"wit stinkhout" (Afrikaans)
With their human-like, pale-silver trunks and tender green growth each spring, white stinkwoods are perhaps the most popular of all our indigenous trees. Related to the English elm, the deciduous white stinkwood occurs from the Cape in the south to Ethiopia in the north. Very adaptable, it grows on sand dunes, rocky outcrops and in lush forest. As a consequence of this adaptability, its appearance and size varies considerably.
Inconspicuous green flowers (Aug-Oct) precede the small, round fruits (Oct-Feb) which are enjoyed by an array of wild life: the ripe yellow fruit are eaten by baboons and monkeys and a host of birds eg: rameron pigeons, bulbuls, mousebirds, doves and barbets. The endangered cape parrot is also partial to them and will visit coastal forests to feast. The leaves are browsed on by kudu, bushbuck, grey duiker, impala, domestic livestock as well as the larvae of the African snout and blue-spotted charaxes butterflies.
The name "white stinkwood" has caused some confusion - it is not related to the true stinkwood, Ocotea bullata. The name in fact refers to the unpleasant smell released when the wood is cut. The wood has a medium hardness and makes a good general timber, suitable for planking, shelving and yokes.
This tree is revered as having magical, spiritual powers by some African cultures. It is said to offer protection from negative forces and to bestow fertility. Strips of the bark, hung within the home, are reputed to deter snakes.
Distinctive and stately, the white stinkwood graces many gardens and avenues. As urban trees, these trees are fast growing. Here at Platbos however, the Celtis occur within a dense forest canopy of evergreen trees and as a consequence, they are slow growing with bark that is mottled with many lichens and mosses associated with clean air. The sandy soil is dry in summer and harsh conditions during this season cause the growing leaders to die back and side branches to form giving the trees of Platbos their twisty, gnarled appearance.
If grown in good soil and watered sufficiently, the white stinkwood can grow 1 to 2 meters per year - contrary to the misconception that these are slow growers. This misunderstanding is impacting negatively on the future of this tree - nursery growers are propagating the similar, non-indigenous Celtis sinensis in its place and evidence is that these are now cross-breeding and threatening the genetic integrity of our white stinkwoods.
* White stinkwoods make good bonsai subjects and are protected in South Africa.