This 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
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.
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".
- 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
- 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