Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia is a large, very dense, deciduous shrub or small tree with a weeping habit.
It bears attractive clusters of fragrant lilac, blue to white flowers, from early spring. These are followed by many small orange to black berries that are relished by birds. Although deciduous they are good screening shrubs and can be pruned to the desired shape.
This very drought and cold hardy plant is a very good choice for water-wise and wildlife friendly gardens.
Family: BORAGINACEAE (Borage family).
- Ehretia – named after a German botanical artist, Georg D Ehret (1708 – 1770).
- rigida – ‘rigid’ referring to the stiff branches and branchlets.
- nervifolia – (Latin) ‘nervi’ nerve, muscle or sinew, ‘folia’ leaf.
Puzzlebush (Eng), deurmekaarbos (Afr), morôbê (Nso & Tsw), morobo (Sso), umcele (Swa), mpon’wani (Tso), mutepe (Ven) and umkele (Zul).
SAF Number: 657 Zim Number: 880
Features of Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia
A deciduous, thickly branched, multi-stemmed shrub, or small tree.
Plants have a bit of a weeping appearance.
Size: 2 – 5 m (–7 m) by 3 – 5 m.
Stem and Bark:
- Single or multi-stemmed.
- Bark is quite smooth and grey.
Thorns: No thorns.
The bark of Ehretia rigida is a quiet smooth, light grey to grey-brown.
Leaves are simple, obovate, spiralled or whorled on stubby shoots.
- Leaves are simple, obovate (1–5 x 1-3.5 cm), spiralled or whorled on stubby shoots.
- Leaves are leathery, rough but hairless, dull green above, paler below.
- Margin is entire, rolled under, pockets of hair found in vein axils.
- Lateral veins often raised on both surfaces, reaching almost to the margin.
- Borne in tight clusters of small (7mm) flowers.
- The flowers are tubular with spreading, star-like petals.
- Flowers open pale blue to pale lilac, and age to white.
- Shrubs in full flower are showy.
Colour: Pale blue to lilac, ageing to white.
Flowering Months: Aug – Mar, peak Sep – Oct.
Fragrance: Sweetly scented.
- The fruit is a small, fleshy, round drupe (4 – 6 mm) orange to black when ripe.
- Fruits in profusion (Sep-Mar).
- Style is persistent.
- Fruit is edible, but not tasty.
Ehretia rigida‘s small flowers are borne in tight clusters.
Ehretia rigida bears many small berries that turn orange when ripening.
Growing Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia
The flowers of Ehretia rigida are small, but the massed flowers are showy.
An Ehretia rigida plant with ripe fruit is very attractive.
In the Garden:
- Very attractive when in flower and in fruit, worthy garden shrubs.
- Despite being deciduous Ehretia rigida is a very good screening shrub.
- Plant close together (1.5 – 2m) apart to form an informal but impenetrable hedge.
- In larger gardens, because of its interesting shape, it can be used as a specimen plant.
- A good plant for a wildlife friendly garden, many birds enjoy the fruit.
- A water-wise plant.
- May be pruned to shape.
- May be pruned up to form a tree shape.
- Makes a very good container plant.
- Fairly quick growing, up to 70 cm a year.
Soil Needs: A well-drained, humus rich soil.
- A low maintenance plant.
- Prune it to shape.
Cold Hardiness: Very cold hardy.
- Very drought hardy.
Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade.
- Plant 1.5 – 2m apart to create an impenetrable hedge.
- Plant 3m or more apart for individual plants.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
Ehretia rigida has a dense crown with the branches arching towards the ground.
Ecology of Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia
Acacia Pied Barbets are fruit-eating birds that enjoy Ehretia rigida fruit.
- The ripe fruit is eaten by birds.
- Insectivorous birds are attracted to the insects that come to the flowers.
- The dense branching make this shrub a popular plant for birds to nest in.
Bees: Flowers attract bees, and other insects.
- Not known to host any butterfly larva.
- Adult butterflies feed from the flowers.
- The root is sometimes used to treat gall sickness in cattle
- Used in traditional medicine to treat chest and stomach pains.
- Plant considered having magical properties.
Poisonous: Not poisonous.
Notes of interest:
- The shrubs are browsed by both stock and game.
- Fruit is eaten by humans, monkeys and many birds.
- The pliable branches have been used to make bows, spear shafts and fishing baskets.
- Was the wood of choice as the ‘turning’ stick for making fires by friction.
- Wood used to make pestles.
- Found in north-eastern EC, KZN, Swa, FS, G, NWP, M, L, western Moz and Zim.
- Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia is endemic to southern Africa..
- Grasslands, savanna-Kalahari, savanna-lowveld, savanna-woodland and savanna-bushveld.
- Found on rocky ridges, outcrops, on termitaria and in forest margins.
The clusters of Ehretia rigida are borne along the branches.
The scented flowers of Ehretia rgida flowers attract bees and other insects.
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Ndou, Phillemon “Ehretia rigida” 2003 PlantZAfrica Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens Link http://pza.sanbi.org/ehretia-rigida
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Wikipedia “Ehretia rigida” Link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ehretia_rigida
Woodhall, Steve “Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa” 2nd ed 2020 Struik Nature
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2021.