Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones
There is a beautiful evergreen indigenous tree, with certain special attributes, which deserves to be planted in greater numbers. This is the Forest Elder (Nuxia floribunda). It is a small to medium-sized tree whose natural habitat is mountain and coastal forests from the South Western Cape to tropical Africa. The Forest Elder is found in large numbers in the Southern Cape forests, often along watercourses, and a few lovely specimens can still be seen growing in Paradise – formerly coastal forest. It has adapted well to growing in frost-free urban areas.
What are its special attributes? Most importantly it is one of the few forest trees to flower from autumn well into winter – thus providing food for bees and other insects, and consequently insect-eating birds, as well as uplifting our souls during dreary winter days. The tree has a beautifully shaped crown covered with large loose showy sprays of sweetly scented small creamy white flowers. It certainly lives up to its name of ‘abundantly flowering’. Incidentally it only flowers fully every second year, so observe and enjoy all the specimens flowering at the moment. Several specimens are growing successfully in the Loerie Park parking area alongside George Rex Drive. Next time you are trapped behind creeping learner drivers, instead of getting irritable; use the time to enjoy these trees!
The other important attribute of the Forest Elder is that it has a non-invasive root system so can be planted near buildings, roads and paving. It would therefore be suitable for planting in medium-sized gardens or as street trees. It should be planted in a moist, sunny to partly shady spot in deep soil with plenty of compost. In favourable conditions it is a medium to fast grower.
Both the bark and leaves have been used in traditional medicine. The wood is close-grained hard and heavy and has been used for fencing and wagon-making, as well as furniture.