A request from a homeowner recently asking for “small trees that are a good barrier and produce fruit for birds” immediately conjured up this family of so-called Kei-apples or Dovyalis. We have three species on our permitted list of plants, and they certainly fit the bill as they are shrubs or small trees, whose growth and spines form an effective barrier and all three species produce fruit that is eaten by birds, people, and game. All three are also dioecious, having male and female flowers on separate trees with only female trees bearing fruit. The flowers are generally small and inconspicuous but are laden with nectar and so encourage insects which in turn lure the insect eating birds which are also important pollinators of this group of trees. All three of these species can be cultivated by seed or from hardwood cuttings. Cuttings do best if treated with hormone powder. Trees are usually available from local indigenous tree nurseries. If using seed, make sure they are taken from fully ripe fruit. Put the cleaned, dry seeds onto a mix of coarse river sand and compost. Press the seeds lightly into the mix and cover with a thin layer of additional sand. All three species grow fairly quickly, and all grow in full sun or dappled shade.
First on our list is simply known as the Kei-apple, Dovyalis caffra. The isiZulu name of umqokolo hardly conjures up the delicious, juicy, yet acidic taste of the fruit. Evergreen and usually between 3 to 5m high, these plants are often more of a shrub than a tree but can grow to 8m tall. in ideal conditions. This species has the largest fruit, 4 to 6cms in diameter. They are a lovely yellow when ripe and the skin is soft and velvety to the touch. The fruit is delicious, high in Vitamin C and makes an excellent jam. I doubt many residents will be making jjam though, as our beautiful, Purple-crested Turacos, Dark-capped bulbuls and other fruit eating birds love this fruit as do the monkeys. Residents often complain how monkeys are wasteful, only taking a bite or two before throwing down the rest of the fruit. On the other hand, have you ever noticed how our red and blue duikers often follow the path of a monkey troop eagerly foraging on the fallen flowers, leaves and fruit that the monkeys have dropped?
Next on the list is the Coast Kei-apple, Dovyalis longispina. The name gives a clue that it has long spines, 8cms in length that are borne along its branches. It is an attractive shrub to small tree on account of its glossy, dark-green leaves and bright orangey-red fruit, resembling berries. It flowers from August to October, well before the former species. The male flowers have lots more stamens so are prettier than the female flowers. The sweet yet acidic fruit are edible for people and attract our fruit eating birds. Dark capped bulbuls also make use of this tree for nesting. Monkeys and duiker enjoy the ripe fruit. Despite its thorns, this tree is suited for smallish gardens and a female tree planted singly makes a delightful focal point especially when in fruit.
The last of the three on our list is the Sourberry Kei-apple, Dovyalis rhamnoides. Of the three species, this is the most variable in size and can be anything from 1 – 7 metres tall as an adult tree. It too has long spines so is used by nesting birds due to the protection that thorns afford. The young oval-shaped leaves are hairy but later become smooth and glossy. The fruit are small, red, oval berries. They are not produced as abundantly as in the Coastal Kei-apple and may not be produced each year. They are edible raw and have been used to make jams, jelly, vinegar and even liqueur. Birds, monkeys, and duikers enjoy the fruit.
Simbithi gardens could well be enhanced by the planting of one or more of these three species of Kei-apple but do plant more than one of each species so that you are more likely to have both male and female trees.
For more information refer to:
Boon, R. 2010. Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa. Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
Bird – pro App.
Even non-birders on Simbithi are familiar with this abundant little bird and their various calls as pairs of them forage daily in our gardens. South Africans fondly call them “toppies” due to the crest of feathers that stand up from the back of crown of their heads. About 75% of their diet is fruit, primarily indigenous berries and drupes. The next largest segment of their diet is nectar and flowers and they are important pollinators particularly of Marlothi aloes. But they also consume insects including harmful pests such as fruit-flies. A research study showed that ‘toppies’ obtain adequate nutrients from fruit for maintenance but supplement their diet with insects and nectar to obtain nutrients required for additional activities.
Watch Dark-capped bulbuls and you will notice how happily they greet each other, and pairs form close bonds. On several occasions while doing chameleon counts I have spied a pair sleeping side by side with their yellow vents revealing they are ‘seated head to tail’. If you have a bird bath you will see them characteristically hopping in and out repeatedly to bath. Usually the first bird to spot snakes or other predators, they make a huge commotion that alert other birds to join the fray and help mob the predator.
As the photos reveal it is difficult to describe this incredibly beautiful bird. Large yet elusive, they are more often heard than seen. They bound along branches in the forest canopy to feed. As they fly from one tree to another, the red ‘stained glass windows’ of their wings can be clearly seen while they glide. If you want to observe these birds, sign up for one of the Saturday birding walks on Simbithi. Purple-crested Turaco are not fussy about what fruit they eat and, more than 32 species of indigenous have been recorded in their diet as well as the fruits of some cultivated and invasive species.
Their nests are a platform of sticks gathered from the canopies of tress rather than from the ground. One bird will collect the material while its mate does all the building when they sticks are delivered to the chosen spot. Both birds incubate the eggs which are white and almost spherical.