Buxus natalensis (Oliv.) Hutch.
Common names: large-leaved box, Natal box, box-wattle (Eng.); grootblaarbuksboom, Natalsebuksboom (Afr.); umgalagala, isixesa, umngquzu (isiXhosa); igudlangulubi, umgalagala, umhlulambazo, umhluhlumbazi, umphicamaguma (isiZulu).
SA Tree No: 359
This much-branched shrub to small tree is characterized by its glossy, leathery, dark green leaves that make it most outstanding amongst the rest of the plants in the garden. The greyish brown bark is used traditionally by elderly people to treat memory loss. The plant is native to the coastal region of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, as it requires a moist environment.
A shrub or small tree, 3-5 m tall. The tree has a straight and slender stem, with a grey to brown bark. Young stems are green. The leaves are ovate-lanceolate to elliptic in shape, 50-120 x 20-50 mm, hairless, thinly leathery and dark, shiny green. Flowers are small, in axillary clusters on short, branched stalks, greenish with prominent yellow anthers. Both male and female flowers grow together in the same cluster. They flower in late winter and spring, in August and September.
This plant bears greenish brown fruits, which are about 20 mm long and 12 mm in diameter, crowned with 3 clearly visible horns. Fruiting is in spring and early summer, from September to December. It is a slow-growing shrub or small tree and thus has good longevity.
According to the Red List of South African Plants, checked on 2016/05/13, the conservation status of this plant is Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Buxus natalensis is native to the coastal region of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal; it usually occurs in colonies in coastal, evergreen forest and bush as an undershrub, growing underneath other, taller plants. The plant grows in a moist area, with moisture supplied by the rainfall within the region.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Buxus has approximately 70 species and is in the family Buxaceae. It is found mostly in the western and southern Europe, Asia (excluding northern Asia) where most of the species are frost tolerant. Buxus is also native to subtropical and tropical regions in Africa, Madagascar, Central America to the northern part of South America, with the most diversity occurring in Cuba, China and Madagascar. Buxus natalensis has not received much attention, as compared to its close relatives, such as B. hildebrandtii, B. hyrcana, B. microphylla, B. papillosa and B. sempervirens, which are reported to possess medicinal properties.
The genus Buxus is named from the classical Latin name for the common box, Buxus sempervirens. This species is named for the region where it was first collected, natalensis meaning 'of or from Natal', now KwaZulu-Natal.
This beautiful plant’s glossy leaves and the bright flowers, attract small insects and birds to the garden.
The genus Buxus is known for its various alkaloids with over 200 alkaloids derived from plant species, such as B. hildebrandtii, B. hyrcana, B. microphylla, B. papillosa, and B. sempervirens. These alkaloids are reported to possess anticancer, antimalarial and antituberculosis activities. They have been used to treat dermatological infections, rheumatism and heart disorders. Traditionally in South African communities, Buxus natalensis is used by elderly people to treat memory loss.
The wood is hard, fine-grained and smooth and is resistant to termites. Stems are used in the building of huts.
Growing Buxus natalensis
Buxus natalensis is an attractive garden and container plant. It is slow growing and long lived, and is suitable for shady areas. The glossy leaves of this plant draw attention and make it stand out from other plants. Cultivation of Buxus natalensis is best in a well-watered environment, with humid climatic conditions and temperatures ranging from 11ºC to 28ºC, and it can tolerate frost.
Buxus natalensis is propagated from seeds. Sow seeds early in spring, using a mixture of river sand and potting medium for healthy seedlings.
- Coates Palgrave, M.C. & Coates Palgrave, K.C. 2002. Trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's trees of eastern South Africa, a complete guide. Flora & Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub, Tree
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer
Flower colour: Green, Yellow
Aspect: Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Average