Buxus macowanii Oliv.
Common names: African box, Cape box, small-leaved box (Eng.), buig-my-nie, Afrikaansebuksboom, Kaapsebuksboom, kleinblaarbuksboom (Afr.), igalagala (isiXhosa), umgalagala, umphicamaguma (isiZulu)
A small, very slow-growing tree with a clean slender stem and a dense crown of shiny green leaves; it is a good pot plant, can be clipped and trained into a low hedge, and it will grow in shade.
Buxus macowanii is a small, very slow-growing tree up to about 7 m tall. It has a clean slender, greenish-brown stem of up to 300 mm in diameter but usually less. Shiny green leaves create the crown. The twigs are angled, slightly hairy when young and smooth when old. The leaves, are opposite and entire. They are arranged at right angles to each other and are up to 25 mm long. They are oval to widely lance-shaped, with a bluntly pointed or round apex and are narrow at the base. They are deeply green, leathery, smooth both sides, with the lateral veins scarcely visible.
The flowers bloom from late winter to spring (July to October), and male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree. This is called a monoecious situation. The flowers are tiny and greenish. The male flowers are held in short heads in the axils of the leaves and the female are usually single or occasionally grouped. The fruit is a small greenish brown capsule, about 7 mm in diameter, crowned with 3 conspicuous horns, which are the remains of the styles. Fruits ripen from late summer to early winter (February to June). Once ripe, the fruit splits to release shiny black seeds.
According to the website http://redlist.sanbi.org, checked on 21 June 2016, the conservation status of this plant is Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Buxus macowanii grows in forest, on hill slopes, in valleys, on a variety of soils, occurring in the coastal belt from the Eastern Cape to southern KwaZulu-Natal up to Oribi Gorge and in in a disjunct distribution inland in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West Province.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This attractive plant belongs to a family of over thirty species of trees, shrubs and herbs belonging to seven genera. The members are widely distributed throughout the temperate countries of the globe, excluding America and Australia. Members are characterized by simple, evergreen leaves, opposite or alternating, no stipule and male and female flowers are separate (either on the same or separate plants).
The species name of this plant macowanii honours Dr Peter MacOwan (1830-1909), Director of the Cape Town Botanic Gardens, and later Professor of Botany at the South African College, and Government Botanist in charge of the Herbarium until 1905. The name Buxus is an ancient Latin name for the Common Box or European Box (Buxus sempervirens).
The wood of Buxus macowanii is very beautiful. It is yellow, hard, fine-grained and has a smooth texture. It is used for clay-modeling tools, musical instruments, model-making and was once in great demand for engraving; especially for printing. It is also used for firewood. The slower growing trees of the mountains make better quality, more finely textured wood than those on the plains.
Although much of South Africa's best timber was exploited in the early days of settlement, the Cape Box was strangely enough neglected until 1883 when it was only used for firewood. Then from 1886 onwards export trade of this species with Europe began and thus its exploitation. The wood of the Cape box resembles that of Buxus sempervirens, which is the European Box.
Growing Buxus macowanii
Buxus macowanii can be grown from seeds, although it is very slow. Many of the seeds are parasitized, but when collected early before infection and stored in a cool dry place, they can be saved. Sow seeds in spring to summer. It can also be propagated by cuttings, taken in summer, treated with rooting hormone and rooted in a mist unit with heated benches.
This plant makes a very good pot plant as well as a low hedge, and deserves to be cultivated far more widely. Grow it in sun, semi shade or deep shade, although plants in shade are less bushy and dense and are slower growing. Water generously, particularly during summer and grow in fertile, well-drained soil and feed regularly for best results. The plants can be clipped and shaped into a low hedge or topiary.
- Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa, A.A. Balkema Publishers, Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The Complete Guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei, Natal Flora Publication Trust, Durban.
- Palgrave, K. C. 1977. Trees of Southern Africa, C. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
Mhlonishwa D. Dlamini and Sharon Turner
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden
updated in June 2016
Plant Type: Shrub, Tree
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Winter
Flower colour: Green
Aspect: Full Sun, Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy