Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Apiesdoring: Tree of the Year

- Richard Dean -

If you have ever called in at the Galpin's farm "Mosdene" near Naboomspruit, or wandered around Matobos Research Station, near Bulawayo, or walked along the Shashi River in Botswana, you would have seen tall (up to 25 m), pale barked, light to medium-green foliaged trees with rather nasty hooked thorns. These trees are the monkey thorn or apiesdoring, Acacia galpinii, and currently the South African tree of the year.

The man after whom the tree was named - Mr E.E. Galpin - was a banker and a very diligent amateur botanist who collected many species of plants in southern Africa. Galpin was born in 1858, and joined the Oriental Banking Corporation (later to become the Bank of Africa) in 1879.

He retired from banking in 1917 and purchased a farm near Naboomspruit, which he renamed "Mosdene". It was here that he collected a species of acacia that was "new" to science, and the tree was subsequently named Acacia galpinii by Joseph Burtt Davy, a botanist at Kew Gardens in England.

The monkey thorn, probably much more widely known by its Afrikaans name of apiesdoring, is a tree of the northern savannas of South Africa, the eastern savannas of Botswana and the southern, western and northern parts of Zimbabwe. It usually occurs near water (river banks are popular), is hardy and able to handle a fair amount of frost. It makes a fine garden tree - if you have a large enough garden - and would probably survive and thrive in Prince Albert, but would need to be given lots of water in the summer, at least initially when small, but larger trees are reputed to be able to deal with hot, dry conditions.

Small trees suitable for planting out are unlikely to be available from nurseries in the Western Cape, but you can grow your own from seeds (if you can get them), which germinate easily after being soaked in hot water.

And talking of trees …

Why not think about planting an indigenous tree or large shrub suitable for this area?
Consider some of the following when choosing the right tree:

  • Purpose (shade, screen, wind protection, colour, bird or butterfly food, edible fruit, pioneer for other slower growing trees)
  • The space you have, and therefore the expected canopy size of the mature tree
  • Root character (you need to know the expected root depth, of the tree, in view of proximity to buildings and potential interference with water pipes and sewerage)
  • The habitat from which it originates, so that you can be sure it will survive the conditions you have planned for it.
  • Last but not least, consider the neighbours! (Yours and the tree’s.) Consult your neighbours when planting things on your boundary that may block out their precious views, darken their living space, or disturb their buildings or drainpipes.

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