Known as the Tree fuchsia, because of the shape and colour of its flowers, this plant is adaptable, and can be a multi-stemmed shrub or a huge evergreen tree, depending on its growing conditions.
In evergreen forests it can grow as tall as 20 metres, but in less sheltered conditions such as grasslands and even gardens, it is more likely to be anything from a shrubby two metres to a more tree-like five metres tall. The bark on the main stems is grey-brown and can be grooved or flaky.
Its most noticeable feature is its orange, nectar-rich, almost tubular flowers, which are abundant from autumn through to early spring. An unusual characteristic is that the flowers grow in clusters directly from the stems and trunks.
Although the flowers are the most striking feature of the plant, the lucida part of its name refers to the leaves, meaning ‘shiny’ as the leaves are glossy. However, this glossiness seems to be present in new growth, and at this dry time of the year the winter leaves are actually fairly dull. The genus Halleria was named by Linnaeus in honour of the Swiss-born physiologist and botanist Albrecht von Haller (1708-77).
The flowers, laden with nectar, attract many birds as well as insects, most noticeably honeybees. The insects in turn attract insect-eating birds. The flowers yield fruits that resemble berries and these are eaten by many birds as well as by monkeys and other animals.
A Cape White-eye seeking nectar from the flowers of the Tree Fuchsia
The green fruit of Halleria Lucida ripens to a glossy black. Birds and animals appear to eat both the green and ripe fruit. The fruits do not ripen all at the same time and, like the flowers, provide food over a period of several months
A Black-headed Oriole attracted to one of the trees in our garden that is bearing flowers and fruit simultaneously
The wood of the Tree Fuchsia is hard, and has been used to make tools and spear shafts and it can be used as the turning stick to make fires by friction. In traditional medicine, an infusion made from the leaves and roots has been used to treat earache.
When in flower, the Halleria lucida trees in our garden attract so many honeybees that the constant buzzing sound of bees collecting pollen and nectar is quite amazing
The flowers of the Tree Fuchsia fall to form a dense and colourful carpet
The naturally arranged bunches of flowers on the stems resemble posies
It seems that almost every plant or bird or creature that I feature on this blog I manage to describe as a favourite! In the case of the Tree Fuchsia, I am definitely not alone, as it is a favourite of many – people, birds, insects, monkeys and many other creatures too.
Sources: Joffe, Pitta. 2001. Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants: A South African Guide. Pretoria: Briza; Pooley, Elsa. 1997. The Complete Field Guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust; Venter, Fanie and Julye-Ann. 1996. Making the Most of Indigenous Trees. Pretoria: Briza.
Posted by Carol