Among the first spring flowers are the delicately scented lilac-hued blossoms of the shrubby Puzzle bush.

The Puzzle Bush itself is anything but delicate. It is hardy, coping with drought and all sorts of terrains across much of southern Africa, and its multi-stemmed shape conveys its toughness. Its botanical name Ehretia rigida derives from the name of a German botanical artist Georg D.Ehret (1708-1770), and rigida refers to the rigid, long and arching stems and branches. It can grow as tall as 9 metres and can be classed as a tree despite its name and sometimes bushy shape.

2 Puzzle-Bush-Form

The confusing criss-crossing growth pattern of the multi-stemmed Puzzle Bush gives rise to its common name. In Afrikaans it is called a Deurmekaarbos, meaning it is a bush in a muddle or state of confusion

The rigidity of the stems is such that they can be used to make traditional fishing baskets. The stems can also been used as the turning stick when making fire using friction. The hard wood has been used to make stampers and pestles, and after being freshly cut it has been used to make spear shafts and in Botswana for making bows.

3 Puzzle-Bush-Flowers

The flowers attract pollinators, and in our garden they are favoured by Vervet Monkeys who also eat the leaves and fruit

The deciduous Puzzle Bush is bare in winter, and in spring it produces fresh leaves at the same time as the flowers that are followed by small green berries that ripen to orange-red. The berries are eaten by birds and by other creatures too. In the wild the leaves are browsed by several species of antelope and on farms they are browsed by livestock. The Puzzle Bush is a most desirable plant for a wildlife-friendly garden.

4 Puzzle-Bush

Held gently but firmly in the hand of a foraging Vervet Monkey, this Puzzle Bush in our garden is already producing green berries that will ripen to a deep orange or red

5 Puzzle-Bush-Vervet-Monkey

These Vervet Monkeys are foraging carefully in our Puzzle Bush. When feeding here last week the youngsters also used the sturdy branches for a game, with some of their daring moves and feats of balance reminding me of trapeze artists

6 Puzzle-Bush-Vervet-Monkey

Earlier in the season, when the flowers on the Puzzle Bush were still in bud, I managed to sneak a photo of this Vervet Monkey fastidiously selecting new leaves to eat, the tiny leaves seemingly a delicacy to be carefully relished after the long dry winter

7 Black-headed-Oriole

Last summer, the Puzzle Bush in turn attracted this Black-headed Oriole seeking insects

8 Dark-capped-Bulbul

Also last summer, a Dark-capped Bulbul suspends itself upside down so it can pick off the last berries that remain in a small cluster on the end of a stem of the Puzzle Bush

9 Cape-White-eyeAnd to end, a photo of a Cape White-eye eating Puzzle Bush berries, edited to have a water-colour pencil effect

Sources: Boon, Richard. 2010 (2nd ed.). Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa. Durban: Flora & Fauna; Venter, Fanie and Julye-Ann. 1996. Making the Most of Indigenous Trees. Pretoria: Briza.

Posted by Carol

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