The Pigeonwood tree does indeed attract pigeons and many other birds and creatures besides. It is one of the faster growing trees and is a vigorous pioneer plant establishing itself in disturbed soil and along watercourses. It can be useful for new gardens or to provide shelter where other slower growing plants need protection.
Not only is the pigeonwood (Trema orientalis) fast growing, but it thrives in a variety of habitats especially in higher rainfall areas, including along rivers and streams and on forest margins where it can grow to a height of about 18 metres. Where growing in drier conditions it can be quite shrubby in form rather developing as a tree.
In South Africa it occurs in the moister eastern regions, and it occurs further north across much of sub-Saharan Africa and also in tropical Asia and Australia (Queensland). Other common names include the charcoal-tree and the Indian charcoal-tree, and indeed in some countries it is used to make charcoal.
The pigeonwood bears its small fruits, which slowly ripen from green to a dark purple/black, over many months from February to November
Several species of birds are attracted to our pigeonwood trees where they pick fruits directly off the tree, while fruits that have fallen to the ground are eaten by other species of birds, including tambourine doves, lemon doves and mannikins. Although I have not seen them doing this, fruit bats also eat fruits on pigeonwood trees.
African olive-pigeons (formerly rameron pigeons) visit our garden when the pigeonwoods are fruiting. Here is one eating unripened fruit
African olive-pigeons can appear to be quite clumsy as they reach out apparently awkwardly to pluck fruit from slender branches, sometimes flapping their wings to restore their balance
Hadeda ibisis are most commonly seen seeking food on the ground, probing the soil with their long bills for prey. However, they too enjoy the fruits of the pigeonwood somehow managing to delicately pluck the tiny fruit with their disproportionately long bills
More to scale are the Cape white-eyes who arrive in small flocks to move through branches picking fruits as they go
Thick-billed weavers visit our garden during the non-breeding season, when they move to more wooded areas and forests, which is when the pigeonwoods are bearing fruit. During the summer breeding season thick-billed weavers prefer marshes, rivers and dams benefitting from the grasses and reedbeds associated with wetlands
The bark of the pigeonwood is dotted with small raised bumps called lenticels – a new word for me. According to the dictionary, lenticels are raised pores, for example on bark, that allow gas exchange between the atmosphere and the internal tissues of the plant
The lenticels are less apparent on the older wood, which in our garden is covered with decorative species of lichen. A section of the trunk of a pigeonwood sprouts a small shoot of new leaves
The leaves are also a good food source for many creatures and the pigeonwood is a larval host for 14 species of butterfly. A species of leaf beetle is another insect that eats the leaves of the pigeonwood. The leaves are browsed by mammals, including in the wild, giraffe and kudu, and the pigeonwood can also be used to provide fodder for livestock. In some countries where the pigeonwood occurs young leaves are used by people as a type of spinach.
Vervet monkeys seem to enjoy spending time in the pigeonwood trees, as the branches provide suitable places to rest in the shelter of the leaves, and the monkeys also eat young leaves as this one is rather pensively doing
This young vervet monkey is nibbling fruit off a stem of a pigeonwood tree in the garden
It is not only vervet monkeys that like to rest on the branches of the pigeonwood tree. These hadedas are enjoying what used to be a favourite roosting spot, until that particular branch died and eventually broke off
In addition to providing food and shelter, the pigeonwood tree can also provide a playground for young monkeys, as this brief video shows.
Boon, Richard. 2010 (2nd ed.). Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa. Durban: Flora & Fauna; Malan, Christien and Notten, Alice. 2005. Trema orientalis. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). PlantZAfrica,com. http://pza.sanbi.org/trema-orientalis; Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition. 1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to http://www.sabirding.co.za/roberts7/portal.html
Posted by Carol