Where to find it:
The Wild Gardenia/Wildekajiepiering grows in just about all types of soil – not clay soils though - and is naturally found in ravines and valleys that are wooded, or on rocky hillsides and ridges, forest margin areas and kloofs. In the mid 1980s they were frequently found occurring naturally on the hills that surround Johannesburg and Pretoria but with so much residential and office complex development in these important tracts of land, one cannot be sure of just how many still occur there.
They don’t mind being down at the coastal areas or inland at 1600m above sea level. Their range stretches from the Western Cape, up the Eastern Cape coast to KZN Natal and inland as far as Botswana. Conservancy members whose properties include wooded valley areas, or kloofs or rocky ridges may be fortunate to have Wildekajiepiering growing there.
General description and features:
Although the Rothmania capensis is a smallish tree reaching an average height of 10m, its shiny dark evergreen leaves and often crooked trunk holding up its ball-shaped crown, make it a rather spectacular specimen! In forest areas it may grow to a height of 20m.
The most striking feature of the Wild Gardenia is its sweet perfumed flowers that start out in a bell shape and then open to reveal 5 creamy white petals each with streaks and spots of maroon at the base (throat) area. You cannot mistake the prominent perfume, greeting you as you walk near to this tree. Its flowering months are December through to February, making it an appropriate tree for our December Tree of the Month!
The flowers remind me of the Festive Season ahead of us. The creamy white could be the snowfalls in the northern hemisphere or the peace that we all wish each other over the New Year celebrations, while the maroon could be the dark rich red of a shiny ball hanging on our Christmas tree or the wrapping paper of a surprise gift!
Ball-shaped fruit is produced from January through to October.The fruit is about 70mm in size and has a pulpy interior, that holds its seeds. It is edible (‘they’ say), but has an unpleasant taste –not for Chacma baboons, Vervet and Samango monkeys though, who relish the opportunity to feed off the green and ripe fruit! The fallen fruit as well as fruit left on the ground by the baboons and monkeys, is eaten by Bushpigs, Bushbuck or Grey Duiker.
Trunk and bark:
The bark is greyish-brown in colour and has a flaky appearance, often revealinh a pinkish tinge underneath the bark. The trunk is often crooked in shape.
What people use this tree for:
The wood is dense and hard and is used to make tool handles, spoons and stirring sticks for the kitchen. It is also used in the building industry and makes good firewood.
Traditional medicines are made from the Wild Gardenia. The fruit juice is extracted and heated and put onto skin burns and open wounds to encourage healing. The root is powdered and rubbed into small incisions on the skin, made over areas that are rheumatoid. Leprosy is also treated with the root powder.
The Wildekajiepiering’s growth rate is approx 700mm per year, and if you are wishing to propagate from seed, here is what you have to do…
Collect the ball-shaped fruit when it is brown – remove all the seeds from the pulpy fruit. Fill a seedling tray with a soil mix of 3 parts river sand and 1 part compost (3:1), plant the seeds and water them – keep the soil moist while the seeds are germinating. Germination takes place from approx 2 weeks, so keeping the soil moist is essential.
When the seedling has reached sapling size and is ready to plant out into your chosen area in the garden, take care not to damage the delicate root. Select an area either in semi-shade or full sun. The Wild Gardenia prefers well-drained, acidic soil. When preparing the hole, add plenty of compost and mulch. Do not use artificial fertilisers!
The tree should bear fruit by its third year. The Wild Gardenia is semi-frost hardy, so remember to cover several weeks before the chill of winter.
Rothmania capensis has a non-invasive or aggressive root system and when planted in a group of 3 or 4 will make a spectacular show as well as providing shade for you sit under and enjoy the perfumed flowering season. Look out for birds and butterflies and other insects, that may visit the tree.
(Tip: When planting the sapling into the ground, position a 50mm size x 1m length of plastic piping vertically near to the sapling, leaving +- 5cm 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 Rothmania capensis?
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?
Tel (014) 576 2323
Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter. 1996 Making the Most of Indigenous Trees
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 & Sally Johnson. 1993 Gardening with Indigenous Trees and Shrubs