This interesting small tree with its attractive grey foliage is
particularly suited to tough conditions. From sites blasted by wind
and coastal sea spray to dry inland gardens, it performs well. It
is even able to shoot from the base if burnt almost to the ground.
If you are looking for a survivor for your difficult landscape site-
this is it!
The name Tarchonanthus is derived from the Greek word meaning
funeral flower. This name is divided into two parts, 'Tarchos',
which means funeral rites and 'Anthos' meaning flower. It is unclear
why this name was given, but Jackson (1990) suggests it may have
to do with the camphorous smell. The name camphoratus refers
to the strong smell of camphor given off when the leaves are crushed.
The camphor bush is widespread in Southern Africa. It grows in
thickets of bushveld, grassland, forest and semi-desert. It grows
mostly in sandy soils in the low-lying and sand forest of the coast.
Tarchonanthus camphoratus grows from 2-9m high. It is a
semi-deciduous small tree that grows mostly in large uniform groups,
but it grows larger and more densely when it grows alone among other
trees in the bush. The branches and foliage make a V-shaped canopy.
The stem is covered with pale brown bark. Leaves are grey green
above and pale grey and felted underneath, with prominent venation
on the underside. The leaves are narrow, with entire or finely toothed
The creamy-white flowers are borne in a branched inflorescence
on the terminal end of the branch. The fruits are covered with fluffy
cottonwool-like hairs, and are produced mostly in March to November.
These woolly, white fruiting heads are strongly scented and most
attractive. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees.
The camphor bush is used for medicinal purposes. Problems such
as blocked sinuses and headache can be healed by inhaling the smoke
from the burning green leaves. Drinking boiled mixture of leaves
and water can help to treat coughing, toothache, abdominal pain
and bronchitis. Leaves can also be used for massaging body stiffness
and also as a perfume. The cottonwool like seedheads were used to
Animals such as kudu, giraffe, impala and springbok browse the
leaves of this tree.
There are only a few species of Tarchonanthus. T trilobus
is also in cultivation. The genus occurs in Africa and Arabia. It
is closely related to Brachylaena, which also provides attractive,
grey-leafed, small trees for the garden..
Growing Tarchonanthus camporatus
This tree can be used in the garden for areas with severe frost
and drought. It is also an excellent tree for creating tall hedges
or windbreaks in coastal gardens and for binding sand dunes. It
provides a good shape and it can be also used as a bonsai specimen.
Propagate this tree from seed, which may take 8 weeks to germinate.
It may also be propagated by softwood cuttings. Young plants transplant
fairly easily. The tree requires no special nurturing.
Update: April 2008. See Tarchonanthus littoralis for updated taxonomic information on this genus.
- Grant, R and Thomas, V. 1998. Sappi Tree Spotting Kwazulu-Natal.
Jacana Publishers. Johannesburg.
- Jackson, W.P. 1990. Origins and Meanings of Names of South Africa.
UCT Publishers. Cape Town.
- Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1973. Trees of Southern Africa. A.A.Balkema.
- Pooley, E. 1993. Trees of Natal. Natal Flora Publication. Durban.
- Van Wyk, B and Van Wyk, P. 1997. Trees of Southern Africa. Struik
Publishers. Cape Town.
Samson Moeketsi Letsela and Andrew Hankey
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden
with additions by Yvonne Reynolds