Berchemia discolor (Klotzsch) Hemsl.
Common names: birdplum, brown ivory (Eng.); bruinivoor, voëlpruim (Afr.); mogokgomo (Sepedi); nyiyi, nyiri (Xitsonga); motsintsila (Setswana); munie (Tshivenda), nmumu, ubalatsheni-omkhulu, umadlozane, umhlungulo, uvuku (isiZulu)
SA Tree No: 449
Birdplum or brown ivory is an attractive garden tree, with tough, yellow-brown wood that makes excellent furniture and sticks. Berchemia discolor is also used medicinally for various ailments. It can be easily propagated from seed.
Berchemia discolor is a medium to large, deciduous or evergreen tree, up to 20 m tall. Its stem is pale green, covered with brown lenticels, especially when young. The bark is dark grey and roughly fissured.
The leaves are opposite, simple, elliptic or sometimes elliptic-oblong, 50–140 × 25–60 mm, shiny dark green above, pale green below, hairless; midrib prominently raised below and ending at the margin. The flowers are borne in small clusters in the leaf axils and greenish yellow in colour. It flowers in summer, from October to January. The fruit is an ovoid, fleshy drupe, yellow to pale orange when ripe. The fruits appear from January to July.
It is sometimes confused with Berchemia zeyheri (red ivory), which is a smaller tree with more grey-green leaves and yellow to brown-red fruits.
According to Raimondo et al. (2009), Berchemia discolor is Red Listed as LC (Least Concern), as evaluated against the five IUCN criteria.
Distribution and habitat
Berchemia discolor has a wide distribution, from northern KwaZulu-Natal to Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces, and in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. It is also found in Sudan and Ethiopia. It occurs naturally in low-altitude bushveld, usually on river banks.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Berchemia is named in honour of a well-known French botanist, M. Berchem. The specific name discolor is Latin for ‘bi-coloured’, referring to the leaves, which are dark green on the upper surface with a paler undersurface.
Birdplum or brown ivory is browsed by game, such as elephant, giraffe, kudu, bushbuck, impala and damara dik-dik. The fruits are eaten by baboons, vervet monkeys and birds, especially louries, pigeons, starlings, barbets and hornbills.
The bark and leaves are used medicinally for various ailments, such as treating wounds and many more. The Venda people use the fruit and the bark to treat infertility. The wood, which is yellow-brown, hard and attractive, is suitable for furniture and sticks. It also makes good firewood. The fruit is edible, very sweet in taste and also used to make beer or pleasantly flavoured porridge. In traditional medicine, the juice from the fruit is used to treat bleeding gums.
Growing Berchemia discolor
Berchemia discolor can be propagated by seed. Sow fresh seed in a flat seedling tray filled with a mixture of river sand and compost (5:1). Once the seed has germinated, transplant the seedlings into nursery bags filled with a well-drained mixture of river sand, loam and compost (2:2:1). Birdplum/brown ivory is a fast grower, at a rate of 600–800 mm per year. Berchemia discolor is drought resistant. It is frost sensitive, therefore suitable for the frost free areas.
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National Herbarium, Pretoria
Plant Type: Tree
SA Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
PH: Alkaline, Neutral
Flower colour: Green, Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average