from about -2°C to 37°C.
There are 22 species of Pavetta in South Africa. Pavetta
is a large genus found in warm areas of Africa, Asia and Australia.
All have bacterial nodules on the leaves - they look like black
dots. The bacteria in these nodules fix nitrogen from the air in
the same way that bacteria in nodules on the roots of legumes fix
it from the soil. Other species to be found in cultivation include
P.lanceolata, P.cooperi and P. revoluta.
I dedicate this page to the memory of Amadeus Mogale, on behalf
of whom I am writing this contribution, and who would have been
32 on 1 November 2002, when the Christmas bush flowers. He was one
of South Africa's most promising young garden curators and horticulturists,
and died prematurely in a car accident on 13 August 2002, leaving
his wife Refiloe and son Thagalo. Rest well, Amadeus! You were our
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Germishuizen, G. & Fabian, A. 1982. Transvaal
wild flowers. Johannesburg: Macmillan.
Joffe, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous
plants - a South African guide. Pretoria: Briza.
Pooley, E. 1993. The complete guide to trees
of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal: Natal Flora Publications
Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field
guide to the trees of southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden