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Brabejum stellatifolium (Wild Almond, Bitter almond)

[= Brabeium stellatifolium)

Wilde-amandel, Bitteramandel, Ghoeboontjie [Afrikaans]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Order: Proteales > Family: Proteaceae

Brabejum stellatifolium (Wild Almond, Bitter almond)

The Wild almond (Brabejum stellatifolium) flowering in early summer at Kirstenbosch with Castle Rock under cloud beyond, Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Colin Paterson-Jones ]

Brabejum stellatifolium (Wild Almond, Bitter almond)

The Wild almond (Brabejum stellatifolium), Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Peninsula, South Africa. [photo H.G. Robertson, Iziko ]

Brabejum stellatifolium (Wild Almond, Bitter almond) Brabejum stellatifolium (Wild Almond, Bitter almond)

The Wild almond (Brabejum stellatifolium) flowering in summer next to a stream in the Elandsberg mountains, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Colin Paterson-Jones ]

A Wild almond (Brabejum stellatifolium) tree, part of Van Riebeeck's Hedge, flowering in early summer in the Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden, Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Colin Paterson-Jones ]

Grows into a large bush or small tree. Jan van Riebeeck, who started the Dutch settlement at the Cape, planted a hedge of Wild almond in 1960 to keep out the local indigenous people. Plants originating from this hedge can still be seen at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Identification

  • A large bush or tree, growing to about 8 m in height.
  • The leaves are in whorls of 6, giving them a star-like appearance when viewed from above, hence the latin name stellatifolium ("leaves radiating like the points of a star"). Leaves are simple, elongate, with unevenly toothed margins.
  • The bark is smooth and greyish in colour.
  • The small, sweet-scented flowers are in spikes up to 8 cm long.
  • The fruit have a golden furry exterior and in general appearance look like the fruit of the Almond, hence the common name, even though Wild almond is in the protea family (Proteaceae) whereas the real Almond is in the Rosaceae (the leaves of the two plants also look vaguely similar with their toothed margins). Brabejum fruit evidently float and as plants often grow along streams, the fruit are dispersed by water.

Brabejum stellatifolium is the only member of Brabejum and falls in the subfamily of the protea family called the Grevilleoideae whereas all other indigenous members of the Proteaceae in southern Africa fall in the subfamily Proteoideae. The Grevilleoideae is well represented in Australia and Brabejum is most closely related to Macadamia.

Distribution and habitat

Limited to the southwestern region of the Western Cape, South Africa, growing in sheltered valleys and along streams.

Phenology

  • Flowers from December to January.
  • Fruits from February to May.

Ecological interactions

Uses

  • Jan van Riebeeck, the first governer of the newly started Dutch settlement at the Cape, planted a hedge of Wild Almond along the border of the colony as it was then, in about 1660, in an attempt to prevent theft of livestock by the local indigenous Koikoi. Part of this hedge can be seen in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
  • The Koikoi ate the roots as food in winter.
  • The seeds in the fruit are poisonous as they contain cyanogenic glycosides but after treatment they can be eaten. The poison is leached out by placing the seeds in sacks and running them under water for 'a long time'. Alternatively, they are soaked in water for a few days, boiled and then roasted.
  • In the past the roasted seeds were ground up and used as a coffee substitute.
  • The wood is reddish-coloured and has been used for making ornaments.

Links

References

  • Palgrave, K.C. and Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Volume 1. A.A. Balkema, Cape Town.

Text by Hamish Robertson


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