Terminalia phanerophlebia

Engl. & Diels

Family : Combretaceae
Common names : Lebombo cluster-leaf; Lebombotrosblaar (Afr.); amaNgwe-amnyama, amaNgwe-omphofu (isiZulu); mambonjwane (SiSwati)

Plant bearing fruit. Photo. Geoff Nicholds
© Geoff Nichols

Terminalia phanerophlebia is a decorative shrub to small tree (3–6 m) with a hard, heavy brown wood. It is an ideal tree for street planting.

Shrub to small tree (3–6 m), found in bushveld, on rocky hillsides. It is erect, with a pagoda-like growth form, the branches growing in horizontal layers. The bark of young trees is finely fissured, revealing orange underbark. The wood is brown, fairly heavy and hard with a coarse grain.

Bark. Photo G.Nicols

© Geoff Nichols

The foliage turns a delicate mixture of pink and yellow in autumn. Leaves are often egg-shaped (19–60 mm long and 8–50 mm broad), softly velvety when young, smoother when mature, and the undersides with conspicuously raised veins.

The flowers are white with a strong, unpleasant scent; flowering time is from October to February. The fruits are flat, with two wings, and a dark pink or maroon centre. This hue diffuses towards the wings when the fruit matures in late autumn, as the leaves change colour. On any one tree, large numbers of fruit will grow orientated in the same direction, so that when they catch the sun the colours are intensified.

Flowers. Photo. G. Nichols
© Geoff Nichols

Conservation status
Terminalia phanerophlebia is not listed in the National Forests Act's (Act 84 of 1998) Protected Tree Species List. Furthermore, this taxon was not selected in any one of four screening processes for highlighting potential taxa of conservation concern for detailed assessment and was hence given an automated Red List status of Least Concern.

Distribution and habitat
This tree is endemic to a relatively small area in South Africa (northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga), Swaziland and extending marginally into Mozambique. Trees are found in valley bushveld, along streams, and on stony hillsides and outcrops in scrub and woodland.

Growing in habitat.Photo G.Nichols
© Geoff Nichols

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Terminalia is a fairly large genus of 150 species found throughout most of the warm regions of the world. Eleven species occur in southern Africa.

According to Palmer & Pitman (1972), Terminalia is derived from the Latin word terminus, referring to leaves clustered at the ends of branches and the species name phanerophlebia is based on Greek words meaning ‘distinctly veined' in reference to the veining on the underside of the leaf.

Other noteworthy members in the genus include Terminalia sericea, the most common terminalia in South Africa. Boon (2010 lists the Lowveld terminalia, T . prunioides, with its distinctive wine-red fruits being better known in Namibia and also mentions the Indian almond T. catappa used in landscaping in Durban.

Ants feed on nectar secreted by extrafloral nectaries on the leaves. Leaves are browsed by elephants.

Uses and cultural aspects
Hutchinson et al (1996) reports that roots and bark of the Lebombo cluster-leaf are used in traditional medicine. Root decoctions are used in various parts of Africa for diarrhoea and to relieve colic. Powdered roots are used with mylabris beetles for the treatment of schistosomiasis. Hot infusions of outer layers of roots are used as fomentations for pneumonia, and root decoctions are used as eyewashes.

It is a decorative tree which makes a wonderful shade tree and is suitable for street planting. The pagoda habit develops within two years.

Tree in flower. Image G.Nichols
© Geoff Nichols

Growing Terminalia phanerophlebia

Brickell (1990) reports that germination of seemingly good wild seed is very poor and that it is better to use seed from trees cultivated outside the natural habitat. Seedlings can grow fast and it is best to sow seed in spring. Plants like lots of light and weel-drained soil. If plants are in pots, water moderately and hardly at all if temperatures are low. Johnson & Johnson (2002) report that plants grow about 70cm per year and can flower in four years if summers are warm and conditions suit the plant.

Acknowledgment : Geoff Nichols for images of the plant.

References and further reading

  • Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's trees of eastern South Africa: A complete guide , edn 2. Flora & Fauna Publication Trust, Durban.
  • Brickell, C. 1990. The Royal Horticultural Society Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers . Dorling Kindersley, London.
  • David & Sally . 2002. Down to Earth gardening with Indigenous Trees . Struik, Cape Town.
  • Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg .
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa (3 vols.). AA Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E.A. 1981. Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa , 2nd ed. Collins, Johannesburg.
  • Pooley, E. 1993. The Complete Field Guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria
  • Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park . Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, B., Van Wyk, P. & Van Wyk, B-E. 2000. Photographic Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Briza, Pretoria.


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