Dombeya rotundifolia in full bloom is sight not to be missed during August and September on the hillsides of Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve in Howick.
This small tree with dark brown, craggy bark and a rounded crown is literally covered in white blossom, which is particularly striking as the tree is usually leafless at this time of year. Each flower is about 2cm across and part of a heavy cluster at the ends of branches.
A quick growing and versatile tree, it does best in drier areas and is remarkably hardy to drought, frost and fire. The dark green leaves are heart shaped, and although rough, are popular with game, while porcupines are fond of the bark. Bees love the sweetly scented flowers which contain abundant nectar and pollen. It is also host to the Ragged Skipper butterfly.
The wood is heavy and fine textured which makes it ideal for tool handles and bows and the bark is reportedly used for twine. Traditional medicinal remedies include treatment of heart weakness, intestinal ulcerations and palpitations in pregnant women.
In Food from the Veld by F.W Fox and M.E. Norwood Young, there is a reference to the flowers being cooked with pumpkin leaves in Malawi (Williamson 1972). Apparently the fruits are also edible.
Zulu name: unhliziyonkhulu; Afrikaans name: blompeer; Sotho name: umbikanyaka
The roads and paths are in great condition at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve and well worth visiting regularly. Entrance is R30.00. Gates are open from 7am to 6pm.