The indigenous Combretum bracteosum naturally occurs along the eastern seaboard of Southern Africa, including Kwazulu Natal, Transkei and the Eastern Cape. Although it thrives in a subtropical, coastal environment, it is adaptive and has been successfully grown on the Highveld.
This fast growing, semi-deciduous tree is unique amongst the bush willows in that it does not have the characteristic, papery, four winged fruit which is familiar to most people. Instead, the fruit is a true nut with a hard outer shell.
The small tree / climber normally reach a height of between 2 – 4m and have a spread of 4 – 5m. It has a creeping, scrambling nature and numerous winding stems typically shoots out from the dense crown, engulfing surrounding plants. The tree is multi-stemmed and the young bark is smooth, becoming flaky and faintly grooved on older stems. The leaves are hairless and slightly darker green in colour on the upper side of the leaf. New leaves may have a purple tinge and during autumn, the older leaves have a reddish-purple hue that is very attractive.
From September to December, the Hiccup-nut offers a striking flower display. The blooms are clustered into inflorescences and have a bright orange-red colour. The masses of flowers form a beautiful contrast to the green foliage. In addition, the plentiful pollen attracts bees and butterflies which in turn lures insectivorous birds to the garden. Birds love to nest in amongst the dense foliage. After flowering, the semi-rounded, hard nut appears, maturing from green to a rich, chestnut-brown colour. The nut is hard and contains a single seed.
Combretum bracteosum is a very adaptable plant that can grow in sandy soils and will tolerate coastal, salt-laden winds. On the Highveld, the tree should be protected from frost until established, from when it will be moderately frost tolerant. It can survive drought conditions, but will thrive with summer watering in hot areas. Under ideal conditions, it is a fairly fast grower and as it is inclined to scramble over surrounding objects, it can be used to cover open banks and walls. By pruning out lower branches, the plant can be trimmed into a densely foliated, small tree.