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