Dialium schlechteri Harms
Common names: sherbet tree, zulu podberry (Eng.); zoeloepeulbessie (Afr.); umThiba (Zulu); ensiba (Tsonga); enziva (Ronga)
SA Tree No: 211
This very attractive forest tree, with shiny leaves and mottled white bark, will appeal to every tree lover in South Africa.
Dialium schlechteri is a small to medium-sized (5-15 m) deciduous tree found in sand forest and coastal forests in Maputaland (Tongaland) in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It is usually multi-stemmed with a dense rounded crown. The bark is pale grey, smooth and mottled. Leaves are compound, opposite, subopposite to alternate, with 3-6 pairs of leaflets and a terminal one; leaflets are oblong and shiny green with asymmetric bases and entire margins. The leaves turn yellow before dropping.
Small flowers (10 mm long) are borne in terminal compact branched heads (80 x 80 mm diameter). They have a strong but unpleasant scent. Petals are absent. The inside of the calyx lobes is white; on the outside they are covered with golden brown velvety hairs.
The fruit pods are oval, thin-shelled and velvety red-brown (25 mm long). A bright orange, dry pith surrounds the seeds. The brown fruits are usually borne in profusion from autumn onwards.
Dialium schlechteri is not threatened (Least Concern).
Distribution and habitat
In South Africa, D. schlechteri occurs only in Maputaland in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It also occurs in Mozambique.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The specific name honours Rudolf Schlechter who was a German botanist. He collected widely in South Africa between 1891 and 1894, and again between 1896 and 1898.
The flowers attract bees. Elephants are especially fond of the fruit.
The fruits are edible and very popular with Zulu children, as they are very tasty. According to some people, they taste exactly like sherbet. The pulp is sometimes mixed with water and milk to make a refreshing drink.
The wood has a beautiful close grain, a good surface and a fine colour. It is reddish towards the centre, lighter outward and without sapwood. It is hard, heavy and insect-proof. Sim, in his Forest flora of Portuguese East Africa, describes the wood as the best hardwood seen. The Zulus grind the bark to a powder and apply this to burns.
Growing Dialium schlechteri
This attractive tree can be grown from seed. Take note that D. schlechteri is frost-sensitive, and it may be difficult to grow it on the Highveld and in other areas where winter frost frequently occurs.
Collect seeds and place in warm water. Let them soak overnight. The water can be kept at a constant warm temperature by placing it in a container with a fish tank heater. In the meantime, prepare a seed tray with growing mixture. A half-sand, half-compost mixture would be the ideal medium. First wet the growing mixture before placing seeds in the tray. Cover seeds with a 20 mm layer of this mixture and wet again. Place your seed tray in a warm corner but out of direct sunlight. Wet the mixture with a fine spray whenever it seems dry.
- COATES PALGRAVE, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- PALMER, E. & PITMAN, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, vol. 2. Balkema, Cape Town.
- POOLEY, E. 1997. The complete field guide to the trees of Natal. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- VAN WYK, B. & VAN WYK, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
National Herbarium, Pretoria
Plant Type: Tree
SA Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring
Flower colour: White
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average