Schotia capitata Bolle
Common names: dwarf boer-bean, forest tree-fuschia, wild-fuschia, Transvaal boer-bean (Eng.); kleinboerboon, transvaalboerboon (Afr.); isincasha, uvovovo (Zulu).
SA Tree No: 203
A dwarf relative of the weeping boer-bean, with a short, bushy form and numerous scarlet flowers in dense heads in spring and early summer, common in eastern southern Africa and associated with the Thicket Biome.
Schotia capitata is an evergreen, multi-stemmed shrub that can also grow in the form of a slender tree, growing up to 7 m tall, with a dense, wide-spreading canopy. It often adopts a climbing or scrambling growth habit, forming a large, spreading bush. The bark is smooth and pale grey on juvenile plants; as the tree grows older it turns dark brown and the texture becomes rough.
Leaves are smooth, green and pinnate-compound, with sub-opposite, sessile, obovate leaflets arranged in 3 to 5 pairs.
Dense, multi-branched inflorescences are borne on small lateral branches. S. capitata unveils brilliant red, nectar-rich flowers on a tiny pedicel, sometimes sessile, borne from early spring to mid-summer. Thick, woody, flattened pods, reddish brown when ripe, contain sub-rotund, pale brown seeds, approximately 12 mm long and at most 12 mm wide when matured, with a compressed yellow basal aril.
Schotia capitata looks similar to S. brachypetala, the weeping boer-bean. However, they differ in common characteristics such as growth form, leaflets and the flowerheads, which are all smaller on S. capitata.
Schotia capitata is assessed as Least Concern (LC) in the Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
Schotia capitata has a widespread distribution. It occurs in the southern region of Africa, in southern Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini and South Africa. Within South Africa, S. capitata is found growing in the former Transvaal region, around and within the Kruger National Park in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, and in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Schotia capitata occurs in warm, dry thornveld, deciduous woodlands and bushveld. This species is predominantly associated with the Thicket Biome, although it has extended its range into nearby regions and biomes and is often found where forest and thicket patches occur together or where thicket patches occur within other biomes.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Schotia was named in honour of Richard Van Der Schot (1733–1790), a chief gardener of the Imperial Garden of Schonbrunn in Vienna, Austria. It was named by a friend of Van Der Schot, Nikolaus Joseph Jacquin (1727–1817), who was a Professor of Botany and Chemistry and Director of the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna. The specific name capitata means ‘the appearance in the form of a head, capitate’ and refers to the dense rounded heads of red flowers.
This genus has earned its common name boerboon (boer-bean, meaning farmer’s bean) from the early European settlers, because of the edible seeds acquired from species of Schotia and their resemblance to the original boerboon (Vicia faba). Although not all species of Schotia produce edible seeds, the common name is now applied to all species.
Schotia is a small genus that is associated with trees and it is confined to the southern African region. This genus has proved to be difficult to classify, with the species being variable and also hybridising where their ranges overlap. Although about 30 species have been described, there are only 4 accepted species: Schotia afra, Schotia brachypetala, Schotia capitata and Schotia latifolia.
Schotia capitata flowers in spring and early summer (Aug. to Nov.). The flowers are scarlet and attractive, rich in nectar and are visited by a wide variety of nectar-feeding birds, bees and insects. S. capitata is also a larval foodplant for Anthene definita definita (Common Hairtail Butterfly). Not only nectar-feeding birds visit S. capitata, other varieties of birds interact with the dwarf schotia to feed on insects which are attracted by the flowers. Starlings, baboons and monkeys feed on the flowers and seeds. Flowers are pollinated by honey bees and sunbirds. Seeds are produced in later autumn to early winter, dispersed from a dry seed pod, which allows the seed to get dispersed at a more or less distance away from the mother plant. Normally, Schotia capitata seeds germinate later in spring, when there is enough moisture in the soil for germination to occur.
Dwarf boer-bean is used as an ornamental plant, its brilliant flowers are appealing to the eye and it can also provide good shade in the garden. The growth size of this tree makes it ideal for small gardens; it can feature in dry, rocky landscapes and also in water-wise gardens.
Schotias have edible seeds, which can be eaten as a meal when roasted and ground.
Schotia bark can be ground and soaked in water to create a soluble substance known as tannin, which is used for the dyeing process. Boiled bark is used to treat heartburn and hangover. A mixture of ground bark and roots can be used for medicinal purpose to treat nervous heart conditions and diarrhoea, as well as blood purification.
Schotia capitata wood is harvested from the wild and used to make good quality furniture.
Growing Schotia capitata
Growing Schotia capitata is quite easy and it needs little maintenance or pruning. This species can tolerate early transplanting, as long as the plant is not stressed by damaging the roots when transplanting. S. capitata grows very well in warm, sunny areas, in a well-aerated, sandy soil. Supply the plant with moderate water in spring and summer, allow infiltration and drainage in winter, to avoid damping off. Well decomposed compost can be added to the soil for organic supplements. Young recruits of dwarf schotia are frost-tender and may need protection during the cold season, however, the older plants are semi-hardy to frost hardy. Growth rate may be quite slow in colder climates compared to areas with warm conditions, where rapid growth can be experienced.
S. capitata is propagated by seed and also by cuttings. Dwarf schotia produces seeds late in autumn, which must be sown in spring or summer of the same year of dispersal. Use a commercial germination mix or potting mix to sow the seeds. The growth medium should have good drainage. Sow seeds in trays, provided that transplanting will take place at an early stage. Trays should be placed in a semi-shaded area and kept moist and not wet. Use a fungicide to prevent damping off and improve germination too.
Strike cuttings in midwinter to early spring, when the tree is inactive. Use washed river sand for cuttings. Drainage capacity should be high and slightly moderate watering is required to allow moisture to stay in the medium. Growth medium should be kept damp at all times and not wet.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2005. Schotia capitata Bolle. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2020/07/02.
- Hyde, M.A., Wursten, B.T., Ballings, P. & Coates Palgrave, M. 2020. Flora of Zimbabwe: Species information: Schotia capitata. https://www.zimbabweflora.co.zw/speciesdata/species.php?species_id=126730. Retrieved: 2020/07/02.
- Mbambezeli, G. & Notten, A. 2014. Schotia brachypetala Sond. (Fabaceae). PlantZAfrica. Online. http://pza.sanbi.org/schotia-brachypetala
- Oliver, D. 1871. Leguminosae to Ficoideae. Flora of tropical Africa 2: 310. Reeve, London. Accessed via https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org.
- Ramdhani, S., Cowling, R.M. & Barker, N.P. 2010. Phytogeography of Schotia (Fabaceae): recent evolutionary processes in an ancient thicket biome lineage. International Journal of Plant Sciences 171(6): 626–640.
- Ross, J.H. (ed.). 1977. Fabaceae: Caesalpinioideae. Flora of southern Africa: the Republic of South Africa, Basutoland, Swaziland and South West Africa 16(2): 23–33. Accessed via https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org.
- Roux, J.P. 2003. Flora of South Africa: Schotia capitata. Accessed via JSTOR: Global plants: https://plants.jstor.org/compilation/Schotia.capitata.
- The Plant List. 2013. Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/search?q=schotia. Accessed on 01/07/2020.
- Tropical Plants Database, Ken Fern. tropical.theferns.info. 2020-07-02.
- Wild flower nursery. Schotia capitata. https://wildflowernursery.co.za/indigenous-plant-database/schotia-capitata-2/. Accessed on: 2020/07/02.
Thabang Makola & Ricardo Riddles
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub, Tree
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Red
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy