Marion’s Pride and Joy – Huilboerboon (Schotia brachypetala)

Marion and Don Forsyth inherited this smallish, much branched tree when they bought their property in Belvidere Estate years ago.   Every spring the tree would produce masses of scarlet blooms rich in nectar that attract many insects and birds,  this year  the  show is stupendous, the best ever.  Thank you Marion for taking the pics and recommending this lovely tree to our members. Below a brief description and credits to SANBI for the info.

In bud

Schotia brachypetala  (SHOT-ee-uh BRA-gee-Pet-al-ah)  is a handsome, medium to large tree with a wide-spreading, densely branched, rounded crown. It has a single trunk that sometimes branches low down. With  its decorative foliage, showy flowers and symmetric shapely habit is an excellent tree for gardens and parks, but it is not advisable to plant it over paved areas, car parks etc, because of the dripping nectar in the spring. It nevertheless makes a good shade tree and although it looks good in a large landscape or standing alone as a specimen tree, it is also suitable for smaller gardens.

In bloom

The flowers are rich deep red, and are produced in masses, in dense branched heads on the old wood during spring (Aug.-Nov.). The flowering time is somewhat irregular in that a tree in bloom may be a few metres away from one that has no sign of flowers. This irregularity is of value to the nectar feeding birds, and ensures a longer feeding season.

In leaf

The genus Schotia was named by Nikolaus Joseph Jacquin (1727-1817) after Richard van der Schot (1733-1790). Van der Schot was originally from Delft, Holland, and was head gardener at the Schonbrunn Imperial Garden in Vienna, Austria. Jacquin was a botanist and chemist, and studied medicine. He was Professor of Botany and Chemistry and Director of the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna 1768-1797.

The specific name brachypetala means ‘having short petals’ in Greek and refers to the flowers which are unique among Schotia species in that the petals are partly or completely reduced to linear filaments. The beauty of the flowers is in the brightly coloured sepals, stamens and flower stalks. The flowers produce copious amounts of nectar, which over-flows and drips or ‘weeps’ from the flowers and may be the origin of the common name, the weeping boer-bean, or huilboerboon in Afrikaans. The name could also be derived from the spittle bug, Ptyelus grossus, a small insect that parasitises Schotia brachypetala, sucking up the sap which it then excretes as froth that collect and drips down the branches, but as it also parasitises other trees, the dripping nectar is the more likely, and attractive, origin. The boerboon / boer-bean (farm bean) part of the name was earned by all the species of Schotia, because of their edible seeds, and their resemblance to the original boerboon, Vicia faba, the domestic broadbean.

Schotia brachypetala attracts a wide variety of birds, animals and insects and is a noisy, hive of activity while in flower. Nectar-feeding birds, particularly sunbirds, bees and insects feed on the nectar. Insect-eating birds feed on the insects attracted by the flowers. Starlings, monkeys and baboons eat the flowers, monkeys eat the seeds, birds eat the aril on the seeds and the leaves are browsed by game and black rhino also eat the bark. The latter visitors of course are only expected in game reserves.