Combertum molle is small to medium, deciduous tree with a rounded crown. It has a real ‘bushveld’ jiz or ‘feel’. 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. It is also cold hardy and fairly fast growing.

Family:               COMBRETACEAE        (Bushwillow family)

Name Derivation:

  • 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.

Common Names:          Velvet bushwillow, (Eng), fluweelboswilg (Afr), mokgwethe(Nso), imbondvo lemnyama (Swa), xikukutsi (Tso), modubatshipi (Tsw), mugwiti (Ven), and umbondwe omhlope (Zul).

SAF Number:                  537                         Zim Number:                  709

Form:                                Small to medium, deciduous, rounded tree.

Size:                                   4 – 6 m (–10 m) by 4 – 6 m.

Flowers:

  • Creamy flowers on dense spikes, before or with new leaves.
  • Flowers are sweetly scented and attract many insects.

Colour:                               Creamy.

Flowering Months:          Aug – Nov.

Fragrance:                        Sweetly scented.

Foliage:

  • 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 and red before dropping in autumn.

Thorns:                          No thorns.

Fruit:

  • 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.

 Bark:

  • The mature bark grey brown to black, rough and fissured into small blocks that flake off.           

In the Garden:

  • May be used as a small to medium shade or grown in a lawn as a neat and graceful feature tree.
  • It can be used along boundary walls or among 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.

 Soil Needs:                         Most soil types.

Planting spacing:

  • Plant as a focal tree.
  • Planted 3 or more 3 or 4 m apart to create a savanna-like grove.

Care:

  • 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.

Water Requirements:          Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.

Light Requirements:        Full sun but will grow partial shade.

Roots:                                  The roots are not aggressive.

Birds:

  • Insect-eating birds are attracted to the insects that visit these trees.
  • Amethyst and White-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.

Butterflies:

  • Combretum molle is the larval host to both the Guineafowl and Morant’s Skipper.
  • Flowers are visited by adult butterflies.
  • Looped and Vernal Prominent moth larva feed on these trees.

Bees:                                  Bees and other insects feed off the flowers.

Medicinal:

  • Leaves are used to 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.

Natural Distribution:

  • 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.

Natural Habitat:

  • Savanna-bushveld, savanna-woodland savanna-Kalahari and savanna-lowveld.
  • Found in woodland and bushveld, often on rocky ridges and hillsides.