Where to find it:
Vangueria infausta is a member of the large Gardenia family, and of the 5 000 to 6 000 species found in the temperate climates in the world, South Africa has 160 species, most of which are found in our warmer Provinces of Limpopo, North West , Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the northern and coastal parts of KwaZuluNatal and the Eastern Cape. If you should travel to Madagascar, look out for it there too.
In the Magaliesberg area, the Wild Medlar is found growing more on the north facing slopes (Brits side) than on the south facing slopes of the Magaliesberg mountain range. It grows in wooded grassland and woodland, and is also found growing on rocky koppies and even at the sea on sand dunes. It tends to grow singly rather than in clusters.
General description and features:
The Wildemispel has deciduous hairy leaves that are large and boat-shaped. Notice how the leaves are bent backwards and closed into a sickle shape. The growth height of this tree is between 2 and 8 metres. Its branches grow from low down at the base which end up forming a moderately dense ball-shaped canopy at the crown.
Look out for clusters of green-to-white to creamy yellow coloured flowers that adorn the tree during September to November. Look inside the flower tube for the tiny hairs. The fruit bearing months are from November to April. The fruit is plum-shaped and has a leathery feel to its glossy skin. It starts out as yellow in colour and when ripe becomes brown and are a favourite for the fruit eating birds and mammals.
Trunk and bark:
The grey bark of the Wild Medlar is smooth to the touch. The young branches are hairy and often have visible leaf scars.
What people use this tree for:
During the fruiting season, people eat the fruit raw, or use the pulp mixed with a little sugar to make a sauce for puddings - apparently it tastes rather like apple sauce! The fruit has high yields of Vitamin C, Magnesium and Calcium. For variety, you may like to roast them before eating. For the ‘serious' fruit eater, a mampoer is distilled from the ripened fruit, so if you are travelling in the North West province, you may like to enquire from the locals about their mampoer!
Medicinally, this tree has many uses and applications, from roots and leaves being used to treat malaria and even pneumonia, to coughs and other chest illnesses being treated with an infusion from the roots. Abdominal pains are treated with a leaf infusion tea whilst tick bite sores on both cattle and dogs are treated with a leaf poultice that speeds up the healing process.
The ‘provider' for other creatures:
Goats enjoy browsing on the leaves whilst cattle do not often make use of this tree for fodder. Kudu, nyala, elephant and giraffe eat the young branches. The fruit is very popular with bushbabies (nagapies), Vervet monkeys, squirrels and baboons together with a variety of the fruit 2/... eating birds. Bush pigs and tortoises also enjoy the "fruit feast" by retrieving the fallen fruit off the ground.
The insect-eating birds food supply,is provided by the many insects that arrive on the tree during the flowering season. Keen birders should consider planting this tree in the garden as it would make an interesting "observation tree" during the different seasons!
How to grow your own:
Vangueria infausta can be grown from seed. Take the seeds from off the tree and not from the ground as these will probably be parasitised. Allow to dry. Soak seeds overnight and plant out into seedling trays the next day. Fill the trays with river sand and cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Keep moist during germination. An approximate success germination of 80% can be expected.
When the seedlings get to a "3-leaf" stage, plant them out into larger black nursery bags. Take care not to damage the young roots when transplanting into larger bags. Keep them in the bags for about a year before you transplant them into your chosen spot in the garden.
Please water well once you have transplanted them into the garden - for at least the first 5 weeks give them water frequently.
If you are interested in growing them from cuttings - It is advisable to use a root stimulating hormone powder like Seradix. Plant the cuttings into river sand during the spring, water well and when they have taken and grown a bit, transplant them into the garden.
It is a slow growing tree - 400 to 500 mm per year - it can tolerate long periods of drought as well as frost.
(Tip: When ready to plant the sapling into the ground, position a 50 mm size x 1m length of plastic piping vertically near to the sapling, leaving +- 5 cm above ground level. When watering around the sapling, also pour water into this pipe, as it will encourage the roots to grow downwards looking for the moisture below. Keep the ground around the sapling well mulched with dry leaves, etc. to assist with water retention above ground.)
If you don't find this tree on your property consider growing one!
Wouldn't it be rewarding to contribute to maintaining the tree diversity within the Magaliesberg mountain range by planting a Vangueria infausta?