Where to find it:
Both the south and north facing slopes are home to the Dombeya rotundifolia, and one may find them growing on the lower slopes where the forest areas have opened up to woodland savannah type vegetation. They are also found growing on rocky hills. This tree is a member of the Star-chestnut family, and South Africa is home to 22 species out of a worldwide number of 1 000 species. The Dombeya part of the tree name is called after French botanist, J. Dombey, who lived from 1742 to 1793. The Common Wild Pear is found as far north as Ethiopia and as far south as KwaZulu Natal.
General description and features:
Unmistakeably, the Common Wild Pear announces the arrival of spring with its show of gorgeous white to light pink star-shaped flowers that burst out in clusters at the end of its branches. The landscape becomes a patchwork of splashes of these white to pink flowers dotted around the vegetation. Look out for these flowers from July through to end September.
The Dombeya rotundifolia is deciduous and grows to an approximate height of between 5 to 9 metres. The leaves are distinguished by their roundness and leathery feel. Turn the leaf over and notice the three to five distinct veins that arise from the leaf base.
From October to December, the fruit of the Common Wild Pear follows the spring flush of flowers. Watch out for the small circular brown fruits that grow in between the drying petals of the flowers.
Trunk and Bark:
The thick corky brown to black bark keeps this tree fire resistant. The deep fissures in the bark are another identifying feature of the Common Wild Pear. Contrasted to this, is the smooth grey bark of young branches that have noticeable corky spots. This tree has a single stem, a non- aggressive root system and grows a roundish open canopy.
What people use this tree for:
There are several traditional medicine remedies that the Bushveld Bride provides to people – so if you are looking for a tea formula to relieve the discomfort of internal ulcers, haemorrhoids or nausea in pregnancy, or even to bring on or delay the onset of labour, then this is the tree for you. Consultation with a traditional healer would be necessary!
Rope is made from bark fibre while the flowers are made into a “love potion” for those who may need one.
The wood is dense and hard and because of this, it is a good tree to make mine props with. In earlier years, the yokes for oxen were made from this tree. Tables and chairs are also made from the Common Wild Pear wood. Fence posts are made from this wood, as it is termite proof.
The ‘provider’ for other creatures:
Bees and butterflies gather the pollen and nectar that the flowers so generously provide. This in turn attracts insectivorous birds like the Bluegrey Flycatcher to this tree. Porcupine is known to eat the bark. Antelope such as kudu, nyala, sable and steenbok as well as large mammals like giraffe and elephant eat the round leathery leaves. The larvae of the Ragged Skipper butterfly and the Arrow Sphinx moth feed off this tree while they are in metamorphic stage.
How to grow your own:
Dombeya rotundifolia are easily grown from seed. Put a mix of river sand and compost (1:1) into your seedling trays and place the seeds into them. Cover the seeds to a depth of 5mm with the soil. Keep moist during germination.
When the seedlings get to a “2-leaf” stage, plant them out into larger black nursery bags. Use a mix of river sand and compost (3:1). Take care not to damage the young roots when transplanting into larger bags. It is a fast growing tree, and if planted in good quality soil and watered often, it will grow approximately 3 metres in five years. During the summer months, feed this tree with a slow-release (3:2:1) fertiliser. It is resistant to drought and light 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 Dombeya rotundifolia?
Val Thomas and Rina Grant. 1998. SAPPI Tree Spotting, Highveld & the Drakensberg.
Pitta Joffe. 2001. Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants, A South African Guide.
Vincent Carruthers. 1990. The Magaliesberg.
Joan van Gogh & John Anderson. 1988. Trees & Shrubs of the Witwatersrand, Magaliesberg
Braam van Wyk & Piet van Wyk. 1997. Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa.
Fanie & July-Ann Venter. 1996. Making the most of Indigenous Trees