Thursday, 27 February 2014

Trema orientalis Pigeon Wood Tree

Trema orientalis is a common pioneer tree which belongs to the hemp (dagga) family, Cannabaceae.

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis

Trema orientalis has a very wide distribution in the tropical and warm temperate parts of the Old World. It´s range extends from South Africa, through Africa the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent into southern China, Southeast Asia  including the Philippines and Australia.

Over it´s wide range Trema orientalis has many common names which include pigeon wood, charcoal-tree and gunpowder tree

Trema orientalis has considerable ecological significance being a very productive tree
with at least 14 species of butterfly using it as a larval food plant. Many species of birds are attracted to this tree to eat the vast amounts of small berries that it produces almost continuously throughout the year or to feed on the abundant insects which live on these trees. 

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis berries

In my own garden they are frequented by a large number of bird species which include Black Collard Barbet, Crested Barbet, Yellow Rumped Tinker Bird, Glossy, Black Bellied, Violet Backed and Redwinged Starlings, Purple Crested Turaco, White Eyes, Thickbilled Weavers, Klaas Cuckoo Diederik Cuckoo, Somber Bulbul, Grey Bulbul, Speckled Mouse bird, Ring Necked Doves and many others. 

The vast numbers of tiny greenish yellow flowers are pollinated by various bee species which attract insect eating birds.

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis flowers

The leaves are also browsed by game animals and can be used as spinach. This tree is a fast growing species found in previously disturbed areas and on forest margins. It is a pioneer species that can grow on poor soil and can be used to regenerate forest areas by providing shade and protection to saplings of forest hardwoods
Trema orientalis is a nitrogen fixing tree which improves soil fertility for other plant species.

From a conventional landscaping point of view Trema orientalis  is not a very suitable candidate for a landscape feature tree because it often looks rather messy due to its leaves being eaten by just about every conceivable insect however it is a must in every garden that strives to encourage wildlife.

Pigeon Wood Trema orientalis leaves eaten by insects

Being a pioneer tree Trema orientalis is very useful when it comes to establishing a new proudly South African garden in particular on poor soils providing shade and a windbreak for other plants that are being established.

Trema orientalis is invaluable when it comes to indigenous forest restoration where it provides shade, nutrients and organic material in the form of dead leaves and vast amounts of excrement from the many insects that feed on its leaves. In addition it provides protection for the slower growing and more tender specimens. Seeds of many trees are also brought onto site by birds which come to feed on the seeds though this may not always be a good thing where undesirable alien plants seeds are brought in by birds feeding on its fruits.

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