Top 5 South African Trees


South Africa is home to an incredible variety of indigenous trees and shrubs, we’ve created a list of the top 5 indigenous trees for gardens in South Africa.

The criteria used to compile the list is as follows; the tree is indigenous to South Africa, it is relatively fast growing, moderately frost tolerant and has a non-aggressive root system.

5. Vachellia sieberiana (Flat top paperbark)

This beautifully shaped tree with perfectly flattened crowns is called the Vachellia sieberiana. It is commonly known as Paperbark thorn in English, Papierbasdoring in Afrikaans and umKhamba in Zulu. It grows up to 12 metres high and it’s crown can grow up to 16 metres wide with dark green leaves. It has an attractive creamy-tan to yellow-brown corky bark which is flaky and papery. The bark peels off in flattish strips, revealing a yellow under bark.

In Spring, balls of creamy to pale yellow scented flowers are borne with paired thorns that are long, strong, straight and white. Light brown, cylindrical, thickened and woody pods are formed in Autumn. The Paperbark is found in woodlands, wooded grasslands and along riverbanks, so it thrives all over South Africa. The Paperbark thorn tree is half-hardy and very fast-growing with fertile soil and sufficient water, and tolerates temperatures ranging from about -2°C to 40°C. It is easily propagated from seed and is suitable for medium to large gardens.

4. Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum)

The Harpephyllum caffrum is famously planted as a street tree in a number of South African towns and cities. It is commonly known as Wild plum in English, Wildepruim in Afrikaans and  umGwenya in Zulu. It is an attractive evergreen tree that attracts birds and butterflies into the garden. It is also great for shade. The wild plum grows up to 15 metres tall and is usually found in riverine forests. Its bark is smooth when young, becoming a rough, dark grey-brown as it ages. It’s branches are curved and bowed upwards. It has shiny dark green and glossy leaves that are pinnate with sickle-shaped leaflets, and have a thick crown at the top of the tree. Throughout summer, whitish green flowers are borne followed by tasty plum-like fruits. The plum-like fruit is green, but later turns red when they ripen in Autumn. It contains a single seed that is perfect for human and animal consumption. The Wild plum grows easily well from the Eastern Cape northwards through to KwaZulu-Natal. The seeds take 7 to 11 days to germinate. It can also be propagated by means of cuttings and truncheons.

3. Syzygium guineense (Waterpear)

The Syzygium guineense is a lovely medium-sized to large evergreen tree with beautiful purplish-red leaves. It is better known as the Waterpear in English, Waterpeer in Afrikaans and umDoni in isiNdebele. The Waterpear grows up to 15 to 20 metres high. Its bark is smooth and greyish-white to grey-brown when young and turns rough, flaky, creamy, light grey, dark brown or black as it grows older. The leaves are 50 to 175 millimetres long and 15-75 millimetres wide. The new foliage is a very attractive purplish-red, and older leaves are yellowish-green to glossy dark green on the upper surface and are somewhat a paler green colour underneath. From August to December, creamy white flowers with a sweet fragrance appear, followed by fruits from December to April. The edible fruits are dark purple when mature, with a single rounded seed. They can be enjoyed by humans and birds. The Waterpear grows in moist conditions and sometimes even in water. It prefers fresh, moist, well-drained soils with a high water table, but will also grow in open woodlands. If you are located in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo then this is the perfect tree for your garden. The Waterpear is easily propagated from seed and is best sown in Autumn in order to ensure success. The Waterpear is truly a most handsome tree.

2. Syzygium cordatum (Water berry)

The Syzygium cordatum is a beautiful tree that is home to many birds and insects. It is very popular in the Betty’s Bay area of the Western Cape. It is commonly known as Water berry in English, Waterbessieboom in Afrikaans and Mawthoo in Southern Sotho. The Water berry is an evergreen, water-loving tree, which grows to a height of 8 to 15 metres. Its leaves are elliptic to circular, bluish green on top and a paler green colour below. In Spring, white to pinkish fragrant flowers are borne in branched terminals and have numerous fluffy stamens and produce abundant nectar. Its fruits are oval berries, red to dark-purple when ripe. Its natural habitat are streambanks, on forest margins or in swampy spots. It can be found in forest margins, bushes and in open grassland. The Water berry makes an excellent garden tree in regions such as the Eastern Cape through to KwaZulu-Natal and northwards to Mozambique. It grows very easily and it is relatively fast growing but requires a lot of water. This is a water-loving tree, so it is best planted in full sun near a stream or river bank or any damp area.

1. Olea Africana (Wild Olive)

The Olea Africana is also known as the Wild Olive. It is called the Olienhout I Afrikaans, Mohlware in Sotho and  umNquma in Zulu. It is a neatly shaped evergreen tree with a dense spreading crown of about 9 x 12 metres of glossy grey-green to dark-green foliage. Its leaves are grey-green to dark-green above and greyish below. Its bark is rough and grey and sometimes peels off in strips. From Spring to Summer, sprays of tiny, lightly scented white to greenish flowers are borne. These are followed by small, spherical, purple-black fruits which ripen Winter. The Wild Olive is found in a variety of habitats, often near water such as rocky hillsides, on stream banks and in woodland. It grows easily and thrives all over South Africa. It is frost, drought and wind-resistant and makes a good shade or landscaping tree in home gardens, golf courses and the office environment. It is most popular for street planting, schools, office complexes, and in parks. It requires moderate amounts of water throughout the year and grows in both Summer and Winter rainfall areas. In addition, it occurs in very dry areas, and tolerates temperatures ranging from about – 5°C to 40°C. The Wild Olive is truly worth the investment.

Just Trees has a wide variety of wonderful trees including our top five as mentioned in this article.

These trees are suitable for small gardens as well as larger landscaping projects. If you are looking to enhance your home or your clients garden, property or office environment, or simply looking to do a good deed for the planet then head over to www.justtrees.co.za to view our wide selection of trees today! 

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