Heteropyxis natalensis has eye-catching autumn foliage and bark that rivals that of silver birches.

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.

Family:                       HEROPYXIDACEAE        (Lavendertree family).

Name Derivation:

  • 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

Form:

  • 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.

Flowers:

  • Tiny, creamy-yellow flowers in dense, branched clusters at the end of branches.

Colour:                                Creamy-yellow.

Flowering Months:          Dec – Mar.

Heteropyxis natalensis, the Lavender-tree, planted to good effect in a shopping centre car park in Fourways, Johannesburg.
The simple leaves are alternate to whorled, and more or less lanceolate to narrowly elliptic.
Heteropyxis natalensis fruit are small, oval capsules clustered at the end of branches and they split open when ripe, releasing tiny, pepper-sized seed.
Fragrance:

  • Flowers are sweetly scented.
  • Crushed leaves and twigs are sweetly lavender scented.

Foliage:

  • 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:

  • Fruit is a small (5mm) oval capsule that splits open when mature.
  • The capsule contains 4 seed compartments.
Bark:

  • 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.
The beautiful bark of Heteropyxis natalensis is just one of the reasons it is popular with gardeners and landscapers as a feature tree.
Heteropyxis natalensis, as used here in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, make wonderful feature trees in a lawn.
Insectivorous birds, like Boubous, are attracted to feed on the insects that feed on the flowers.
Soil Needs:                         Best in a fertile, well drained soil.

Care:

  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • Protect young plants against cold.

Cold Hardiness:                  Cold hardy, but frost sensitive when young.

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

Light Requirements:           Full sun but will grow in light shade.

Roots:                                    The roots are not aggressive.

Birds:

  • 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.

Medicinal:

  • 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.
Poisonous:                       Not poisonous.

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)!

Natural Distribution:

  • 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,
Natural Habitat:

  • 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.