Tree of the week: Combretum erythrophyllum – River bushwillow – Vaderlandswilg

A beautiful deciduous to semi-deciduous tree with willow-like dense foliage. Combretum erythrophyllum is very hardy, fast growing and can reach a mature height of 5-12m.  Although this tree is found growing naturally along rivers and streams, it can adapt to conditions in most gardens. The distribution of this tree stretches from Limpopo, North West Province, Gauteng, Mpumalanga to KwaZulu Natal.

The most striking feature on this tree is the foliage which turn red in autumn before shedding in winter.  The leaves are slightly wavy and are arranged in an opposite manner. River bushwillow often has a short trunk that branches and curves low down giving the tree a drooping appearance. The bark is smooth and grey in young branches and it becomes darker on older branches.

From September to November, blooms appear after the first new green leaves and these resemble whitish puffballs. The flowers are fragrant and attract both birds and insects to the garden. After flowering, four winged green fruits are produced. These turn brown when they are ripe and stay on the tree for a long time.

Combretum erythrophyllum is popularly grown as a shade tree. The root system of this tree is non-aggressive making it ideal for street planting. Because of the fast growth rate and big crown, this tree is not suited for small gardens. This tree has many medicinal uses; root bark and stem bark are used to treat a cough, infertility and leprosy.