A small to medium ornamental tree, Heteropyxis natalensis has a most attractive crown and mature stems and branches have beautiful bark that rivals that of Silver Birches. In cold areas they give a wonderful autumnal display before dropping their leaves. In warmer areas they are evergreen. The crushed leaves and twigs smell strongly of lavender.
- Heteropyxis – from Greek ‘heteros’ meaning different and Latin pyxis, a jar with a lid, referring to the fruit that differs from the fruit of Myrtaceae (Myrtle family), where this genus was (and sometimes still is) placed.
- natalensis – from Natal, now KwaZulu-Natal.
Common Names: Lavender-tree, Natal lavender (Eng), laventelboom (Afr), masepha (Nso), inkunzi (Swa), thathasani (Tso), mudedede (Ven) and inkhuzwa (Zul).
FSA Number: 455 Zim Number: 742
- A deciduous to evergreen small to medium tree.
- Mostly single stemmed with an attractive crown.
Size: 4 – 8 m (–12 m) by 3 – 5 m.
- Tiny, creamy-yellow flowers in dense, branched clusters at the end of branches.
Flowering Months: Dec – Mar.
- Flowers are sweetly scented.
- Crushed leaves and twigs are sweetly lavender scented.
- Deciduous to evergreen, mostly evergreen in Greater Johannesburg.
- The attractive leaves are simple, alternate to spiraled, margins entire.
- The leaves are more or less lanceolate to narrowly elliptic (4 – 7 by 1 – 2 cm).
- Glossy green above, paler below.
- Leaves turn beautiful yellows, browns, reds and purple at the onset of colder weather in autumn.
Thorns: No thorns.
- Fruit is a small (5mm) oval capsule that splits open when mature.
- The capsule contains 4 seed compartments.
- The bark on young stems is pale brown or grey, smooth to flacking.
- Bark on old stems is pale gray to tan, flaking off to reveal paler, pinkish to orange underbark.
- The attractive mottled appearance of the older stems are a feature of Heteropyxis. natalensis
In the Garden:
- Certainly one of southern Africas most attractive smaller trees.
- In small gardens it can be used as a feature tree.
- In large gardens or open spaces it can be planted in groves to great effect.
- A wildlife friendly plant, attracting insects and birds.
- Makes a very good container plant in a sunny position.
- Very suitable and popular as a bonsai subject.
- Very good choice as a small feature tree in a sunny courtyard.
- Fast growing, up to 1m a year.
- A low maintenance plant.
- Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
- Protect young plants against cold.
- Cold hardy, but frost sensitive when young.
- Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.
- Full sun but will grow in light shade.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
- Insectivorous birds are attracted to the insects that come to the flowers and leaves.
Insects and Butterflies:
- Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of the flowers.
- Bees and wasps feed on the flowers.
- A herbal tea is made from the leaves.
- An infusion of leaves is used to treat colds.
- Treatments for toothache and gum infections are made from roots and twigs.
- Also used for treating nose bleeds and excessive menstrual bleeding.
- The bark is used to treat impotence.
Notes of interest:
- Plants are browsed by kudu, grey-duiker and black rhino.
- The wood is heavy, hard and strong but seldom used other than as fence posts and fuel.
- Leaves are used to make potpourri as well as perfume.
- Bark is considered to be an aphrodisiac (please be careful)!
- Found in the KZN, NWP, G, Swa, M, L, and eastern highlands of of Zim.
- Endemic to southern Africa.
A fine example of a Lavender-tree, Heteropyxis natalensis, growing in its natural environment in the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in north-eastern Gauteng.
- Forest, thickets, savanna-lowveld and savanna-bushveld.
- Grows on wooded rocky slopes and ridges, in woodlands and forest margins.
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.