Ochna serrulata, Carnival Bush or Small-leaved Plane, is one of the first shrubs to flower in very early spring. The flowers often appear before the lovely bronze young leaves.
A beautiful semi-deciduous, ornamental shrub, Ochna serrulata heralds the onset of spring with a blaze of yellow flowers, often before the new leaves appear. After the petals drop the deep red sepals and black fruit continue to add colour to the shrub for two or more months. During the transition, the new leaves emerge all shiny and bronzy-red. The fruit is eaten by many birds.
Family:                       OCHNACEAE      (Ochna family)

Name Derivation:

  • Ochna  –  From the Greek name for a wild pear whose leaves the Ochna’s leaves are said to resemble.
  • serrulata – Finely toothed referring to the finely serrated leaf margins.

Common Names:     Carnival bush, Mickey-mouse bush, small-leafed plane (Eng), fynblaarrooihout (Afr), sifubasenkhala (Swa) and umbovu (Zul).

FSA Number:                  479.1                                     

Ochna serrulata becomes a fairly dense shrub somewhere between 1.5 and 3 m but may grow to 6m, with a spread of 1 – 3m.
Form:                              A small to medium much branched shrub with a rounded, dense crown, rarely a small tree.

Size:                                   1.5 – 3 m by 1 – 2 m (- 3m)

Flower:

  • Showy, yellow flowers with 5 spreading petals, 2 cm across.
  • Borne singularly (occasionally paired) on short (1cm) stalks in the leaf axils.
  • The tip of the stigma is split into 5.
  • The sepals turn red when the petals drop.

Colour                           Yellow.

Flowering Months:         Sep – Nov.

Fragrance:                      Sweetly scented.

Foliage:

  • Semi-deciduous to evergreen.
  • Simple, small leaves are narrowly elliptic (1 – 5 by .5 – 1 cm).
  • Leaves are alternately arranged along branches.
  • Margin is very finely toothed, dark green with prominent venation.
  • New leaves are an attractive coppery to red bronze.

Thorns:                          No thorns.

Fruit:

  • 1 to 6 green ripening to black pea-sized round fleshy fruit attached to a red, swollen calyx.
  • The black fruit with the red calyx and sepals give rise to the common name of ‘Mickey Mouse bush’.
The young leaves of Ochna serrulata are beautiful red-bronze, turning dark green as they age.
1 – 6 Black fruit are attached to an enlarged base below the red sepals.
The black fruit of Ochna serrulata are a favorite with many fruit eating birds.
Bark:          The bark on young branchlets is light brown and covered with raised, pale lenticels.

In the Garden:

  • A very ornamental garden shrub, deserves a prime spot in all, especially small, gardens.
  • Its bright yellow flowers, red calyx and sepals with black fruit give colour to a garden.
  • Will happily grow beneath other tree canopies.
  • May safely be planted close to walls and paving.
  • Plants do grow slowly initially, but start flowering when still young.
  • Fruits attract fruit eating birds into the garden.

Soil Needs:         Grows in most soils.

 Care:

  • A low maintenance garden shrub.
  • Plant in a well composted soil, mulch, feed and water regularly for good results.
  • Prune lightly to shape and give body.
  • If exposed protect from cold when young.
Cold Hardiness:              Cold hardy once established.

Water Requirements:   Drought hardy.              

Light Requirements:     Full sun or partial shade.

Roots:                                The roots are not aggressive.

Birds:

  • The fruit are eaten by many garden birds..
  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
Dark-capped Bulbul is one of the fruit-eating birds that will happily eat the fruit of Ochna serrulata.
Insects and Butterflies:

  • Bees and butterflies visit the flowers
  • Ochna serrulata is host to the larva of the Karkloof Emperor and Marieps Emperor, unfortunately neither is found in Gauteng.
  • It is also larval host plant to some moth species.

Medicinal:    Used to treat infections and gangrenous rectitis in traditional medicine.

Poisonous:   Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  •  Has been grown as a garden shrub in the UK since 1820.
  • Is an invasive pest in Australia and Hawaii.
  • It often gets attractive galls with narrow overlapping pinkish scales that resemble flowers.

Natural Distribution:

  • Occurs along the southern WC, EC, KZN, Swa, M and L.
  • This lovely shrub is endemic to southern Africa.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, fynbos and savanna-bushveld.
  • Grows naturally at forest margins, in grasslands, in scrub forest and on rocky outcrops, from the coast to 1 800m.
Ochna serrulata flowers provide food for bees and adult butterflies.
It is easy to see why this plant is known as a Carnival bush.

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