© A.E. van Wyk
Pseudoscolopia polyantha is a rare, near-threatened and little known tree restricted to a threatened habitat-forest margins. This forest tree shows a wide discontinuity in its distribution and is mainly concentrated on sandstone outcrops in KwaZulu-Natal and Pondoland. It is a near-endemic to the Pondoland Centre of Endemism. It has isolated outlier populations (very rare) in the Great Winterhoek Mountains, near Porterville in the Western Cape. According to eminent tree specialist Prof. Braam van Wyk of the University of Pretoria, 'this is a remarkable disjunction of about 1 000 km!'
Pseudoscolopia polyantha is a small, perennial tree, 2-6 m high. The bark is grey-brown, smooth but becoming rough and slightly flaking. Young stems are red. Leaves are opposite, simple, smooth and leathery, tapering at the apex, and about 50-90 x 30-50 mm, or slightly smaller. Leaf veins are clearly looped on the undersurface. The leaf margin is irregular and bluntly toothed. The beautiful russet-coloured new leaves appear in spring. The stalk is short and red; rather thickset. Flowers are small, white, single or in small, branched, 2-3-flowered heads produced in abundance. All floral parts are in fours. Flowering time is October to December in both winter and summer rainfall areas. Fruit are almost spherical, tapering to a sharp point, dark brown tinged with red when mature. Fruit splits open when ripe, in January-March.
© M.K. Scott
© R. Boon
This species is listed as Near Threatened on SANBI's Threatened Species Programme Red Data List as it is restricted to forest margins, a highly restricted and threatened habitat in southern KwaZulu-Natal and Pondoland. The main threat to the woody species of forest margins in Pondoland, is the too frequent and intense grassland fires that are causing forest margins to recede (D. Styles, R. Scott-Shaw pers. obs.).
From Port Edward to the Oribi Gorge, the largest remaining areas of forest are fairly well protected within the Mtamvuna and Oribi Gorge Nature Reserves. However, some areas of forest above the edges of these deep gorges have undoubtedly been cleared for forestry and agriculture (mainly sugarcane) in the past. Smaller forest patches outside of reserves are threatened by the effects of fragmentation and isolation within a transformed landscape as well as alien invasive encroachment. The subpopulation in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains is protected within a Wilderness Area; nevertheless it is also potentially threatened by too frequent and intense fire (A.E. van Wyk pers. comm.).
Distribution and habitat
Pseudoscolopia polyantha occurs at altitudes between 50-150 m in southern and central KwaZulu-Natal on the coastal sandstone at Noodsberg, Mbumbulu, Oribi Gorge, Umtamvuna and as far south as Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape. This species flourishes in evergreen coastal forest margins and in rock outcrops usually on cliffs 300-700 m high and is restricted to Msikaba Formation and Natal Group Sandstone. In the Western Cape it occurs along a rocky stream bank in mountain fynbos, on Table Mountain Sandstone at an altitude of 168 m.
The species, being rare, is not often cultivated. There is no record of frost hardiness. P. polyantha favours rainfall of 800-1 200 mm per annum, and a minimum temperature of about 3ºC in winter (G. Nichols pers. comm.).
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Pseudoscolopia, a genus of one species only, takes its name from its likeness to the genus Scolopia. The genus has a broken distribution from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western Cape, growing in forests or forest patches. The obvious difference between this genus and Scolopia is that in this genus the leaves are opposite and the fruit is a capsule and not a berry. The literal meaning of Pseudoscolopia polyantha is 'the false Scolopia with the many anthers'.
Pseudoscolopia polyantha resembles Cassipourea flanaganii and C. malosana (family Rhizophoraceae), both of which have greenish flowers and lack the reddish tinge to the branchlets and petioles. Its appearance resembles that of the red pear, Scolopia mundii but differs in its opposite leaves and capsular fruits.
Pseudoscolopia polyantha is an understorey shrub to small tree. Understory shrubs or trees usually are compelled to have a cross-pollination system. The white flowers are very attractive to humans as well as the local honey bees and solitary bees that visit the flowers (G. Nichols pers. comm.).
Uses and cultural aspects
Being rare, there is no record of Pseudoscolopia polyantha having any traditional usage (Braam van Wyk pers. comm.).
© G. Nichols
Growing Pseudoscolopia polyantha
Since the tree, Pseudoscolopia polyantha never grows very tall, it is suitable as an undergrowth shrub for small gardens and is best treated as a large shrub or a large pot plant. The white flowers are attractive, as are the reddish young twigs. Soil requirements are probably similar to that of some Proteaceae, namely well-drained, sandy, acidic soils (Braam van Wyk pers. comm.).
Pseudoscolopia polyantha grows from seed but needs to be sown as soon as it is picked. Clean off the spongy, fleshy covering from the seed and plant in a seedling mix of one part coarse, sharp river sand to one part leaf mould compost and not pine bark. This tree lives in shallow sandstone-based soils with a deep layer of leaf litter, usually well drained. It likes semi-shade to full sun, and as it often grows on cliff edges in its natural habitat, it favours growing in quite exposed conditions (G. Nichols pers comm.).
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Killick, D.J.B. 1976. Flacourtiaceae: Pseudosclopia. Flora of southern Africa 22: 70-72.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The complete guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Scott-Shaw, R. 1999. Rare and threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring regions. KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service, Pietermaritzburg.
- Van Wyk, A.E. (Braam) & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- website: Threatened Species Programme Red List database, SANBI. www.sanbi.org.
Threatened Species Programme
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