This decorative little evergreen tree is increasingly being cultivated in gardens around South Africa for its tidy shape and strikingly glossy, dark green leaves with a fringe of ginger hairs. The occasional bright red or orange leaf occurs, adding to the overall attractiveness of this plant. Scented, creamy-yellow to white bell-shaped flowers appear in spring, dangling from their hairy stalks. As with all Diospyros species, male and female flowers occur on separate trees, and only the female plants bear the masses of showy, fleshy berries that turn scarlet when ripe, and are borne throughout summer. Yet another attractive feature of this tree is its inflated, papery, balloon-like fruit pods that encapsulate the fruits, dry to red, and remain on the tree for many months after the fruit has fallen. The bark is another pretty feature, with the young branches being yellowish-green to pinkish and covered by fine coppery hairs. The mature bark is smooth and a lovely dark grey to almost black.
The Bladdernut makes a truly attractive and pleasing subject for any garden but is especially suitable for small gardens because it only grows about 6m tall. It can be shaped to form a large shrub or a small tree which branches low down and forms a dense canopy with a pleasing shape. Its dense foliage responds particularly well to clipping, making the Bladdernut a very good hedging or screening plant, and because it attracts all kinds of wildlife, it is definitely a ‘must-have’ for all wildlife gardens, great or small. Even if space is limited, it can be grown in containers or as a bonsai specimen, so there’s no excuse not to grow one!
The leaves are browsed by stock and game, and the fruits attract all kinds of birds, but especially birds like the Rameron pigeon, African green pigeon, loeries, barbets and bulbuls, who tug open the papery fruit covering as soon as they start to turn red, to get at the ripe, fleshy berries inside. The edible fruits are somewhat bitter and so not very tasty to humans, but traditionally the roasted seeds have been used as a coffee substitute. Traditional healers use bark extracts as enemas and for treating menstrual pain, impotency and infertility, and a leaf and root infusion can also be used to treat rashes.
This enticing little tree belongs to the Ebony family Ebenaceae, which is widely distributed worldwide, and from which the beautiful ebony wood traded by ancient merchants comes from. The wood of the bladder-nut is variable in colour, mainly whitish with brown to purple stripes. It is dense, evenly grained, strong and suitable for furniture, but large logs are difficult to come by, so smaller stems are used to make small household items and for making handles for implements etc.
Only two genera are native to South Africa, Euclea and Diospyros. Diospyros includes the jackal-berry, blue bushes, monkey plums, and bladdernuts. Diospyros kaki, the edible persimmon, also belongs to this genus, but is not indigenous to Africa.
In South Africa the Bladdernut has a wide distribution and can be found growing naturally in forests, and on rocky mountain slopes in all the provinces, from the Western Cape and right up the coastal belt through to the Highveld, extending as far north as Ethiopia. It grows naturally in Afromontane forests. Afromontane is an Afrotropic sub-region, and its plant and animal species are common to the mountains of Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula. The Afromontane regions of Africa are discontinuous, separated from each other by lower-lying areas, and are sometimes referred to as the “Afromontane archipelago”, as their distribution is analogous to a series of ‘sky islands’.
The Bladdernut is easy to cultivate and will grow in full sun or semi-shade to approximately 2 to 7m tall with a 3 to 4m spread. It is frost tolerant but young trees should be protected in winter until they are established. Once established, the tree requires only moderate watering in the garden to look its best. It will adapt to all garden soils with good drainage, but because it is relatively slow-growing, prepare the planting site well, adding lots of organic matter like compost and a generous dressing of bone meal. Mulch the roots well but make sure the area around the trunk is clear to prevent rot. Further applications of compost, manure or a general purpose fertiliser during the year will also encourage a strong, healthy root system and faster growth.
The tree can be propagated from seed, which should first be scratched (scarified) before sowing. Fresh seed germinates readily in four to eight weeks.
Bladdernuts are relatively pest and disease free, but may occasionally be attacked by brown scale or sooty mould. These are easily treated with an appropriate pesticide or fungicide.
Many indigenous as well as exotic plants can be incorporated into your garden design to attract wildlife, and it doesn’t matter how large or small your garden is; if you follow a few simple guidelines you will soon be rewarded with the delightful sound of birdsong, and the fleeting beauty of a flitting butterfly or busy bee.
Because of the continual expansion of our urban areas into the natural environment, city gardens, parks and open areas have become vital in sustaining wildlife; and it is possible – with a bit of planning – to create both a beautiful and sustainable sanctuary for birds and other wildlife in our suburban gardens.
Naturally, indigenous plants play a vital role in every wildlife garden but you do not have to plant exclusively indigenous plants, as many exotics will also attract birds and butterflies.
If you already have an established garden there is also no need to rip everything out! Introducing even a few indigenous plant species, and incorporating water, feeding trays and nesting boxes etc into the garden will dramatically increase the number of bird species which visit your garden.
Wildlife gardens should never be sprayed with harmful poisons. It may be a bit of a battle at first, but with the right choice of plant material and a little patience, nature herself will create a balance between insects and their natural predators.
Many insects and small animals like frogs, spiders, ladybirds, lacewings and praying mantis are beneficial in the garden, eating large quantities of insects; and if the garden is left un-sprayed, it won’t take long for them to appear. Insect eating birds like the Cape white-eyes will also soon be on the scene for their daily meals.
A truly successful bird environment should ideally incorporate a variety of habitats and to create a truly three dimensional garden it must include three levels. The canopy level is created by planting trees and large shrubs; the intermediary level consists of medium sized plants, and lastly, the small plants and ground covers. Planting carefully selected plants in these three levels will create a haven for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
Open areas of lawn, ornamental grasses and groundcovers will attract birds like the Hadeda who love to search for delicacies in the lawn, or herons who need a runway to take flight.
A few creepers trained up a wall or trellis can provide valuable nesting sites for wagtails and robins.
The canopy habitat ties the whole bird garden together, providing valuable perching and nesting sites for birds as well as food and natural ground litter.
If space permits you could even create a little wetland area, and in small gardens water can be made available by installing a traditional bird bath or small rock water feature.
Birds love to take a sand bath occasionally to keep their feathers in peak condition and to help keep parasites at bay. Choose a secluded site away from dangerous pets etc and where the soil is well-drained or the sand bath could turn into a mud bath. Dig out a pit and line it with coarse washed river sand before filling in the rest with a fine, dry, powdery soil mixture.
The canopy habitat is the area occupied by the tops of trees and large shrubs and is a vital component of any bird and wildlife garden. Look at it as the framework of the bird garden, upon which all the other elements are balanced. If carefully planned it will provide birds with a safe place to roost and nest, and can also provide a valuable food source.
In all gardens there are high and low traffic areas and naturally the most secluded parts of the garden are the most ideal areas in which to create a bird garden, but it is important to blend the densely planted exclusion area with the rest of your garden by extending the plantings into your high traffic areas. The height provided by a few well-chosen trees and shrubs can provide nesting or resting areas where birds can feel safe, even in high traffic areas. If the canopy of shrubs and trees are placed so that once mature they intertwine with one another, a green belt or corridor is created in which wildlife will thrive.
Thorn trees are perfect for bird gardens but should be sited away from high traffic areas because they drop their thorns and can be quite messy; rather plant them on the perimeters of the garden. Also remember that evergreen trees sited close to the house may be wonderfully cool in summer, but in the winter they may rob your home of valuable sunlight.
Other very important aspect of garden design is to incorporate movement into the garden, and many plants such as grasses are implemented into the design because they sway gently in even the slightest breeze, and will also attract seed eating birds.
A well-designed water feature or wetland will not only add movement to the garden but will also attract frogs, dragonflies and birds of all kinds. Birds and butterflies bring the most beautiful and unexpected movement to the garden, bringing it to life with brilliant colour and sound.
Sound is so important in the garden and shrubs with large leaves, like many species of palms, make a wonderful rattling sound in the wind. Grass species make a gentle rustling sound, and trees each have their own particular sound. Nothing compares to the noise large tree branches make when they creak and bend in a thunderstorm. Water features bring soothing sounds into the garden and help to block out unwanted noise from traffic, neighbours etc.
Flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs form an integral part of the bird garden. Brightly coloured flowers will attract many insects, which will in turn attract insect eating birds such as flycatchers and shrikes.
Fruiting plants will attract fruit eating birds like the Redfaced Mousebird and the Streakyheaded Canary.
Nectar bearing plants will attract birds like the Cape Sugarbird, the Malachite Sunbird, the Lesser Doublecollared Sunbird and the Black Sunbird.
Choose plants that do well in your area and group them according to their watering and sun requirements.
Even if you do not have a large enough garden to include a wetland or a large open space area for birds, you can still create a wildlife haven that is both practical and sustainable; providing a peaceful, soothing retreat for both humans and wildlife alike.
Selecting the perfect plants for your wildlife garden is easy if you have a good reference library like we do at gardening in South Africa. It includes hundreds of beautiful indigenous and exotic plants, conveniently divided in sections according to their height and spread. This should help you a lot – simply browse through the sections for inspiration or search for your favourite plants with our easy A-Z Index for both Common and Latin names. Our subscriptions are affordable for everyone, so why not join as a paid member today, its worth it!
If you are a keen gardener who also loves floral arrangements you will be dazzled by the displays at Garden World this year. Spoil yourself, and visit Garden World for some spring inspiration!
Garden World is on Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift.
For information on the Spring Festival
contact Garden World on
011 957 2545 /011 956 3003 or 083 997 6142.
For more information on the festival visit www.gardenworld.co.za
South Africa won its 35th gold medal in 42 years of exhibiting at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London. The display was also awarded the prestigious President’s Award. Every year it is re-created at Garden World, so if you haven’t seen this year’s Kirstenbosch South Africa Chelsea Exhibit designed by internationally recognised designers Ray Hudson and David Davidson, there is still time to see it at Garden World.
With its theme ‘Windows on Biodiversity’, the exhibit has gorgeous backdrops of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. The plants on display represent all ten of South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens: Free State, Hantam, Harold Porter, Karoo Desert, Kirstenbosch, Kwelera, Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and Walter Sisulu.
This year it is being supported by Starke Ayres, and well worth a visit!