Mountain cabbage tree
This unique, evergreen tree mostly occurs inland in South Africa, favouring rocky environments. It grows in crevices filled with natural organic humus and compost. It is frost-tolerant and drought resistant. It is a short, thick-set tree, rarely exceeding 5 m in height. This plant is considered a pachycaul succulent on the basis of its swollen stem base or tuber which forms early in plants grown from seed. Roots are also thick and swollen. The tree is slow growing.
The large, digitately compound, cabbage blue-green leaves are one of its most distinctive features. The blue leaf colour is in some part due to the thick waxy layers on the leaves, which helps protect the plant against severe frosts. In summer the trees bear small, green, stalked flowers; in short dense spikes, making up a large, branched inflorescence at the end of the trunk or branches. Flowers are followed by fleshy and purple-maroon fruits.
The name Cussonia was given by Carl Peter Thunberg to commemorate the French botanist Pierre Cusson (1727-1783). It is believed that the name 'kiepersol' comes from the Portuguese (Quinta-sol) or Indian (Kitty-sol), words for a parasol or sunshade.
The flowers are pollinated by an enormous variety of insects that have wings e.g. bees, wasps, flies. When they are in full flower it sounds like a beehive. Birds feed on the ripened, black seed.
The wood is soft and light and was used for the brake-blocks of wagons. The leaves provide good fodder for stock and the Zulu name refers to this tree as goats' food. The thick root can be peeled and eaten raw as food or as a source of water. It may have been used to treat infections, inflammation and malaria.