Cape Beech for your fence, ma’am?


Learn about our nat­u­ral her­itage and the links be­tween cul­tural and bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity melanophloeos can be in­ter­preted as dark, but this is only the case in older spec­i­mens. The Cape beech is not re­lated to Euro­pean beeches; the wood re­sem­bles the Fau­rea species com­monly known as boeken­hout, hence the Afrikaans name. The Xhosa word umaphipha de­rives from ukuphipha, mean­ing to wipe a baby’s bot­tom, al­lud­ing to the power of the medicine to heal by cleans­ing.


The flow­ers at­tracts bees and flies and the fruit are eaten by birds like guinea fowl, pi­geons, louries and bar­bets. Ba­boons, bush­pigs and vel­vet mon­keys are also en­joy the fruit. Wounds cre­ated from de­bark­ing pro­vide en­trance for many fungi, in­clud­ing arthro­pod-as­so­ci­ated mem­bers of the Ophios­tom­atales and Mi­croas­cales (ophios­tom­a­toid fungi)

Uses and cul­tural as­pects

The wood is pink­ish brown, hard, heavy, fine-grained, very at­trac­tive and durable; used for su­pe­rior fur­ni­ture and for mak­ing vi­o­lins. An in­fu­sion of the bark is used as a rit­ual wash to coun­ter­act witch­craft. The bark is burnt as in­cense to dis­pel evil spir­its from the home, and is taken as an emetic to cleanse and pro­tect the body from witch­craft. An in­fu­sion of the bark is also taken to pu­rify the body in­ter­nally by cleans­ing “dirty blood” and as treat­ment for asthma. Ad­di­tion­ally, the pow­dered bark is used a fa­cial cos­metic paste to pro­tect against evil spir­its. An eth­novet­eri­nary use of the bark is as a treat­ment for heart­wa­ter dis­ease in cat­tle.


It can be used as a hardy screen­ing plant as it is dense, ev­er­green and sends out suck­ers to form bush clumps. It re­quires low main­te­nance, if it’s planted in the right area, not next to paved ar­eas where roots and new suck­ers can sprout.

Cape beech grows eas­ily from seed sown in spring or early sum­mer. Seed should sown in a well-drained, gen­eral-mix pot­ting soil, placed in warm, moist and shaded area. Treat­ment of seed with fungi­cide will pre­vent damp­ing off and in­crease the per­cent­age ger­mi­na­tion.

Ref­er­ences and fur­ther read­ing

• Coates Pal­grave, M. 2002 (third edi­tion). Keith Coates Pal­grave Trees of South­ern Africa. Struik Na­ture, Cape Town • Dold, T., Cocks, M. 2012. Voices from the For­est, Cel­e­brat­ing Na­ture and Cul­ture in Xhos­a­land. Ja­cana Me­dia, Sun­ny­side, Auck­land Park, South Africa. •

• Someleze Mgcuwa is a plant digi­tiser for the Ka­roo Bio gaps project, based in the Schon­land Her­bar­ium.

Photo: Sup­plied

Ra­panea melanophloeos.

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