Where to find it:
The Diospyros whyteana is found on both the south and north facing slopes of the Magaliesberg mountain range. On the southern slopes it is found mostly in the forested areas of the shady kloofs in the range. It does, however, also grow in bushy riverine areas in the shady protection of other trees around it.
If you travel to the Western Cape, look out for this tree – it grows particularly well in this province. The Bladder-Nut is found throughout Africa – from the Cape to Ethiopia in the north.
General description and features:
The glossy dark green leaves of this evergreen tree show off the smooth grey-blackish bark. Two interesting features of the leaves are the copper coloured hairs that protrude from the leaf edges, and that the underside of the leaf is a lighter green than the topside.
The creamy yellow coloured bell-shaped flowers with their delicious sweet smelling aroma precede the arrival of the reddish brown papery balloon that encloses the ripe scarlet-red berry fruit. The fruit is a bit tasteless (to us) but loved by several species of fruit-eating birds. The papery balloon that holds the fruit reminds one of the papery balloons of the gooseberry fruit.
The Bladder-Nut tree has a moderate density and grows in height between 3 metres to a grand height of 15 metres, with its average growth height being approximately 5 metres.
Trunk and Bark:
The bark is distinctively smooth and is grey-black in colour. Look out for lichen that grows on the bark.
What people use this tree for:
As with many trees, the wood is often used for making tools and implements like pick or hoe handles. In the days of when people used oxen their yokes may have been made from the Diospyros whyteana. The wood is hard and fairly dense and is yellowish- white in colour, with some brown striping.
If you are adventurous in your coffee drinking, you may like to try roasting the seeds, then grinding them to make coffee!
On the medicinal side, people have made an infusion of leaves and part of the root to ease an itchy skin rash. A traditional medicine is made from the bark to treat impotency and infertility.
The ‘provider’ for other creatures:
Look out for Grey Louries, Bulbuls, Barbets, Rameron pigeons and African Green pigeons that may frequent your Bladder-Nut tree in the fruiting season of December to May. The fruit begins to ripen from February. and the birds will be first to open the papery balloon to get the best of the ripe fruit.
The leaves provide good fodder for kudu, klipspringer, nyala and Sharpe’s grysbok as well as stock animals.
How to grow your own Diospyros whyteana:
Get a supply of fruit from your tree or from a friend’s tree. Remove the seeds and leave to soak overnight in hot water. Next morning, plant them out into your seedling trays – best size for your trays is a depth of 60mm. Fill the trays with a good mix (1:1) of river sand and compost. Press your seeds down slightly into the mix and then cover them over with a layer of compost. It is essential to keep them moist, otherwise they will not germinate. 3-5 weeks should start to show some signs of growth coming through the top layer.
Once they have 2 leaves, transplant them into large nursery bags filled with a good compost/potting/river sand mix. Continue regular watering.
The growth rate of the young tree is approx 500 – 800 mm per year. When they reach sapling size, plant out in your chosen spot in the garden. Remember to protect them from frost or cold wind conditions for the first year. Nurseries supply frost blanketing for protecting trees during the colder winter months.
(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 Diospyros whyteana.
The Committee is interested in hearing from members whether they have this tree growing on their property or whether they would like to plant one.
What birds have you seen coming to this tree?
Which butterflies or other insects have you noticed?
Have the Vervet monkeys visited to eat the fruit?
Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter. 1996. Making the Most of Indigenous Trees.
Joan van Gogh& John Anderson. 1988. Trees & Shrubs of the Witwatersrand,Magaliesberg & Pilanesberg
Val Thomas and Rina Grant. 1998. SAPPI Tree Spotting, Highveld & the Drakensberg.
Pitta Joffe. 2001. Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants, A South African Guide.
Keith, Paul & Meg Coates Palgrave. 1985. Everyone’s guide to Trees of South Africa.
David and Sally Johnson. 1993. Gardening with Indigenous Trees and Shrubs.