Lydenburgia abbottii (A.E.van Wyk & Prins) Y.Steenkamp, A.E.van Wyk & Prins
Common names: Pondo Bushman’s Tea (Eng.); pondoboesmanstee (Afr.)
SA Tree No: 407
Pondo Bushman’s Tea is a tall tree, and one of the rarest trees in South Africa, occurring in ravine forest in just two river gorges.
Lydenburgia abbottii is a tall forest tree, up to 30 m high. In steep areas it grows with a single, erect stem, whereas in flatter areas, it may have several stems. The main stem is tall and straight with buttresses. The bark is greyish, smooth with unevenly flaking scales and the under bark is slightly orange. Branchlets on young stems are reddish brown with large stipules that fall early, to leave prominent scars between petioles. Softly leathery leaves are in an opposite arrangement (alternate on young branchlets); the leaves are elliptic-oval in shape and range from 25–90 × 15–70 mm, narrowed to the base, with a twisted tip, dark shiny green above, dull whitish green below and hairless, with 4–6 pairs of horizontal veins prominent on both surfaces; apex tapering; margin with hard-tipped teeth and young leaves bright red. The petiole is 10 mm long.
Flowers are small, white, sweet-smelling, in axillary clusters and expanded beyond the leaves. Flowering time is in spring (Sept. –Oct.). Fruit is a slender, 3-lobed capsule, 6 × 3 mm, produced in summer and winter. Capsules contain 1 or 2, up to 4, wingless seeds, 3–4 mm long, 2.0–2.5 mm in diameter, without an aril, with an oily endosperm.
This species can be confused with Cassine peragua, but differs in that it has a prominent stipular scar and a 3-lobed, dehiscent capsule, whereas C. peragua lacks the large stipule and has a hard or fleshy, indehiscent fruit.
Lydenburgia abbottii is assessed as Endangered (EN) according to the Red List of South African plants. This is one of the rarest trees in South Africa, known from two river gorges less than 10 km apart. There are 4 subpopulations, each with fewer than 50 mature individuals. The total population is, therefore, estimated as fewer than 200 mature individuals. There are no serious threats likely to cause a continuing decline at present.
This tree is a protected tree in South Africa. The tree is also protected in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve. The largest proportion of the population, however. occurs in unprotected tributaries of the Mzamba River. Given that this is one of the rarest trees in South Africa, even individuals outside of the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve require special protection. Although specimens of L. abbottii would be considered a good source of timber, the inaccessibility of the habitat would make it extremely difficult to obtain harvested wood and, therefore, this is not considered a serious threat. Scott-Shaw (1999) mentions lack of recruitment as a potential threat. The population is also maintained by vigorous coppicing around the base of older trees.
Distribution and habitat
Lydenburgia abbottii is endemic to South Africa, where it is restricted to 2 adjacent river gorges on the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape border, the region known as Pondoland, found deep within ravines and river gorges where it is relatively safe from the main threats to Pondoland forests, which are too frequent and intense grassland fires and wood harvesting, which impact on forest margins.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Lydenburgia is name after the town Lydenburg in Mpumalanga. This species is named after Mr A.T.D. Abbott (1936–2013), farmer and amateur botanist from Clearwater, Port Edward, whose extensive plant collecting and detailed observations yielded several new taxa and distribution records for the southern Natal/Pondoland sandstone region, and he supplied the plant material for the description of this species. He also established a herbarium in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve, near Port Edward.
Lydenburgia abbottii belongs to the Celastraceae, commonly known as the spike thorn family, which consists of 60–70 genera and ± 1 000 species that occur in the tropical and warmer temperate regions around the world, with 19 genera and ± 80 species in southern Africa. Lydenburgia consists of 2 species both endemic to South Africa, the other species being L. cassinoides, Sekhukhuni Bushman’s Tea, which occurs in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Both these species were formerly included under the genus Catha, but the bark and wood have anatomical differences, leaves are chemically different and seeds are wingless.
Flowers are visited by bees and other insects. The fruits of this tree are eaten by birds.
Although specimens of L. abbottii would be considered a good source of timber, the inaccessibility of the habitat would make it extremely difficult to extract harvested wood. There are no known medicinal uses.
Growing Lydenburgia abbottii
This tree is still unknown in cultivation, but when in cultivation it should be treated like other members of the Celastraceae, such as Cassine. It can be propagated from seeds, although seeds are difficult to find because it has an extremely low fruit set, as a gall-forming insect attacks the flowers. Sow the seeds immediately when ripe, keep them moist and warm, and the seed should germinate within 2–4 weeks after sowing. Use a well-drained mixture to transplant seedlings into individual pots or growing bags.
- Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's trees of eastern South Africa, a complete guide. Flora & Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Nichols, G. 2005. Growing rare plants: a practical handbook on propagating the threatened plants of southern Africa. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 36.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The complete field guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publication Trust, Durban.
- Van Wyk A.E. & Prins, M. 1987. A new species of Catha (Celastraceae) from southern Natal and Pondoland. South African Journal of Botany 53(3): 202–205. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254629916314314
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Acknowledgements: Photos by Graham Grieve
Plant Type: Tree
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White
Aspect: Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Average
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