Tree of the week: Heteropyxis natalensis – Lavender tree – Laventelboom – Masepha

Heteropyxis natalensis is an attractive small to medium sized tree that can grow as deciduous or evergreen depending on prevailing growing conditions. The genus name ‘Heteropyxis’ is derived from the Greek word ‘heteros’ which means other or distinct and the Latin word ‘pyxidatus’ which means a capsule with a box-like lid. The specific name ‘Natalensis’ means ‘from Natal’,which is now KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa, where the type specimen of the species was collected from.

This tree grows to a height of between 4 to 8 m and has a slender, upright form.  In cold environments, H. natanensis displays wonderful autumn colours before the leaves drop off. Its glossy leaves are simple, alternate to spiralled and crowded towards the end of branchlets. The distinctive bark is brown or grey when the tree is young, becoming pale grey to tan with maturity. This bark also develops a rich texture and flakes off in large scales, leaving craggy, apricot coloured patches that provide shelter for a myriad of tiny insects and ants.

The fairly fast growing Lavender tree bears sweetly scented yellowish green flowers in summer. These are followed by fruits which will be in the form of small, brownish, oval capsules that contain many seeds.  After dispersing the seed, the old capsules remain on the tree for many months.

H.natalensis makes a good container plant for the patio. It is also a good bonsai specimen. This tree also has medicinal properties; a decoction made from the roots is used to treat bleeding gums and noses. It is waterwise, and has a non-invasive root system.