Dichrostachys cinerea, Sickle-bush or sekelbos is a large shrub or small tree with attractive and novel bi-coloured flowers that are followed by interesting, intertwined pods.
It can easily be pruned into shapely, single stemmed trees, or be thickly planted along boundaries to form an impenetrable security hedge.
Family: FABACEAE (Pea family)
Sub-family: MIMOSOIDEAE (Thorn-tree sub-family)
- Dichrostachys – of Greek origin, from ‘di’, two, ‘chroos’, colour and ‘stachys’, spike, referring to the bi-coloured flower spikes.
- cinerea – ash coloured (referring to the Indian subspecies).
Common Names: Sicklebush (Eng), kleinblaarsekelbos (Afr), moretse (Nso), lusekwane (Swa) ndzenga (Tso), moselesele (Tsw) murenzhe (Ven) and ugagane (Zul).
SAF Number: 190 Zim Number: 213
Features of Dichrostachys cinerea
The older bark is of Dichrostachys cinerea is dark red-brown or grey, rough and grooved.
A shrub or small, thorn-tree like tree.
Size: 2 – 6 m by 2 – 5 m.
Stem and Bark:
- Typically multi-stemmed, but may be pruned to have a single stem.
- Bark on young branches green to deep red and hairy.
- Bark is dark red-brown or grey, rough and grooved.
- Side-shoots are modified to form long, sharp, vicious spines.
- The spines are known to penetrate even tractor tyres.
- Deciduous or semi-deciduous.
- Leaves are bipinnate (compound leaves that are twice divided),
- The leaves are light green, soft to touch.
- They resemble those of some Thorn-trees.
- Distinctive pendulous flowers are spikes that are pink or mauve on the top part and yellow below.
- Borne along the branches.
- Quite spectacular in flower.
Colour: (White) pink to mauve above, yellow below.
Flowering Months: Oct –Feb.
Fragrance: Flowers are scented.
The bi-pinnate leaves of Dichrostachys cinerea look similar to those of some thorn-trees.
Dichrostachys cinerea flowers are unusual and attractive.
Dichrostachys cinerea seedpods are curly and hang in twisted clusters..
- Seedpods are distinctly twisted and hang in contorted clusters.
- From Feb to Sep.
- Pods remain on the tree for a long time and some may be found all year.
Growing Dichrostachys cinerea
In the Garden:
- Its attractive lantern-like flowers and interesting branch patterns while leafless make for a good feature plant.
- Selective pruning will result in a well-formed specimen tree.
- Planted closely together, Dichrostachys cinerea can be used as an effective security hedge.
- A good choice for wildlife friendly gardens, attracting insects, butterflies and birds.
- Good bonsai subjects.
Their sharp spines make Dichrostachys cinerea a good boundry security plant.
The sharp spines on Dichrostachys cinerea are modified branches.
The Dichrostachys cinerea is sometimes called Kalahari Christmas tree because the flowers look like Christmas decorations.
- Plant with plenty of compost and bonemeal, in most soils.
- A low maintenance garden tree.
- Moderately fast growing, 600 – 800 cm in a year, feed regularly.
- Prune selectively to create a well shaped single stemmed tree.
Cold Hardiness: Cold hardy.
- Very drought hardy.
Light Requirements: Full sun.
- Plant about 2 metres apart to form an impenetrable hedge,
- Plant 4 to 5 metres apart for shapely plants.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
Ecology of Dichrostachys cinerea
- Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
- The thorny branches are used as nesting sites by some birds.
- Bees are important pollinators for Dichrostachys cinerea.
Butterflies and other Insects:
- The larval host to the Satyr Charaxes, as well as 3 moth species.
- Many insects do visit the flowers.
The larvae of the Satyr Charaxes feed on Dichrostachys cinerea. They are not found in Gauteng.
A Dichrostachys cinerea tree in habitat in the Waterberg, Limpopo.
- Used in traditional medicine to treat many ailments from body pain to backache, toothache, syphilis, leprosy, elephantiasis and more.
- Chewed leaves are used to treat snake bites and scorpion stings.
- Also used as a purgative, diuretic, styptic and even an aphrodisiac.
Poisonous: Not poisonous.
Notes of interest:
- Pods, leaves and young twigs are eaten by stock and many game species.
- Elsewhere in the world, bats are important pollinators for these plants.
- Dichrostachys cinerea readily encroaches overgrazed and trampled pastures.
- Make good charcoal as well as firewood for braais.
- Rope is made from the inner bark, tool handles from the wood.
- Two subspecies are recognized in southern Africa, africana and nyassana, but are hard to differentiate.
- KZN, Moz, M, G, L, NW, northern NC, Bot, Zim and Nam.
- Outside southern Africa, the distribution extends through Africa, the Middle East, India, south-east Asia, and Australia.
- Grasslands, Nama-Karoo, thicket, savanna-bushveld, savanna-Kalahari, savanna-lowveld, and savanna-woodland.
Dichrostachys cinerea tree in natural habitat.
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Wikipedia “Dichrostachys cinerea” Link: Https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dichrostachys_cinerea
Woodhall, Steve “Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa” 2nd ed 2020 Struik Nature Cape Town
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2011 & 2021.