Protorhus longifolia
(Bernh.) Engl.

Family : Anacardiaceae (Mango family)
Common names : Red beech, Purple currant, Red Cape beech (Eng.); Rooiboekenhout, Rooimelkhout (Afr.); ikhubalo, isifuce (isiXhosa); umkomiso, uzintlwa (isiZulu).
National Tree Number : 364

Protorhus longifolia flowers
Copyright Geoff Nichols

The red beech is an excellent evergreen garden tree, quick growing and easily grown from seed. It attracts birds to a garden.

Description
Evergree tree, up to 15 m tall, single-stemmed, with a dark, rounded crown. It tolerates slight frost and is very drought-resistant. Occasional bright red leaves make this an attractive garden specimen.

Bark is dark brown, smooth to rough. The Mango family does not have milky latex such as Moraceae (Fig family) or Sapotaceae (Milkwood family). Members of the Mango family have resin ducts (sticky latex but not milky).

Protorhus longifolia tree bark Copyright Geoff Nichols
Protorhus longifolia tree bark

Leaves are simple, opposite to subopposite, or spirally arranged, dark green above and paler below, narrowly elliptic, up to 150 mm long and 40 mm wide, with prominent closely parallel lateral veins.

Flowers are greenish white to yellow; sexes are separate on different trees. Flowers from August to October.

Fruit is a single fleshy, oblique-ovoid drupe (a fruit like a plum) ± 12 mm in diameter, and turns purple when ripe.

Protorhus longifolia young fruit Protorhus longifolia mature fruit

Left: Protorhus longifolia young fruit

Right: Protorhus longifolia mature fruit

Images:Copyright Geoff Nichols

The Mango family comprises mostly trees or shrubs; a few species produce useful, edible fruits such as mangoes, marulas and cashew and pistachio nuts.

Conservation status
The Red Data status of Protorhus longifolia is of Least Concern.

Distribution and habitat
It grows in coastal and montane forest, on rocky outcrops and in riverine vegetation, from Limpopo Province to the Eastern Cape.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Protorhus – (Greek “protos” means first, “rhous” means red; there are often red leaves on the tree); longifolia – (Latin – refers to the long shape of the leaves).

Ecology
Leaves are browsed by black rhino. Fruit are eaten by birds and animals, especially monkeys.

Uses and cultural aspects
The bark exudes a sticky gum which was used to stick the blade into the shaft when making assegais. The heartwood is dark brown and suitable for furniture. Sticky sap is used to remove hair. Powdered bark is poisonous and causes paralysis.

Protorhus longifolia shoots

Copyright Geoff Nichols

Growing Protorhus longifolia

Propagate this tree from seed, in trays filled with seedling soil or a mixture of river sand and sifted compost (1:1), and keep moist. Sow seeds in January.

References and further reading

  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Glen, H.F. 2004. What's in a name? Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Van Wyk, Braam, A.E. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.

 

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