Tree of the week: Rauvolfia caffra – Quinine tree – Kinaboom – Monadi

A hardy fast growing evergreen tree with an upright crown and corky bark. Rauvolfia caffra was named after Leonhart Rauwolf of Augsburg, a 16th century medical doctor and collector of medicinal plants; caffra refers to Kaffraria [now the Eastern Cape].

Although this tree can grow up to 30m in the natural habitat, when planted in the garden it attains a mature height of 7 to 15m. The Quinine tree is endemic to Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and Western Cape. This tree occurs naturally along rivers and streams. When growing away from rivers and streams, it acts as an indicator for underground water.

Leaves of R.caffra are thin, leathery and glossy. The bark is smooth, green on young branches becoming yellowish brown and cracked on older branches and stems. From May to October, this tree produces sweetly scented white flowers in terminal sprays. These are followed by green fleshy fruits which are born in large branched clusters, when mature the fruits turn black and wrinkled.

Because of its roundish crown and tropical foliage, Rauvolfia caffra makes a neat shade tree for large gardens and parks. It attracts birds and butterflies hence its suitability for wildlife gardens. This tree also has medicinal value, the bark is used as a dressing for wounds and the infusion is used to kill maggots in wounds. The large size and invasive root system of this tree makes it unsuitable for small gardens.