Cunonia capensis

Taisha continues with the South African plants and biomes series. She writes:

The forest biome of South Africa is up next. To accompany this entry, we have two photographs (image 1 | image 2) of Cunonia capensis (also known as the butterspoon tree, rooiels in Afrikaans, and umLulama in Zulu) from University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. These were uploaded to the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool by James Gaither (aka J.G. in S.F.@Flickr), who has since passed away.

The smallest biome in South Africa, the forest biome covers less than .25% of the country. Still, it is divided into two regions: Knysna forest along the southern Cape coastline, and the Amatole further east inland. The Knysna-Amatole forests are part of the afromontane archipelago–discontinuous regions analogous to sky islands. Knysna occurs on gentle slopes between 5-1220m, while the Amatole Mountains lie between 700-1250 m. Rainfall and temperatures vary between ~500-1220 mm and ~10-25°C respectively with the Amatole Mountains being both wetter and cooler than Knysna. The soils of these forests are generally acidic and nutrient-poor.

The floristically diverse forests have some 636 and 649 vascular plant species recorded respectively. Evergreen trees primarily form a continuous canopy, covering layers of vegetation that include (but aren’t limited to) lianas, herbaceous species such as ferns, and epiphytes. Because of the dense shade from the layers above, the ground layer is almost absent.

A species that can be found in this biome is Cunonia capensis, the tree featured in today’s photographs. Cunonia capensis, of the Cunoniaceae, is a tree found along the coast and adjacent inland areas of South Africa. In the forest it may reach up to 10m in height, and about half that height in the open. The showy, scented flowers appear in February and continue through March. They are collected in cream-coloured spikes, as shown in the first photograph. The fruits are brown two-horned capsules that release fine, sticky seeds. Seeds are either wind-dispersed or may also stick to visiting birds that fly off with them attached to their feathers, legs, or bills. One of the more prominent characteristics of Cunonia capensis is the pair of stipules that enclose the growing tip of developing branches. They are large and are pressed together and look much like a spoon–hence one of the common names, butterspoon tree. The second photo shows this phenomenon, as well as additional images via the Fernkloof Nature Reserve site: Cunonia capensis.

Cunonia capensis
Cunonia capensis

3 responses to “Cunonia capensis”

  1. Duke Benadom

    Wouldn’t the Dwalana Forest of the Eastern Cape fit this biome as well?

  2. jessica

    Very pretty. It looks like the bees appreciate it, too.
    Thanks, again, for a very interesting entry.

  3. Nadia

    definitely beautiful and exotic

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