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Guide to the tree species of Southern Africa

Tree Wisteria - Bolusanthus speciosus
Travel Writer: EcoTravel Africa  

Family: Fabaceae (pod-bearing family)
Common names: tree wisteria; Vanwykshout (Afr.); mogaba (Northern Sotho); umHolo (Zulu)
National tree list no.: 222
Caesalpinaceae Flambouant family

The tree wisteria is certainly one of the most spectacular of our indigenous trees when in flower.

Photographer: EcoTravel Africa 

Bolusanthus speciosus is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree -- dropping its leaves only for a short period in early spring. The tree is normally multi-stemmed. The bark of the stem is brownish grey, rough and deeply fissured. Leaves, which are spirally arranged, are suspended from drooping branches.

The drooping, blue-mauve, fragrant, pea-like flowers hang from the branches in bunches, often covering the whole tree. Flowering time for Bolusanthus speciosus is from August to January (spring and early summer). Flowers are followed by papery, brown fruit pods, that hang from the branches in clusters, and never split to release their seeds. Being a protected tree in South Africa, wild specimens may not be removed, cut down or damaged.

Bolusanthus speciosus is widespread in wooded grasslands in southern Africa, from Angola and Zambia down to KwaZulu-Natal.

Name derivation
Bolusanthus honours Harry Bolus (1834 to 1911), who was a South African botanist and founder of the Cape Town Bolus Herbarium; speciosus means beautiful or showy in Latin.

Ecological value
Animals including monkeys, gemsbok, giraffe and grey duiker eat the pods and leaves.

Uses and economic value
The wood, which is highly sought after by carpenters, makes excellent furniture. It works well on a lathe, turning out beautiful lampshades and other articles. The straight growing stems are very hard, termite resistant and used for fencing posts. The roots are used medicinally to alleviate stomach problems and the inner bark used to treat abdominal cramps. It also has excellent potential as a tree for landscaping and growing in the home garden.

This is a graceful tree, growing from 4 - 7 m in height, that prefers heavier soils such as those found on gabbro (Thorn Veld), but they may occur on a variety of soils. The largest specimens are found along rivers. It often grows singly, with large groups being found only on heavier soil.

It can be easily identified by the bunches of violet and white, pea-like flowers blooming from September to October. This is a very upright, narrow tree, branching low down, but with the main branches growing upwards, almost parallel to one another. Branches and twigs are thin and bear the leaves towards their tips. The leaves are light and borne on thin twigs. The are tilted inwards, exposing both the bright green upper-surface and the paler under-surface, which creates a twinkling, light effect in the wind. The bark is deeply grooved, coloured from brown to dark brown.

Links with animals - Other than monkey eating the flower buds, it is seldom utilised.

Human uses - The wood is termite resistance, which makes it suitable for wagons, yokes, axe handles fence poles and furniture. Some Africans use the dried inner bark to relieve abdominal disorders.

Gardening - This is an attractive garden tree, and will grow well in most soil types, growing fast in sandy soils. It is easily grown from seed, and once established, is fairly drought and frost resistant. Seedlings do not transplant easily.

Leaves - Compound, with a single leaflet at the tip and 5-6 pairs of opposite, or almost opposite leaflets. Leaflets are narrowly elliptic to slightly sickle shaped, with a smooth margin. Their attachment is slightly off-centre, and the tip is curled. The leaves tend to be tilted toward their origin of the twig. They are shiny, bright green above, and paler below, with an obvious Yellow midrib. Older leaves are smooth, while the young leaves are covered by fine hairs. (Leaf: 250 mm; leaflet: 70 x 10 mm)

Flowers - Bunches of beautiful blue to mauve, purple, pea-like flower appear before, or with leaves. (September to March; Spray 200 mm)

Pods - The flat, narrow, papery pods are light brown, turning almost black with age. They hang in clusters and do not split while on the tree. Pods have sharp points at both ends. (Ripen november to March; 70 - 100 x 10 mm)

Best places to see the Tree Wisteria in Southern Africa:

The Tree Wisteria is found in the Kruger National Park in the Sabie Crocodile Thorn Thickets,Knob Thorn / Marula Savannah,Lebombo Mountain Bushveld & Mopane / Bushwillow Woodlands ecozones.

Trees of Southern Africa    >> Printable List <<
The Plant Kingdom (Plantae)
Wildlife - Fauna & Flora of Southern Africa

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Southern Africa has many top Game / Nature Reserves, and is home to many of the mammals of southern Africa. Numerous wildlife safari and tour companies operate guided tours to Southern Africa. Popular adventure travel activities in Southern Africa include: horse riding safaris, elephant back safaris, mountain biking, birding, wilderness walking trails, science safaris and volunteering especially for GAP year students.
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Invertebrates Fungi : Mushrooms
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