Shimmering Shades of spring
From August to November, the bushveld is aglow with the bright red blooms of the Schotia tree. Also known as the weeping boer-bean, or huilboerboon in Afrikaans, Schotia brachypetala is a medium to large sized tree, reaching up to 22m high, with an attractive densely branched and rounded crown.
The term 'huil' in Afrikaans means 'to cry' and probably stems from the copious amounts of nectar which constantly weep from the flowers of the tree. This nectar, attracts a small parasitic insect, Ptyelus grossus, which sucks up the sap and then excretes a froth that drips from the branches. This is another likely, although less attractive, source of the name.
This abundance of nectar can cause the flowers to sparkle in the sunlight on bright days.
The rich red flowers are unique in that the petals are almost completely diminished to linear filaments with the colour stemming from the brightly coloured sepals, stamens and flower stalks. The Greek word brachypetala means 'having short petals'.
When grown close together, the trees do not all flower at the same time, providing a source of food for nectar-feeding birds over a longer period of time.
Sunbirds are particularly fond of schotia brachypetala flowers, but bees and other insects are also attracted by them, as are baboons, monkeys and starlings. Other birds eat the seeds or the insects which are attracted to them and black rhino are partial to the bark.
All the species of the Schotia are known as boer-bean (farm bean) trees because of their edible seeds which resemble broad beans. They are usually served roasted and have a high carbohydrate and low-fat content.
Other uses for this tree include the use of the bark and root in concoctions to purify the blood, treat nervous system disorders and diarrhoea and for facial saunas. The bark also produces a red brown colour when used as a dye, and the wood is used to make furniture and flooring, especially the heartwood which is an attractive black colour and almost completely termite resistant. In the past, the wood was used for wagon beams.
The tree makes a handsome garden specimen for both large and small areas, as it is easy to grown and remains evergreen in warm frost-free areas. Care should be taken not to plant it close to areas where the dripping nectar would be inconvenient.
Schotia brachypetalagrows from Umtata in the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Northern Province and into Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It is fairly common in warm, dry bushveld areas; ask your game guide to point them out to you on your next drive.