Sunday, 02 August 2009 16:22

Mountain Cabbage Tree

Written by  Sue Oxborrow
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Cussonia paniculata (Photgraphed at Suikerbosrand) Cussonia paniculata (Photgraphed at Suikerbosrand) WikiMedia Commons User NJR ZA

Where to find it:

A member of the Cabbage Tree family Araliaceae, the Cussonia paniculata is found on both the north and south facing slopes of the Magaliesberg. It is generally found growing singly and prefers the exposed rocky habitats in the mountain range.

General description and features:

The rounded crown of deciduous blue-green leaves sitting on top of the often crooked single stemmed trunk is a familiar sight to many who have this tree on their property.

During the flowering months from January to April, spectacular yellowish-green coloured flowers form upward-facing spikes on the branched stalks which attract many insect pollinators. The fruit begins to ripen from about May through to June, so watch out for the pea size purple berries that the Bulbuls, Shrikes and Barbets will feast upon.

Don’t confuse the Cussonia paniculata with the similar looking Cussonia spicata (Common Cabbage Tree) – a quick comparison check is to compare the indentations on the leaflets of both and notice that although the Cussonia spicata has fewer indentations, its leaf margins are indented right up to the central vein of the leaflets, giving the leaflet a different overall shape to that of the Cussonia paniculata.

Trunk and Bark:

The striking fissured bark on the trunk with its deep furrows running lengthways up the tree and the large almost palm-shaped leaves are distinctive, which makes the Kiepersol an easy tree to identify. The dark brown, almost black bark looks corky in appearance.

What people use this tree for:

During the past years when ox wagons were the main form of transport, the Cussonia paniculata played an important role in this mode of transport – the soft wood of the tree was used as brake-blocks for the ox wagons. Many a heavy wagon was secured by the Cussonia paniculata!

The root of the Highveld/Mountain Cabbage Tree is said to be peeled and eaten raw – CAUTION! Do not eat the root of the Common Cabbage Tree, as it is poisonous!

The ‘provider’ for other creatures:

The Cussonia paniculata is a good fodder tree for cattle and goats. Goats enjoy the leaves of the smaller trees. A variety of fruit eating birds enjoy the berry-like fruit during May and June.

The larvae of the Common Emperor Moth, Bunaea alcinoe feed on the leaves. In the larvae stage the Common Emperor Moth is a black caterpillar with distinctive white spines and orange spiracles. In the moth stage it is unmistakeable with its large wingspan of 125mm and large “eyespots” on its hind wings. Look out for it and wait for the larvae to hatch into a beautiful moth!

How to grow your own:

Here’s how…

Cussonia paniculata grow quite easily from seed; so if possible, get a few fresh seeds from a friend’s tree. Put a mix of rich soil and compost into your seedling trays and place the seeds into them. Cover the seeds to a depth of 5mm with the soil and mulch. Keep moist during germination.

When the seedlings get to a “2-leaf” stage, plant them out into larger black nursery bags.

This tree is frost and drought resistant and is a slow growing tree. The average size of the Highveld/Mountain Cabbage Tree gets to approximately 5m x 2m.

It has an aggressive root system, so do not plant it near buildings, walls, pools, ponds, etc. as it may cause damage to the foundations.

(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 Cussonia paniculata?

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.

Have the Vervet monkeys visited to eat the fruit?

Which butterflies, larvae or other insects have you noticed?

Have you seen the bees with their pollen sacks full of flower pollen?

What birds have you seen coming to this tree?

Contact Sue Oxborrow at email address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or

Tel (014) 576 2323


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

& Pilanesberg.

Braam van Wyk & Piet van Wyk. 1997. Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa.


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