In South Africa we annually celebrate Arbor week from the 1st to the 7th of September. To help increase the awareness of just a few of our indigenous trees, two trees – one common and one rare species are highlighted each year.
This year the more readily available Ficus thonningii (Common wild fig) and the alternative Maerua cafra (Common bush-cherry) and Maerua angolensis (Bead-bean tree) are the chosen trees.
Our focus falls on the rare trees at this time, both part of the Capparaceae family. Maerua cafra, also known as the White-wood, is an evergreen, large shrub or small tree which is widely distributed along the eastern side of South Africa (from Humansdorp in the south) to parts of Gauteng and the Northern Province. Growing to a height of 2 – 9 m, the tree has a pale trunk and produces scented clusters of flowers during early spring. These flowers are borne in terminal clusters and have a spider-like appearance with the slender stamens. Oval fruit, green in colour, follow from October to December and attract birds. The Maerua cafra is slow growing and can take from 3 to 7 years to reach a height of 1m. It is drought resistant, but should be protected when small in colder areas.
Maerua angolensis or Bead-bean tree is aptly named for its long, drooping button-like bean pods that appear from October to January after flowering. The tree grows to a height of 1 to 10 m and is distributed from KwaZulu-Natal in the south into Limpopo and North-west province and further north. The flowers are similar in form to those of the Maerua cafra and are also sweetly scented. Semi-deciduous, depending on the climate, the Bead-bean tree can flourish in arid areas.
It is to be noted that Maerua angolensis and cafra are not easily available from nurseries.