A small to medium, deciduous tree, Combretum molle has a rounded crown. This tree has a real ‘bushveld’ jiz (from the term GISS – general impression of size and shape) or appearance. It has a single stem with attractive dark, rough bark. It often has beautiful yellow and bronze autumn colours. The four-winged seeds are a deep red-brown colour and remain on the plant for up to 6 months. May be planted in groups in large spaces and gardens to create a bushveld feel or used as a feature tree in smaller gardens. It is also cold hardy and fairly fast-growing.
Family: COMBRETACEAE (Bushwillow family)
- Combretum – a name originally given by Pliny to a climbing plant of another genus.
- molle – soft or with soft hairs, referring to the velvety leaves.
Velvet bushwillow, (Eng), fluweelboswilg (Afr), mokgwethe(Nso), imbondvo lemnyama (Swa), xikukutsi (Tso), modubatshipi (Tsw), mugwiti (Ven), and umbondwe omhlope (Zul).
FSA Number: 537 Zim Number: 709
Features of Combretum molle
Small to medium, deciduous, rounded tree.
Size: 4 – 6 m (–10 m) by 4 – 6 m.
Stem and Bark:
- Trees are usually single stemmed.
- The mature bark grey brown to black, rough and fissured into small blocks that flake off.
Thorns: No thorns.
The bark of mature Combretum molle trees is dark brown to black, rough and fissured.
The leaves of Combretum molle are simple and opposite.
- Partly evergreen to deciduous.
- Simple, opposite leaves are elliptic to obovate, 6-10 by 4-6 cm
- Densely hairy, giving the leaves a velvet feel.
- Veins deeply sunken on topside giving a quilted appearance.
- Leaves turn copper, gold, purple and red in autumn and winter.
- Creamy flowers on dense spikes, before or with new leaves.
- Flowers are sweetly scented and attract many insects.
Flowering Months: Aug – Nov.
Fragrance: Sweetly scented
- The attractive, four-winged fruit are quite small (1.5 – 2 by 1.5 cm).
- As they ripen a red-brown tinge forms along the base of the wings and spreads across the wings.
- Each fruit contains one wrinkled seed that looks rather like a small walnut
- Fruits from Jan to Jul.
Growing Combretum molle
The small flowers of Combretum molle are grouped on short spikes.
Combretum molle fruit is four-winged.
The leaves of Combretum molle produce some beautiful colours in autumn and winter.
In the Garden:
- May be used as a small to medium shade tree, or grown in a lawn as a neat and graceful feature tree.
- It can be used along boundary walls or amongst other plants in a shrubbery.
- Group planting in large spaces such as in school grounds, parks, office and housing estates will create a ‘bushveld’ feel to the spaces.
- A wildlife friendly tree, attracting insects and birds.
- A fairly quick growing tree, up to half a metre per year.
- Worth growing for the autumnal colours.
Soil Needs: Most soil types, even rocky soil.
- A low maintenance plant.
- Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
- Protect young plants against the cold in winter.
Cold Hardiness: Cold hardy, but protect young plants.
- Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.
Light Requirements: Full sun but will grow partial shade.
Space Requirements: Plant about 3 m apart.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
Ecology of Combretum molle
There is a wide range of colours in the autumnal leaves.
The soft hairs on the leaves give then a velvety feel.
Canaries use strips of bark pulled from young Combretum molle twigs in constructing their nests.
Combretum molle is a larval host for the Guineafowl butterfly.
- Insect-eating birds are attracted to the insects that visit these trees.
- Amethyst and Black-bellied Sunbirds visit the flowers.
- Canaries pull strips of bark from young twigs to use in building their nests.
- A popular choice for nesting sites with many garden birds.
- Bees gather food from the flowers.
Butterflies and other Insects:
- Combretum molle is the larval host to both the Guineafowl and Morant’s Skipper.
- Flowers are visited by adult butterflies, moths, and other insects.
- Looped and Vernal Prominent moth larva feed on these trees.
- Leaves are used as wound dressings.
- Roots and leaves are used together as a snake-bite antidote.
- Roots are used to treat constipation, infertility and post abortion bleeding.
- Combretum molle is also used in the treatment of stomach complaints, fever and intestinal parasites.
Poisonous: Not poisonous.
Notes of interest:
- The hard, yellow wood is used to make stamping mortars and grinding bowls.
- Poles from Combretum molle are used in hut construction.
- Some antelope do browse the leaves.
- Red dye extracted from the leaves and yellow from the roots is used in weaving.
- Found in KZN, Swa, Moz, M, L, G, NWP, south eastern and north-western Bot and central and northern Zim.
- North of our area its range extends through tropical and east Africa and into the Yemen.
- Savanna-bushveld, savanna-woodland savanna-Kalahari and savanna-lowveld.
- Found in woodland and bushveld, often on rocky ridges and hillsides.
A Combretum molle tree growing in the wild in Mkuzi Game Reserve, KZN.
Links to other species of the Combretum genus
To go to the “plant blog” click on the picture or the plant name below the picture.
Boon, Richard “Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa, a Complete Guide” 2nd ed. 2010 Flora & Fauna Publications Durban.
Botha, Charles & Julia “Bring Butterflies back to Your Garden” 2006 KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa. Mayville.
Carr, J D “Combretaceae in Southern Africa” 1988 Tree Society of Southern Africa” Johannesburg
Coates Palgrave, K C, edited Coates Palgrave, M C “Trees of Southern Africa” 2002 Struik Publishers Cape Town
Johnson, David & Sally & Nichols, Geoff “Gardening with Indigenous Trees” 2002, Struik Publishers Cape Town
Masupa, Thabu “Combretum molle” 2011 Plantza, National Herbarium. Link: http://pza.sanbi.org/combretum-molle
Palmer, E & Pitman, N “Trees of Southern Africa Volume 3” 1973 A A Balkema Cape Town
Schmidt, E, Lotter M Cleland W “Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park 2002 Jacana Johannesburg
Wikipedia “Combretum krausii” Link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combretum_kraussii
Woodhall, Steve “Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa” 2nd ed 2020 Struik Natture Cape Town
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2021.