WikiMedia Commons User JMK
Where to find it:
The Combretum erythrophyllum occurs naturally at stream or river banks and also grows successfully further away from these moist areas. You may find the River Bushwillow planted near a dam or water reservoir on your property. Look out for Heron or Cormorant who may be seen at your dam and observe if they utilise this tree, as they are known to breed in it.
Is generally a single-stemmed tree that often has a crooked trunk. It is a low branching shade tree that spreads to form a densely leafed thick canopy/crown. The leaves are a dark shiny green when mature, differing from the young leaves that are a lighter green. Average Height 10mt and spread width 13mt. The River Bushwillow is deciduous, losing its red coloured leaves in autumn.
Trunk and Bark:
The trunk is generally a greyish-brown colour and often has irregular patches of bark which have flaked off and then reveal an apricot colour on the underbark. Large swellings (lumpy areas) sometimes occur on older tree trunks and their main branches.
Flowers and Fruit:
Once the new leaves have appeared (August to November), the flowers follow – these are small greenish-yellow flower-spikes round in shape and lightly scented. The flowers attract a variety of insects and butterflies.
A typical Bushwillow four-winged fruit then follows – they begin to ripen from their green colour through to a light brown from about January. Watch out for Pied Barbets that will frequent the tree to feast on the seeds.
As part of the ‘food chain’, Wasps will come to the fruit and lay their eggs through the walls of the fruit, and their larvae in turn, will feed on the seeds inside the fruit. The Southern Black Tit plays its part in the ‘food chain’ by coming to this tree and instinctively tapping the fruit to check if there are larvae inside. If there are, this bird will open the fruit and eat the larvae!
At the larger end of the ‘food chain’, the leaves of the River Bushwillow are browsed by giraffe, elephant, bushbuck and nyala.
“The giving tree”:
And at the top of the ‘food chain’ are human beings who cut the tree down and use the wood as an all-purpose timber for making furniture, construction beams and even cattle-troughs. The fruit bunches are also used in flower arrangements. The gum that is extracted from the stem is used as a varnish and for tanning. The roots yield a rich brown dye. The River Bushwillow is still used in traditional medicine.
If you don’t find this tree on your property consider growing one. It is a fast growing tree, drought and frost resistant and if planted in good soil in a sunny position and well watered, it could grow 5 metres in three years.
Consider too that you will be providing food opportunities for insects, Pied Barbet, Southern Black Tit, antelope as well as nesting and breeding environments for Heron and Cormorant.
Wouldn’t it be rewarding to contribute to maintaining the tree diversity within the Magaliesberg mountain range by planting a Combretum Erythrophyllum?
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 have you noticed?
Pitta Joffe. 2001. Creative gardening with Indigenous Plants.
Val Thomas & Rina Grant. 1998. SAPPI Tree Spotting Highveld and the Drakensberg.
Joan van Gogh & John Anderson. 1988. Trees & Shrubs of the Witwatersrand, Magaliesberg and Pilanesberg.
Braam van Wyk & Piet van Wyk. 1997. Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa.