Protorhus longifolia (Bernh.) Engl.
Common names: red beech, purple currant, red Cape beech (Eng.); rooiboekenhout, rooimelkhout (Afr.); ikhubalo, isifuce (isiXhosa); umkomiso, uzintlwa (isiZulu)
SA Tree No: 364
The red beech is an excellent evergreen garden tree, quick growing and easily grown from seed. It attracts birds to a garden.
Evergreen tree, in the Mango family, up to 15 m tall, single-stemmed, with a dark rounded crown. It tolerates slight frost and is very drought-resistant. Occasional bright red leaves make this an attractive garden specimen.
Bark is dark brown, smooth to rough. The Mango family does not have milky latex such as Moraceae (Fig family) or Sapotaceae (Milkwood family). Members of the Mango family have resin ducts (sticky latex but not milky).
Leaves are simple, opposite to subopposite, or spirally arranged, dark green above and paler below, narrowly elliptic, up to 150 mm long and 40 mm wide, with prominent closely parallel lateral veins. Flowers are greenish white to yellow; sexes are separate on different trees. Flowers from August to October.
Fruit is a single fleshy, oblique-ovoid drupe (a fruit like a plum) ± 12 mm in diameter, and turns purple when ripe.
The Red Data status of Protorhus longifolia is of Least Concern.
Distribution and habitat
Protorhus longifolia grows in coastal and montane forest, on rocky outcrops and in riverine vegetation, from Limpopo Province to the Eastern Cape.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Protorhus is from the Greek protos meaning first, and rhous meaning red which refers to the red leaves. The epithet longifolia (Latin) refers to the long shape of the leaves.
Leaves are browsed by black rhino. Fruit are eaten by birds and other animals, especially monkeys.
The Mango family comprises mostly trees or shrubs; a few species produce useful, edible fruits such as mangoes, marulas and cashew and pistachio nuts.
The bark exudes a sticky gum which was used to stick the blade into the shaft when making assegais. The heartwood is dark brown and suitable for furniture. Sticky sap is used to remove hair. Powdered bark is poisonous and causes paralysis.
Growing Protorhus longifolia
Propagate this tree from seed, in trays filled with seedling soil or a mixture of river sand and sifted compost (1:1), and keep moist. Sow seeds in January.
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Glen, H.F. 2004. What's in a name? Jacana, Johannesburg.
- Van Wyk, Braam, A.E. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Tree
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Winter
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Green, White, Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun, Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Average