The hardy, medium to large sized Philenoptera violacea is a protected tree in South Africa and is found from the Eastern Cape, through Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to Limpopo. Semi-deciduous, the tree can grow to a height of 15 m and has a wide-spreading, open rounded crown.
Attractive green-grey leathery leaves appear in spring and the common name of ‘Apple-leaf’ is believed to come from the sound the leaves make when crushed – it sounds like somebody taking a bite out of an apple!
Massed of sweetly scented, pea-like flowers are borne from September to December. The blooms appear in the form of terminal clusters and can vary in colour from blueish pink to lilac or deep violet. The flowers exude copious amounts of nectar and birds and insects are drawn to the tree during this period. The Apple-leaf is also known as a ‘rain tree’ as the ground around the tree is often damp – a result of falling secretions from spittle-bugs that thrive on the tree. Fruit follows flowering in the form of large, flat pods that hang on the tree well into winter. The pods normally contain between 1 to 3 kidney shaped seeds that are reddish in colour.
The Apple-leaf is drought hardy, but definitely frost sensitive and should be protected when young. The tree provides a spectacular display of flowers during spring and will add year-round interest to a large garden.