The Umsimbeet (Millettia Grandis)
This is the tree which gave Simbithi its name: it is called umSimbithi in isiZulu. They are currently in bloom all over the Estate, with their characteristic spray of purple flowers a spectacular display. Red-brown buds first appeared at the ends of branches on upright spikes in Spring and the purple flowers emerged as the buds turned lilac. Examine a flower close-up and you can clearly see that the tree belongs to the legume or pea family. Once the flowers drop, the seed pods will appear. These are beautiful in their own right and are large, flat and covered in golden brown hairs resembling velvet.
Grandis means large. Although Umsimbeets make spectacular specimen trees you really need quite a large garden to do it justice, as they can grow as large as 25 metres and have a large round crown. If planted on poor or in shallow soil they will not grow as big. Interestingly, they grow at low altitude and only occur naturally within 20 kms of the coast. They are easy to cultivate from seed. Put the fresh seed in hot water and soak it overnight before planting in a mix of river sand and compost. They are relatively quick growing once the seedling trees are planted out.
The Orange-barred Playboy butterfly breeds in the pods and the caterpillars of this species bore holes in the seed pods for the butterflies to escape. A second butterfly species, the rare Pondo Charaxes also use the Umsimbeet as host tree. Some of our Simbithi trees have had the bark stripped off at the base of the tress by porcupine.
Have you seen ‘our’ tree in flower around the Estate? Grab a photograph or a selfie and send it to us: firstname.lastname@example.org.