Black Bird-berry in flower!

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones

Photographs: Margaret Richards

In November last year I featured this decorative shrub – Psychotria capensis – which is so enjoyed by a variety of birds as well as being extremely attractive with its shiny, dark-green leaves, little golden yellow flowers and red berries ripening to black. It is also easy to grow in sun or shade and with a thick layer of mulch will grow in any soil and only requires watering in very dry conditions. In the wild it grows from Knysna through the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe in evergreen forests, forest margins, in shrub and dune bush and along rivers.

Two years ago we managed to track down a good young specimen and planted it with much anticipation. The shrub settled in well and grew steadily — but with no sign of any flowers or berries. Just more and more lovely glossy dark-green leaves.  This year I was starting to feel really despondent given the long drought conditions accompanied by the blasting it received from the ferocious hot berg wind in June. However, early in September we were delighted to see tiny bunches of shiny bright lime green buds appearing, looking very like some sort of artificial fruit. All September we waited and waited for the flowers to open. Gradually the lime green buds starting getting a yellow glow, and finally in the middle of October two tiny flowers opened in the top bunch. Each day more golden yellow flowers opened, being encouraged by the October showers followed by days of sunshine. By mid-October the entire bush was a mass of tiny yellow flowers. Carpenter bees have been investigating the flowers in search of nectar, and no doubt other bees and insects will soon be joining them.

The next stage of this rewarding shrub will only happen from late summer onwards when red berries start forming and gradually turn black as they ripen. It will be interesting to see which birds discover it first – no doubt our resident robin will claim priority and then allow the usual suspects – bulbuls, mousebirds and other fruit-eating birds to join in as the berries multiply during autumn.

It is surprising that more Knysna gardeners haven’t planted this shrub as it would be an ideal addition to any garden, particularly for those of you who are busy re-establishing gardens.