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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Tree Fuchsia (Halleria Lucida)

Not only is Halleria lucida an attractive indigenous tree and an asset to any garden, it is also one of the best bird attracting trees, being favoured by the Amethyst Sunbird for its abundance of nectar. It is an evergreen tree or large shrub, often multi-stemmed, with a spreading crown and attractive glossy bright green foliage on arching and drooping branches.

The flowers are tubular, orange to brick-red, or yellow, very rich in nectar and are produced in clusters in the axils of leaves and on short shoots on the old wood, even on the main trunk. When in full flower in autumn to summer (May to December/January) it can be very showy, although the flowers are somewhat hidden amongst the leaves and inside the canopy.

Halleria lucida is found in coastal and karroid scrub, deep evergreen forest, forest margins, forested ravines, rocky mountain slopes, near rivers and on stream banks from the Cape peninsula in the south in a strip up the eastern coast of South Africa, through the Eastern Cape to Lesotho, the eastern Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland where it turns inland and roughly follows the escarpment into Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Northern and North West Province. It also occurs in isolated pockets in Zimbabwe. In the more exposed situations it is generally a stocky or shrubby tree that reaches a height of 2-5m but in well watered, protected situations it can reach up to 12m, and in forests, it can grow up to 20m in height.

My Tree Fuchsia after one very severe winter

My research revealed that it is relatively hardy to frost (minimum -7 °C/ 20 °F) but requires protection when young. However, even though mine is quite big already, some winters it suffers severe frost damage but luckily has thus far sprung back to life every spring.

 My Tree Fuchsia at the end of a mild winter

Halleria lucida is easily propagated by seed, and cuttings. It can also be propagated by truncheon cuttings or layering and transplants readily. Young plants may flower for the first time in their second year.Seed is best sown in spring to mid-summer (September to December) or in autumn (March to
May), in a standard well-drained seedling mix and covered lightly with coarse sand or milled bark.

 My Tree Fuchsia in full flower during summer

The Zulu nation has a strong belief in traditional medicine and they use Halleria lucida for skin and ear complaints. Dry leaves are soaked in water and squeezed into the ear to relieve earache. This tree is also considered to be a charm against evil. The twigs are burnt when offering sacrifices to the ancestral spirits. The plants are set alight each year, the ashes mixed with crocodile fat and this mixture is smeared onto cuttings of Rhamnus prinoides which are then driven into the ground around the village to protect the community from wizardry and lightning. The wood can also be used to start a fire by friction. Halleria lucida timber is light coloured tinged with yellow, hard, heavy and strong, well suited to carpentry, but is not much used because the pieces are small. It was once valued for wagon poles, tools and spear shafts.

Family: Scrophulariaceae (Snapdragon Family)
Common Names: Tree Fuchsia (Eng), Notsung; Ouhout; Septee; Witolyf (Afr), umBinza (Xhosa)


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