In full flower, Pavetta lanceolata looks like a bride adorned in pure white, full of expectations and hope for a long and happy life, hence the common name. The alternative common name is also apt as these bushes are in full flower during Christmas time.
Pavetta lanceolata is an evergreen tree or shrub, up to 5(7) m high, regularly decussately branched (opposite pair at right angles to next pair). The bark is greyish white.
The leaves are decussate, elliptic, apex acute, base cuneate (wedge-shaped), margins entire, dark green, shiny and leathery, with bacterial nodules scattered all over the surface of the leaves, visible as small, dark spots; small domatia (hairy tufts) are often present in the axils of the main and secondary veins on the lower surface; the leaves are shortly petiolate with interpetiolar stipules. Interpetiolar stipules are a characteristic of the family Rubiaceae where small 'leaflets' at the base of the petiole are connate (cannot be separated) around the stem. The leaves have a characteristic spicy potato smell when crushed.
Masses of flowers are borne at the ends of the branches from as early as September to January, but the peak flowering time is during November and December. The calyx has a short tube with four short, acute lobes. The corolla is tubular below, 4-lobed above with the lobes held rectangular to the tube, pure white, but the very tips of the lobes are green when freshly opened and sweetly scented. The stamens are exserted, placed between the corolla lobes, greenish, turning yellow and finally black with age. The style is long exserted and greenish, turning black with age. Numerous small, pea-like drupes, initially green, turning black with maturity, develop from about February and stay on the plants till about July (August). The fruits are crowned by the persistent calyx lobes and contain one or rarely two, small, hard, spherical seeds.
Pavetta lanceolata is not threatened in any way at this stage.
Distribution and habitat
Pavetta lanceolata is fairly common in the summer rainfall areas of South Africa, in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. It also occurs in southern Mozambique. It often grows in association with other bushes in bush clumps, on forest margins and river banks.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
There are two explanations for the derivation of the name Pavetta : (1) from pawatta, the Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) name for a plant in the genus (Schmidt et al. 2002); (2) from pavetta, the common name for P. indica in Malabar, India (Van Wyk 1974). Maybe originally from pavimentum, a Latin word describing a pavement of bricks or stones, thus a mosaic of bricks or stones, possibly referring to the scattered bacterial nodules in the leaves (Van Wyk 1974). The species name lanceolata refers to the characteristic shape of the leaves.
The genus Pavetta comprises about 400 species in the Old World tropics. In South Africa there are about 21 species, all growing in the summer rainfall area, absent from the Northern and Western Cape. Two species in the genus, P. harborii S.Moore and P. schumanniana F.Hoffm. & K.Schum., are known to be poisonous to stock.
The sweetly scented flowers attract many pollinators such as birds, bees, wasps, beetles and ants. These in turn attract birds and other predators. Birds love the fruits and these are obviously distributed by birds.
Uses and cultural aspects
In the past, the flowers of Pavetta species were probably used in traditional wedding ceremonies (Smith 1966). Several other species are also cultivated in gardens, including P.gardeniifolia.
Growing Pavetta lanceolata
This densely leafy, evergreen plant can be effectively used as a hedge or screen. If it is to be used on its own as an accent plant, it is always better to plant two or three plants together. This will ensure a very beautiful display of pure white brightness in your garden during summertime. Seedlings and young plants seem to do better when partially protected by other plants. Seedlings transplant fairly well. They need a lot of water initially. Once established, they will tolerate full sun and some drought. Birds distribute the seeds, but fruits falling from the trees also germinate quite easily and one will soon find lots of seedlings under trees and bushes where they have been deposited by the birds. Plants cultivated from seed grow slowly initially, but once established, will quickly fill an empty space and form a good screen. Large bushes will tolerate light pruning when necessary.
The leaves are sometimes attacked by green caterpillars with stinging hairs. Although they can quickly defoliate some branches and cause skin irritations, this pest is not too serious and often they disappear before you need to use any chemical poison.
References and further reading
- Bridson, D.M. 2003. 82. Pavetta L. Flora zambesiaca 5,3: 543-598.
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, vol. 3: 2117, 2118. Balkema, Cape Town.
- Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana, Johannesburg.
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
- Van Wyk, P. 1974. Trees of the Kruger National Park, vol. 2: 584. Purnell, Cape Town.
- Von Breitenbach, F. & Von Breitenbach, J. 1990. Nasionale lys van inheemse bome / National list of indigenous trees. Dendrological Foundation, Pretoria.
- Von Breitenbach, J., De Winter, B., Poynton, R., Van den Berg, E., Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, E. 2001. Pocket list of southern African indigenous trees. Briza Publications & Dendrological Foundation, Pretoria.
National Herbarium, Pretoria
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