Tree of the week: Maytenus undata – Koko tree – Kokoboom

A hardy evergreen tree with a variable height depending on the area it is growing, Maytenus undata usually exists as a multi-stemmed shrub [2-3m tall] or a single trunked tree that can grow up to 10m. It is a common tree along the margins of forest, in woodland and on rocky hillsides, often among boulders and on termite mounds. Although this tree is not endemic to South Africa, its provincial distribution stretches from Eastern Cape to North West.

The Koko tree has simple alternate leaves are leathery and shiny on top. The bark of this tree is grey-brown, smooth to finely fissured, flaking to reveal pinkish under bark. Yellow-green flowers produced in summer appear in small heads of 2–10 flowers. A sweet fragrance from these blooms attract a wide range of insects and birds to the garden.  After flowering, the Koko tree bears shiny orange -brown seeds that are covered by a thin aril that is orange and soft.

Maytenus undata is ideal for planting in small gardens as well as in containers. Due to its evergreen growth habit, this tree can be planted as a wind barrier. The Koko tree grows well both under full sun and semi-shade conditions. It is frost tolerant and grows well on loamy soils.