Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “Weekly Plant of Interest”. We’ll be looking at woody species whose unique growth form and bark make it a visually striking plant, thus enabling it to be easily recognisable all-year round.
Cussonia paniculata or the Mountain Cabbage Tree (commonly known as Suidelike Bergkiepersol in Afrikaans, or Motšhethše in Sisotho), is a medium sized tree of up to 8 meters. Cussonia is derived from the name of a French professor – Pierre Cusson (1727 – 1783), who studied botany at Montpellier, France. paniculata refers to the form of the branched flower head. Cussonia occurs singly in most instances, or in widely scattered colonies found at up to 2000 m A.S.L. It is found at higher altitudes on warm north and west facing slopes in Kloofs and at lower altitudes in Low-Altitude Grassland among Rocks.
Cussonia has a central trunk with a dark gnarled looking bark and a canopy of variable size. The hand shaped compound leaves are pale blue-grey to green and form clusters at the ends of thick stubby branchlets. The margins of each leaflet are so coarsely serrated that the leaflets look gnawed (which may actually be the case in certain instances). Fruit are small capsules which are purple when ripe and grow on conspicuous spikes. The tree is Deciduous or evergreen. Greenish yellow flowers are densely packed in conspicuous spikes. Flowering occurs from Jan – Apr and the capsules form between May-June. The leaves have fairly long leaf-stalks and are crowded towards the end of the twigs. The 7-9 leaflets all grow out of the same point on the leaf-stalk. Leaves are around 600 mm in diameter, leaflets are 100-300 long X 20-60 mm wide, leaflet stalks are on average 200-500 mm.
C. paniculata heartwood has historically been utilised for the construction of brake blocks which are then fitted on ox-wagons.
This is an attractive plant to be grown in large gardens or along pathways in botanical gardens (if visiting the Western Cape’s Garden Route, the Bot. Gardens in George are a must see). C. paniculata is heat and drought resistant but may succumb to thick frosts and is thus relatively hardy. This plant grows slowly so gardeners should intent to reside at their current dwellings for a good deal of time before the plant can be observed at its full size and glory.
Wildlife & livestock
This plant makes for good fodder while still in its sapling stage. Appropriate barriers would need to be put in place around the tree if animals such as goats occur on the same property.