Two of the three Trees occur in the Durban, KZN Coastal region. They are (524) Barringtonia racemosa Powder-puff Tree, Brackwater Mangrove and (463) Grewia occidentalis. (221) Virgilia oroboides only occurs in the southern coastal region of the Western Cape.

Barringtonia racemosa is a Protected Tree in South Africa. That means that if it is cultivated or natural, not 'one hair on its head may be harmed'. Being protected, also means that the environment in which it grows should, theoretically, also be protected, because most estuarine systems, especially urban ones are endangered.
 The uMngeni Estuary north-bank

 It prefers to grow in soils which are brackish. Along banks of rivers, in estuaries or in the land side of a mangrove swamp. If the mouth of a river is open a lot, then they would perish, as there would be too much salt inundation. The trees on the uMngeni River North-bank, were planted there after the 1987 'Floods', to stabilize the bank. 200 years ago, when cultivated environmental destruction was just a glint in the eye, the banks were flatter, except, where the river concides with the Dwyka-tillite on both banks.It was also more swampy,  so Phragmites australis Common Reed was natural there, with just a few trees. The bark contains tanin. When it is powdered, it is used as fish posion. It is also used againt fevers, especially malaria. Some of the trees of the uMngeni are only 5 metres and some 8 metres, but it can grow upto 20m in the right conditions.
The Flowers are white-pink and hang down

The fruit turn red-brown

Grewia occidentalis (Cross-berry) The isiZulu name for this is 'ilalanyathi'. I assume that this either means the buffalo is lying down underneath the tree or it's peculiar growth habit looks like a buffalo lying down. Sometimes, the most obscure reasons are given for these tree names. Maybe, someone came along and saw a human lying underneath the bush, wrapped in a buffalo-skin.
The flowers are from September to January

This bush/tree occurs from the Western Cape, right upto Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The fruit is 4-lobed, therefore the name, Cross-berry. 200 years ago, on the banks of the uMngeni, giraffe, nyala and duiker would have come to browse this tasty bush. Further upstream, near the N2, where there is freshwater, across the hills of grass and dotted trees, the Great Herds of Buffalo would come, they would have trampled the mud, to get to the water, then gone back to the bush, to lie in it's shade, all the while nibbling on grasses and Grewia spp. The San or local tribes would have used the wood for sticks and spear shafts, assegai handles and bows. The birds that love the fruit are Louries, mousebirds, bulbuls and barbets. Mammals, including Homo sapiens relish this as well. If you want to make a bush-milkshake, collect some of the dried fruits and boil them in milk. Or if you like alcohol, making beer is an option. The bark is used for treating wounds and for anti-greying shampoo!! Or for impotence and sterility!!
It can grow to about 3m in height, and also wide. Sun or some shade. Good for an eroded part of the garden.

 Virgilia oroboides (Blossom Tree). In Afrikaans, the name Keurboom, was inspired by the beauty of these plants. Virgilia was given in honour of the great Roman Poet, Virgil. It grows very fast and creates shade and screening . This species can grow between 10-15m. They like sun or semi-shade. The flowers are sweetly-scented pea-shaped flowers from January to April. Beacuse the flowers are so rich in nectar, many insects, like bees flock to them, as well as sunbirds. White-eyes love to nest in the tree too! One reason to visit that part of the Western Cape.


  1. Berjak, P., Campbell, G., Huckett, B & Pammenter, N. 2011. In the Mangroves of South Africa. WESSA, KZN Region
  2. Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's Trees of Eastern South Africa. Flora & Fauna Publications Trust, Durban
  3. Coates Palgrave, K. 1981. Trees of Southern Africa. C. Struik Publishers, Cape Town
Note: The 4 Barringtonia Photographs, excluding the flower one,were taken by me. All other plant Photographs were taken from the http:// Site.

By: Rosemary Harrison


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