Besides being an attractive flowering shrub or small tree, Grewia occidentalis is an essential plant for all wildlife friendly gardens. It gets attractive star-shaped flowers that are pink to mauve. The flowers are followed by edible fruit that typically have four lobes. It is also frost hardy and water-wise.

Family:               MALVACEA        (Hibis family)

Previously in Tiliaceae (Linden family).

Name Derivation:

  • Grewia – after Nehemiah Grew (1641 – 1712), an English physician and early plant anatomist.
  • Occidentalis – western.

Common Names:

  • Crossberry, pink donkeyberry (Z) (Eng), kruisbessie (Afr), motshwarabadikana (Nso), molutu (Sso), liklolo (Swa) nsihana (Tso), mokukuto (Tsw), mulembu (Ven), umnqabaza (Xho) and ilananyathi (Zul).

 SAF Number:                   463             Zim Number:                 598  

Form:          A scrambling or upright shrub or small tree.

Size:              2 – 4 m (–7 m) by 2 – 3 m.

Flowers:

  • Pink or mauve (rarely white), up to 3 cm diameter.
  • 5 sepals and 5 petals give the flower a star-like outline.
  • A central mass of yellow stamens contrast with the petals and sepals.
  • 1 – 3 flowers on stalks opposite leaves.
  • Plants in flower are showy.

Colour            Pink, mauve or, rarely, white.

The flowers of Grewia occidentalis, Crossberry, are attractive, pink to mauve in colour and star-like in appearance.

Leaves of Grewia occidentalis are simple, elliptic to ovate and 3-veined from the base, The margins are serrated.

Flowering Months:        Aug – Jan.

Fragrance:                        Not fragrant.

Foliage:

  • Deciduous to evergreen, depending on climate.
  • Simple green leaves are alternate, elliptic to ovate.
  • Leaf margin is finely serrated or scalloped.
  • Leaf base symmetric, rounded with 3 veins.
  • Leaf tapers to a pointed or rounded apex.

Thorns:               No thorns. 

Fruit:

  • The fruit is mostly a four lobed drupe.
  • Green ripening to orange-yellow.
  • Edible, with a sweet and pleasant taste.

 Bark                                Old stems are pale grey and smooth, fairly rounded.

In the Garden:

  • A showy shrub or small tree in flower that is a good fill in mixed flowerbeds.
  • Can be used close to walls and paving as the roots are not agressive.
  • A valuable asset in a wildlife friendly garden, attracting insects and birds.
  • Grewia occidentalis should make a good bonsai subject.
  • Initially very fast growing, up to 1.5 metre per year.

 Soil Needs:           Likes a well drained soil, compost well for good results.

Care:

  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • May be pruned to shape if necessary.
  • Protect young plants against the cold in winter.

Cold Hardiness:                Hardy.

Water Requirements:

  • Drought hardy, but enjoys regular water during  summer.
  • Water-wise.

Grewia occidentalis usually has a 4-lobed drupe that gives this plant its common name “Crossberry”.

 

 

The bark of older stems of Grewia occidentalis plants are smooth and mottled dark and light grey.

Grewia occidentalis, Cross Berry, is often a scrambling shrub, but may become a small tree.

The attractive flowers of Grewia occidentalis attract bees and butterflies.

Light Requirements:    Full sun or partial shade.

Roots:                                  The roots are not aggressive.

Birds:

  • Insect-eating birds are attracted to the insects that visit these trees.
  • Fruit enjoyed by most fruit-eating birds.
  • If thick enough the plants provide shelter and nesting sites to shyer garden birds.

Bees, Butterflies and other insects:

  • Host to the larva of Rufus-winged Elfins and Buff-tipped Skippers, but neither is found in G.
  • Grewia occidentalis is the larval host to 19 species of moths!
  • Adult butterflies, bees and wasps are attracted to the flowers.

 Medicinal:

  • The bark, soaked in hot water, is used to dress injuries.
  • Roots are used to treat bladder problems as well as assist in childbirth.

Poisonous:       Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • Grewia occidentalis wood is used to make walking sticks and assegai handles.
  • A shampoo made from crushed bark and used regularly is said to stop hair from going grey (too late for me!).
  • Both game and stock readily browse the leaves.
  • Besides birds, monkeys and humans relish the tasty fruit.
  • Ripe fruit is boiled in milk to make an interesting refreshment.
  • The fruit is also used to brew a beer.

Natural Distribution:

  •  Found in the WC, EC, eastern NC, FS, Les, KZN, Swa, Moz, M, G, NWP and eastern Zim.
  • The variety occidentalis is endemic to southern Africa.
  • Other varieties of Grewia occidentalis are distributed through Africa to Senegal and Ethiopia, as well in the Middle East.

 Natural Habitat:

  • Savanna-bushveld, savanna-lowveld, thicket, grassland and forest.
  • Occurs in many habitats, as a creeper in forest, as a shrub or small tree in forest margins, dry woodland, bushveld, thicket or on rocky outcrops as an under storey shrub.

A Grewia occidentalis plant growing naturally on a north facing stony grassland slope on the side of the Witwatersrand in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.