Tree of the week: Combretum erythrophyllum – Rooiblaar – Umdubu

Well known for its spectacular red autumn colours, Combretum erythrophyllum is a deciduous to semi-deciduous indigenous tree of South Africa. The tree is fast growing, reaching a height of 4-6m in three years when growing conditions are conducive. Its distribution stretches from Zimbabwe in the north to Eastern Cape in the South. Although this tree is usually found growing naturally along rivers and streams, sometimes it is found in wooded grasslands away from rivers where the water table is high enough.

This tree is characterised with a dense roundish crown. Leaves are arranged in a sub-opposite manner and sometimes in whorls of three. The bark is a pale brown, smooth, but flaking with age to expose grey patches giving the tree a mottled appearance. C. erythrophyllum produces sweetly scented cream to pale yellow flowers in spring (September-November). These are followed by 4-winged greenish brown fruits that remain on the tree until the next flowering season.

The River bushwillow has been successfully used as a street tree in urban areas throughout South Africa. This drought and frost resistant tree creates a beautiful shade for a large garden. It is also a good option for wildlife gardens as aquatic birds prefer to breed in the tree. Because of its non-invasive root system, this tree is suitable for planting along driveways.