About Richard Boon
My interest in nature started when I was about 18 and began with the common garden birds. A friend suggested I visit Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve to see more species and I fell in love with the place (I estimate I have visited over 1 000 times). On my first visit, I was trailed by Geoff Nichols who managed the reserve at the time and watched over it like a hawk. When he realised I was there for legitimate reasons, we got talking. It didn’t take me long to realise that I had just met the best naturalist in Durban. This was the start of a new journey for me as my interest in birds diversified to an interest in nature and with Geoff’s help I started learning plants.
In the final year of my degree, I did a project at Twinstreams near Mtunzini and met Ian Garland on a day that we separately found a Pied Wheatear on his farm. I remember us poring over books in Ian’s study and we then called renowned ornithologist Ian Sinclair to tell him that we thought we had found a new species of bird for South Africa. We were thrilled when Ian Sinclair confirmed our sighting! During this period Ian Garland introduced me to his good friend Hamish Campbell who became my next mentor. Hamish was the most exceptional person I have met. He had a great love for Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve, birds and people. Travelling with Hamish, we would visit Vernon Crookes nearly every Sunday to arrive before dawn to watch stars and listen to the dawn chorus further nurturing my interest in nature.
With my interest fully stoked, I decided to do my MSc. on small urban nature reserves and used Pigeon Valley and Natal Robins (or Red-capped Robin-chats, a name I can’t get used to because ours is not Red-capped) and other birds to investigate various island biogeography questions. My supervisor was Professor J.C. Poynton, a top African amphibian taxonomist who was internationally renowned for his interest and knowledge about the philosophy of science. Whilst still completing my studies, Prof Poynton emigrated to the United Kingdom and Debra Roberts, a previous student of Prof. Poynton, kindly agreed to take over as my supervisor and was later to have a major influence on my career.
In the 1990’s I joined WESSA as a Conservation Biologist where Keith Cooper was my boss. Keith had an excellent knowledge of trees having published on Natal and Transkei forests and this further developed my interest in trees so much so that in 2002 whilst working for eThekwini Municipality I was asked by the Flora and Fauna Publications Trust to join a project team to revise The Trees of Natal, Zululand and the Transkei by Elsa Pooley, which was first published in 1993.
It was a fantastic opportunity, which I naturally accepted. In time, other team members found they had less time to devote to the project than they originally thought and I ended up being responsible for the revision, a job which was only completed in 2010 when the field guide was finally published.
I am always keen to share my knowledge and promote information on trees so gladly accepted Kloof Conservancy’s request to write a two part article on the trees of Kloof. In this first part I cover some of the more frequently seen and recognised trees and in the next edition I will cover some of the rare trees of Kloof.
EUPHORBIACEAE – Euphorbia family
Macaranga capensis River Macaranga
The River Macaranga is a deciduous, fast-growing, medium to tall tree reaching a respectable 25 m in height. Macaranga is an Old World genus of about 300 species, with only two species occurring in southern Africa. The River Macaranga mostly grows in wet areas, often in forest and forest margins, from the northern Eastern Cape to Ethiopia and Sudan. The trunk is straight and usually buttressed. Buttress roots are a common feature of our scarp forest trees as they help prevent toppling, which is useful where trees grow on shallow soils and experience strong winds. The leaves are large, poplar-like and often egg-shaped and the base is frequently more or less square. The apex has a short, but distinct drip tip. Drip tips may help to remove water from leaf surfaces and prevent the build of fungi and bacteria. The leaves have three distinct main veins and the stalk is long and often tinged pink. Unusually for local trees, the stalk is attached to the lower s urface of the leaf near the margin rather than at the margin (peltate). The tiny flowers are presented in long sprays and trees are either male or female. The fruit is a capsule and contains one seed with a soft, pinkish aril. River Macarangas can be used to secure stream banks. The wood is useful for construction and furniture and the bark is much sought after for medicinal uses.
CELTIDACEAE – White-stinkwood family
Celtis africana White-stinkwood
White-stinkwoods are fast growing, deciduous trees, which under certain conditions reach sizeable proportions. The hyphenated common name is an attempt to distinguish the three South African Celtis species or White-stinkwoods from the true Stinkwood (Ocotea bullata), an unrelated tree. Celtis species were previously included in the Elm family Ulmaceae, were moved to the Celtidaceae and have more recently been included in an enlarged Cannabaceae family. Take your pick! The combination of buttressed stem, pale bark and bare branches in winter is very attractive. The inconspicuous flowers open in early spring and appear with the fresh-green growth. This is an easy tree to identify. Celtis africana leaves have asymmetrical bases and there are three main veins. The leaf margin is serrated in the upper two-thirds. The yellow fruit ripens in late summer to autumn and is relished by birds and monkeys. They make great garden and landscape trees where space allows. If you grow a White-stinkwood, make sure your plant is from a local source. Upcountry ecotypes differ and have hairy leaves. You also need to watch out for the similar alien species, referred to elsewhere in the world as hackberries or nettle trees that have naturalised, especially on the Highveld. In some summers White-stinkwoods and the Pigeonwood (Trema orientalis) can be completely defoliated by the slimy grub of a beetle called Galerucella trilobata. The beetles cause no serious harm to the trees and the infestation soon passes, sometimes assisted by cuckoos.
MELIACEAE – Mahogany family
Trichilia dregeana Forest Natal-mahogany
APOCYNACEAE – Amatungulu or Oleander family
Rauvolfia caffra Quinine-tree
BURSERACEAE – Corkwood family
Commiphora harveyi Copper-stem Corkwood
PHYLLANTHACEAE – Potato-bush family
Anitdesma venosum Tassel-berry
ARALIACEAE – Cabbage-tree family
Cussonia sphaerocephala Forest Cabbage-tree
The Forest Cabbage-tree is an emergent forest tree with large, dark green, complex compound leaves clustered in distinct round heads, hence the Latin name sphaerocephala or round head. C. sphaerocephala is a regional endemic confined mostly to KwaZulu-Natal where it grows at low to medium altitudes. Large specimens have minor buttressing at the base and corky stems. The flowers are arranged at the end of the long stems in dense spikes clustered in umbels, which are in turn arranged in a larger umbel, thus forming a twice-compound inflorescence. The inflorescences take two seasons to develop. The greenish-yellow flowers are very attractive to insects, especially flies. The fleshy, cone-shaped, purple fruits are eaten by birds and monkeys. Cabbage-trees make excellent landscape feature plants, but they shouldn’t be grown where their roots can damage built structures. Some of the other local species are slighter and better suited to small gardens.
Photo of Knysna Turaco: Hugh Chittenden
FABACEAE – Pea family
Erythrina lysistemon Coral-tree
PROTEACEAE – Protea family
Protea roupelliae Silver Protea
SCROPHULARIACEAE – Snapdragon family
Halleria lucida Tree-fuchsia or Halleria
About the Author
Richard Boon is well known not only for his outstanding book Trees of Eastern South Africa – A Complete Guide but also for his environmental work at WESSA in the 90’s and since 2000 as part of the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department at eThekwini where he heads up the Biodiversity Planning Branch. Richard is a practical botanist with over 20 years’ field experience. He also enjoys photographing plants and other natural subjects.