The deciduous Tree may reach 9m high. Twigs are velvety. The simple, densely hairy Leaves are alternate. The small, unisexual, monoecious Flowers are 5-merous. Edible Fruit is a spherical berry with hard Seeds.
RSA Tree No. 325.
Common names: Bushveld Bridelia, Fluweel-soetbessie, Velvet Bridelia, Velvet Sweet-berry, Wollerige Soetbessie.
Family: Phyllanthaceae. In this diverse family Latex as well as Spines are usually absent. This is diagnostic and excludes them from Euphorbiaceae. There are about 50+ genera and 2 000 species in this family. They are most numerous in the tropics and most members are trees. Leaves are usually simple, alternate and petiolate. Leaf margins are usually entire and leaves are present in most species. The actinomorphic Flowers are usually unisexual and are monoecious or dioecious. The superior Ovary has 2 ovules in each locule. The Fruit is a berry, drupe or schizocarp. Local genera containing trees include Antidesma, Bridelia, Cleistanthus and Heywoodia.
Name derivation: Bridelia – named after Samuel Elisee de Bridel (1761-1828) – a Swiss-German moss specialist. mollis – soft: referring to the velvety, hairy leaves. There are 4 species of this genus in southern Africa. All have simple, untoothed, alternate leaves.
Conservation Status: L C. (Least Concern). 2009 (Raimondo et al.).
This ornamental Tree has a thick, leafy, rounded crown and may reach 9m in height. Shoots and twigs are densely velvety. The greyish brown, rough Bark may have longitudinal striations. Densely velvety Young branches are reddish to pale brown. Here some Lenticels (a usually raised corky oval or elongated area on the plant that allows the uncontrolled interchange of gases with the environment).
The large, alternate, soft, velvety and simple Leaves tend to droop. They are ovate to obovate and up to 13 x 7cm although the size may vary – even on the same branch. Leaves are light green above and slightly lighter below. Young leaves on this deciduous tree change from a fury, golden colour to a densely velvety light green as they mature. Both surfaces of the Blade are densely hairy. The Midrib is raised on both sides and protrudes on the lower side. There are usually between 9 and 12 almost parallel side Veins running quite steeply towards the margin. These veins or their branches reach the margins and join a marginal vein. All veins are clearly visible against a strong light (photo 425). The Apex is rounded and may be notched. The Base is broadly tapering to rounded even cordate (heart-shaped). The Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy) and may appear to be scalloped between veins. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is hairy, distinctly thick and short – up to 0,5cm long. Small green stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are visible but soon fall. (Nov-Feb).
The small unobtrusive green or reddish-yellow Flowers are up to 4mm wide. They are unisexual and monoecious (having both male and female reproductive organs on the same plant). Flowers are borne on short Pedicels (stalk of a single flower) in early summer. The 5 valvate (meeting by the edge without overlapping) Sepals are slightly longer than the petals. There are 5 obovate Petals present that are shorter than the sepals. Male Flowers are in short dense clusters. The 5 Stamens have connate filaments. Female Flowers are fewer or are single. They have a double Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle) present. The outer disc is annular and the inner disc surrounds the base of the superior Ovary. (Nov-Feb).
The edible, drupe-like Fruit is a fleshy almost spherical Berry. It is roughly the size of a pea and is up to 1cm wide. The berries that are initially velvety become visibly clear green with white dots and have a persistent Style (photo 435) present. They turn black when mature. The Fruit may remain on the tree after the leaves have fallen. Each fruit contains either 2 hard Seeds or one by abortion. A thin pulpy layer surrounds the seeds. Seeds have copious albumen (starchy or other nutritive material surrounding the embryo). (Jan-Jun).
Distribution & Ecology
These Trees are common close to water and grow at medium to low altitudes. They may also be found in sandveld (land characterized by dry sandy soil) and on granite (an igneous rock that develops underground when silica rich molten rock cools) koppies and other rocky outcrops. Trees are indigenous in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North-West, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique (central, north and extreme south), Zambia, Malawi and northern Namibia.
The edible Fruit has a taste similar to that of prunes and is consumed by people and birds. It can be used to make jam. In some parts, local people will not use the Wood for fuel as they believe; doing so might prevent cattle from producing female offspring. The wood is pale brown and suitable for making ornaments. It takes a good polish. Plant extracts have some Antibacterial properties.
Burrows, J.E., Burrows, S.M., Lotter, M.C. & Schmidt, E. 2018. Trees and Shrubs Mozambique. Publishing Print Matters (Pty) Ltd. Noordhoek, Cape Town.
Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, Balkema, Amsterdam, Cape Town.
Schmidt, S. Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park.
van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 1997 Field guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Struik, Cape Town.