If you were asked to design a festively flowering tree for the southern hemisphere Christmas summer holidays you would be hard pressed to come up with something better than the pompon tree (Dais cotinifolia).
Who needs an artificially decorated tree when such a delight occurs naturally in the summer holiday garden? No wonder it is also planted as a street tree or around parking lots. In some regions the trees are so densely covered in blossoms that a tree can look like a giant candy floss.
For several weeks the pompon blossoms cover the tree. The flowers on our trees have not quite lasted until Christmas but they certainly provided a festive overture.
Pompon trees grow from 4 to 6 metres tall and although they occur naturally in the eastern parts of the country they are cultivated in other regions too; they do well in Cape Town for example.
In colder areas the tree is properly deciduous, but in our garden the tree is only completely bare for about two months with new leaves sprouting in late October. The obviously veined leaves are very pretty in their own right.
The leaves form a lovely foil for the flowers. Their pale veins remain prominent as the leaves get older. The bark of the tree is tough and tears off in long strips. The bark fibres can be used as thread or plaited to form string or rope that is very strong. The Afrikaans name basboom (bark tree) reflects the usefulness of the bark. Variant names in Afrikaans for this tree are gonnabas and kannabas, with the word gonna derived from a Hottentot collective name for several plants in the Thymeleaceae family to which the pompon tree belongs.
The buds before the flowers have opened bring to mind small lollypops or flammable torches. The Dais part of the botanical name Dais cotinifolia is Greek for torch, reflecting that the buds each resemble a torch before it is lit. The cotinifolia part of the name is due to the fact the leaves are similar to those of plants in the genus Cotinus.
Above is a close-up of a bud starting to open. The tips of the furled petals divided by a neat parting are visible.
When not back lit the leaves have a slightly bluish tinge. In the above photo one of the buds is starting to unfurl its cluster of flowers.
Buddies you might say – an opening bud accompanied by a species of long-horned beetle.
The flowers of the pompon tree attract many pollinators including this nectar-seeking butterfly/moth.
Also visiting the flowers was this small iridescent beetle.
The flower nectar and pollen also attracted the attention of a giant carpenter bee (Xylocopa flavorufa).
Each pompon bears many nectar-bearing blossoms.
And then the show is suddenly over. As the petals shrivel and dry they become slightly fluffy.
When the old petals finally drop off the bracts remain sheltering small seeds at their centre. As the bracts dry and harden they remain on the stems and resemble tiny wooden flowers.
In August the leaves turn colour to yellows and ambers before they drop off leaving the tree completely bare. The tree can look so dead that sometimes we wonder if it has survived the winter at all. But eventually the leaf buds swell and then the green shoots emerge.
I wish you all a festive holiday season despite all the current troubles and weather extremes afflicting various regions of our planet.
P.S. I apologise for having been so absent from the blogosphere over recent months. I have been involved in an unexpected project that I will tell you about in the New Year.
Van der Walt, Liesl. 2000. Dais cotinifolia. PlantZAfrica. SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). http://pza.sanbi.org/dais-cotinifolia
Posted by Carol