A guide to South African indigenous trees| Stodels Garden Centre

A guide to South African indigenous trees

8th October 2008

Trees provide shade, privacy, attractive foliage and beautiful flowers, and they also improve air quality, reduce noise and hide undesirable views. If you plant an indigenous tree, it will also work that much harder to attract birds and butterflies to your garden, while being far more drought-resistant than an exotic tree species.


A tree, or plant, is indigenous to a region or area if it grew and evolved there through natural processes. Benefits of planting indigenous varieties include the fact that it is often much hardier and more attractive to the local wildlife. 


The Marula Tree (Sclerocarya birrea): This deciduous tree grows most comfortably on sandy loam soils. It grows up to 18m tall and produces flowers from September to November, bearing plum-sized, vitamin C-rich fruit from January to March. 

The Kei Apple (Dovyalis caffra): This tree has glossy green leaves and long, sharp thorns, making it an excellent choice for boundary walls where you require extra security. If you plant both a male and female plant in your garden, you’ll be rewarded with bright yellow fruit in February. The fruit is both delicious and attractive.

The Tree Wisteria (Bolusanthus speciosus): A wisteria is one of the prettiest of spring-flowering trees and likes a sunny spot with well-draining soil. It is a deciduous tree that can reach a height of up to 7m and produces attractive pea-shaped mauve flowers in spring and summer.

The Pompom Tree (Dais cotinifolia): This stunning, sun-loving tree produces masses of purple or pink pompom-shaped flowers in midsummer. It is a hardy, quick-growing species and a good choice for small gardens – it only grows up to 7m. 

The Wild Pear (Dombeya rotundifolia): If you’re looking for something fast-growing, this is the tree for you. After shedding its leaves in autumn, it comes into bloom in late winter or spring with a burst of white or pink blossoms. It likes a sunny spot and grows 4–6m, but can grow taller. 

The Fever Tree (Vachellia xanthophloea): This tree grows 12–15m tall, with an 8–10m wide spread, so it’s perfect for gardens with lots of room. The smooth bark is a bright yellow-green, birds love nesting in its branches and butterflies are attracted to the yellow fluffy blossoms that appear in spring and early summer.

Gardenia (Gardenia thunbergia): This starry-flowered tree has pale grey bark and heavily perfumed, cream-white flowers from October to March, followed by egg-shaped grey-green fruit. It can be grown as a shrub or tree (2–5m).

Wild gardenia (Rothmannia capensis): This tree grows up to 6m high and has a spread of 4m, so it’s suitable for smaller gardens. The beautiful creamy-white, bell-shaped flowers with maroon markings in the centre are borne in summer, from December to February, and are very fragrant. Fruit appears later and will attract birds.

September bells (Rothmannia globosa): This is a spring-flowering, semi-evergreen tree with dark green leaves and sweetly scented, cream-white, bell-shaped clusters of flowers.

Bladdernut or Swartbas (Diospyros whyteana): This tree has a neat growth habit, glossy dark green leaves and small, white, bell-shaped flowers in spring, followed by fruit enclosed in papery cases that attract birds. It grows in semi-shade or full sun and is an excellent tree for a small garden. It can also be grown as a shrub and makes an attractive bonsai.

Cape chestnut (Calodendrum capense): This tree is suitable for a large garden, as it grows as tall as 10m or more, providing a canopy of welcome shade in summer. Large pink flowers with narrow, curved petals cover the tree in midsummer. It is deciduous in areas with cold winters.

Sagewood (Buddleja salviifolia): This is a shrub that is often trained as a small tree with panicles of nectar-rich lilac flowers in spring, attracting butterflies and other insects to your garden. The leaves are dark green and silver-white underneath.

Wild laburnum (Calpurnia aurea): This is an attractive, quick-growing shrub or small 3–4m tree with trusses of yellow, pea-shaped flowers in midsummer and sometimes through the year.

Boerbean (Schotia brachypetala): This is an attractive shade tree that sheds its leaves in late winter before the dainty, cup-shaped red flowers appear in spring to provide a feast for nectar-feeding birds. In gardens, the boerbean usually reaches a height and spread of about 7m.

Fuchsia (Halleria lucida): This tree makes an attractive feature tree in the garden, with a height and spread of 5m. Orange-red flowers grow on the older wood of the main trunk and larger branches and they attract sunbirds and bees.