Tree of the week: Grewia occidentalis – Cross-berry – Mulembu

One of the perfect native hedging plants for gardens, Grewia occidentalis will not outgrow its space constantly. It is usually 2-4 meters high as a tree, with a spread of 2-3 meters. The maximum height under favourable conditions is about 7m. Grewia occidentalis has a very wide distribution, large population in South Africa.

This evergreen to semi-deciduous tree has shiny, dark green leaves and produces distinctive star shaped purple flowers during summer, from October to January. The flowers can vary from purple to pink and have a cluster of prominent, bright yellow stamens. The pretty blooms attract butterflies and bees. These are followed by brownish four lobed berries which are edible and have a pleasant taste.

Apart from hedging, the Cross-berry can be planted as a filler shrub or small tree in mixed flower gardens. Because of its non-invasive root system, this tree is suitable for planting close to paving and walls. Although the Cross-berry can be untidy and straggly if left to grow naturally, it responds well to clipping and can develop a dense branching system. This tree is also a good bonsai subject.Although it can tolerate semi-shade conditions, this tree grows well in full sun. When younger, G. occidentalis can tolerate low temperatures of up to -5 degree celsius, as the tree grows older the ability to resist frost increases.