Rhamnus prinoides L'Hérit.

Family: Rhamnaceae
Common name:
Dogwood
Other common names:
Blinkblaar (A); umGlindi (X); umGilindi, uNyenye, umHlinye (Z); liNyenye (Sw), Mofifi (SS)

Rhamnus prinoides

Shiny leaves and berriesThis African dogwood is a very attractive dense shrub or a small tree that grows up to 4,5 m high. The leaves are light green when young and very dark and shiny when mature. They are simple and alternate or sometimes nearly opposite; 2,5 - 8 cm long; oblong, oval or lance-shaped; pointed at the tip with toothed margins. The leaves are dark shiny above and paler below. The veins, sunken above and below, are conspicuous and covered with hairs. This tree is no relation of the American and Asian dogwoods (Cornus sp.) grown for their attractive bracts.

The inconspicuous flowers are greenish, blooming between November and January, in small clusters in the axils of the leaves. They are loved by the bees and other insects. The fruits are about the size of a pea (about 5 mm in diameter), roundish and clearly divided into three compartments. They appear between December and June. They are fleshy and green, turning red and then purple as they ripen. The fruit is favoured by many bird species. The wood is white to yellow, often streaked with brown, pink, red or green and is hard and heavy. It is too small to be generally useful, although sticks may be made of it.

This is a widespread species reaching from Swellendam through the Eastern Cape, Free State and Lesotho to KwaZulu Natal, Swaziland and into Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Northern Province. extending northwards into Africa. It grows from sea level to an altitude of about 2 100 m, on mountain and wooded hill slopes, in forests and on stream banks, frequently among rocks. This tree is most dominant in the area between Estcourt and Giants Castle in KwaZulu Natal. On grassy hillsides the tree often appears quite black, or at times it glitters in the sun so conspicuously that it can then be distinguished at a distance by this alone.

The chief use of this tree is magical. It is widely used by African people as a protective charm to ward off lightning and evil influences from homes and crops and to bring luck in hunting. The South Sotho name 'Mofifi' means 'darkness', and in Lesotho they say "darkness overcomes witchcraft". This tree is also used by Africans to cleanse the blood, to treat pneumonia, rheumatism, sprains, and stomach ache, and as a gargle. It is also used in the treatment of skin complaints and respiratory infections.

Rhamnus prinoides

Growing Rhamnus prinoides

The dogwood can easily be grown from seed. It is tough and frost resistant and grows well in most soils. It is evergreen and is good for small gardens and hedges, especially in cold areas. It does not grow very big and its glossy foliage and colorful fruits, which at various stages are green, yellow, red and purple at the same time, are attractive. When cut and placed in water, the foliage keeps fresh for a long time. It is a very good small tree to plant in the garden to attract fruit-eating birds.

The species name of this plant 'prinoides' means, "resembles Prinos", which is an evergreen oak. However the tree is most often known by its Afrikaans name 'blinkblaar' in reference to its shiny leaves, a name which is borne by several other species of trees. The genus 'Rhamnus', is an ancient Greek word (rhamnos) for blackthorn, meaning a "tuft of branches".

References

  • Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa, A.A. Balkema Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Watt, J. M. and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of South and Eastern Africa, E & S Livingstone Ltd., London.
  • Pooley, E. 1993. The Complete Guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei, Natal Flora Publication Trust, Durban.


Mhlonishwa D. Dlamini and Sharon Turner
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden
March 2002


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