As autumn approaches, our attention is drawn to deciduous trees where the foliage is starting to colour before dropping to the earth. Celtis australis is a good example as its leaves fade to a pale yellow before falling.
An exotic species, Celtis australis is often confused with our indigenous Celtis africana. Both trees are large and provide shade during hot summer months, but there are ways to tell them apart. The easiest way to check if you are buying the correct species is to feel the leaves – C. australis has glossy, hairless leaves whereas C. africana have course-haired leaves.
Celtis australis grows faster and larger than the White Stinkwood. The tree can reach a height of between 15 to 25 m and has a spreading crown with a rounded habit. The bark of the Celtis australis is smooth, somewhat warty and a light grey-white colour. Dark-green glossy leaves are smooth with serrated edges and fairly long as opposed to the White Stinkwood. Flowers are inconspicuous and appear in spring, simultaneously with the new leaves. Tiny, round fruits are initially yellow in colour, but ripen to a purple black during early autumn. The fruit hang in short clusters and are extremely popular with birds and other wildlife.
Frost hardy and drought resistant, the Celtis species are well-known for its potential to provide shade and as a focal tree. It has to be noted that hybrids with and between Celtis africana and Celtis australis can be a problem in urban areas. Care should be taken when selecting the tree, especially if one prefers an indigenous garden.