Here in the southern hemisphere, spring has arrived even if with minimal rain. The little rain that has fallen is nothing like “normal” spring rains (remember normal?) and nowhere near enough; we have we had about 10 mls of rain over the past week. Even so the frogs are very vocal in their celebrations.

It only seems a short time ago I was seeing northern bloggers celebrating spring, but the cycle of the seasons has moved apace. Despite the dryness here spring buds have been swelling and some blossoms are already evident.

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The buds of the Ochna shrub are once again starting to burst

These photos were taken last year when the buds and flowers were about twice the size they are this year. Not only are the flowers smaller this year, but many have shrivelled and dried up before the petals fully emerged from the bud – the combined effect of the prolonged dryness and the exceptionally high temperatures we had last week – with one day being 42 degrees C.

However, in a “normal” year the petals really do burst out from the bud.

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Four photos showing flowers in various stages from when the petals first start protruding from the bud through to when all the petals are unfolding

I have tried to work out if this plant in our garden is the Ochna natalitia (Showy Ochna/Natal Plane) or the Ochna serrulata (Carnaval Ochna/Small-leaf Plane) but I keep changing my mind! Any guidance as to which it is would be most appreciated.

Most of the Ochna Family are shrubby or small trees. Indigenous to South Africa, the Ochna serrulata, has been introduced to other parts of the world as an ornamental garden plant, but it has become invasive in New Zealand and parts of Australia.

Plants in the Ochna family are used in traditional medicine, and several species have been shown to have antibacterial properties.

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The pollen-rich flowers are attractive to honeybees

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Attractively shiny new leaves add to this plant’s springtime appeal 

The small and compact nature of both Ochna natalitia and Ochna serrulata make them suitable for small gardens.  In addition to the lovely flowers and attractive leaves, the plants retain the calyx which turns red as the fruit forms, making this phase in late summer almost as showy as the flowers.

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The ripe black fruit are eaten by birds, helping with seed dispersal. The Ochna natalitia is sometimes called the Mickey Mouse Bush (and to add to the confusion sometimes Ochna serrulata is too!), as the red calyx together with the fruit is thought to resemble Mickey Mouse – I can’t see the resemblance though. The variable number of fruits in each seed head on our plant makes me tend towards identifying the plant as the O. natalitia 

I leave the Ochna in our garden to self-seed and while they are still small I dig up the seedlings and put them in pots to give away or to transplant elsewhere in the garden once they are big enough. So far none of those planted out in our garden have flowered yet.

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The plant flowers throughout spring. Perhaps it is the rich yellow colour or the sheer profusion of flowers that makes it one of the most cheering of plants

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Coincidentally, writing about spring this evening is accompanied by our first storm of the season. Granted it is only a small storm with a little lightning and thunder, but now there is a steady rain drumming on the roof. Not much rain is forecast but every drop is most welcome.


Mothogoane, M. & Rampho, E. 2009. Ochna. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).; Pooley, Elsa. 1997. The Complete Field Guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust

Posted by Carol