Indigenous to South Africa, the pretty Heteropyxis natalensis is an ideal tree to plant in a more compact garden.
Growing to a height of between 4 to 8 m, the tree has a slender, upright form and is semi-deciduous, providing foliage that turn a beautiful reddish, purple colour during autumn. The leaves are shiny, with a dark green colour on top and a lighter green underside. Depending on how cold it is, the autumn foliage can stay on the tree during winter, only dropping a few weeks before the new, green leaves appear.
Though the Lavender tree is named for the sweet, floral smell that arises when its leaves and twigs are crushed, the distinctive bark of this smallish tree is its star attraction. Initially, the bark is smooth and pale with tawny, silvery hues and darker gray patches and a papery grain. As the tree matures, the bark develops a rich texture and flakes off in large scales, leaving craggy, apricot coloured patches that provide shelter for a myriad tiny insects and ants. The light-coloured bark provides an interesting contrast colour in the garden.
From September to March, small clusters of yellowish, sweetly-scented flowers are borne, that attract insects, bees and birds alike. Fruit appear from March to May and takes the form of small, brownish, oval capsules that contain many seeds. The fruit ripen and split to release the seeds, and the old capsules can stay on the tree for many months.
The Lavender tree is fairly fast growing, depending on the habitat, and has a non-invasive root system which makes it ideal for a townhouse garden or for pool planting. It should be protected from frost when young, but becomes fairly hardy as it matures. The tree has moderate watering needs and grows well in full sun with well-drained soil.
Heteropyxis natalensis is a characterful, ornamental tree that can be single or multi-stemmed. It can be focal point in the garden with its changing foliage colours, striking bark and pretty flowers.