Friday, 28 March 2014

Forest Toad Tree Tabernaemontana ventricosa an ideal tree for a small garden

Forest Toad Tree

Tabernaemontana ventricosa

Umkhahlu, Ukhamamasane (Zulu)

Belongs to the plant family Apocynaceae.

Natural Distribution and Habitat

Tabernaemontana ventricosa  has a disjunct distribution from Ghana, eastern Nigeria, western Cameroon, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa in the coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal where it grows in riverine forests and the forest under storey.


This small to medium-sized tree can reach a maximum height of 15 m, but averages between 4 and 8 m. Tabernaemontana ventricosa can have one or more straight trunks with smooth greyish-brown bark. The tree is low branching with smooth, dark green young branches turning a pale brown when mature. The leaves are large oblong and shiny dark green in colour, the flowers are salver-shaped, white and sweet smelling. The unusual fruits have two pods joined at the base they are dark green and smooth, sometimes with wrinkles and light green speckles or markings they split open to reveal fleshy orange pulp with embedded seeds in June to August.

Use in the landscape

Tabernaemontana ventricosa with its small size, clean tidy growth habit, glossy dark green foliage, attractive sweet smelling white flowers and unusual fruits, is excellent for the landscape designer of gardener to plant in any garden or landscape design. For those wanting to plant it to bring nature back into their indigenous garden it is an excellent choice because apart from being an ideal landscape feature plant it also attracts birds, insects and small mammals into your garden.
Although Tabernaemontana ventricosa grows naturally mostly as an under story plant and prefers shade to partly shady conditions it will grow in the full sun in a garden if it is sheltered from the wind and it gets plenty of water, where it will flower much more profusely than if grown in shade.
Tabernaemontana ventricosa is frost sensitive, preferring more tropical areas with mild winters.
Tabernaemontana ventricosa will happily grow in wet places where many other plants may not grow.

Ecological importance

Birds, animals such as fruit bats and monkeys eat the fruit. The leaves are browsed by game in particular bushbuck, the sweet smelling flowers attract various insects.

Propagation and Growing

Tabernaemontana ventricosa can easily be grown from fresh seed and grows relatively fast under favorable conditions.
Tabernaemontana ventricosa seedlings grows best in humus rich well drained sandy soils.
Plant in a large hole and mix in a good amount of compost, well rotted manure, and a balanced fertiliser. Mulch well and water regularly, especially during the first year or two for optimum growth.

Cultural Uses 

The bark of this tree is said to be used for bringing down a fever, the latex is applied to wounds and sore eyes to promote healing and in KwaZulu-Natal the seeds, bark and roots are used to treat nervous complaints and high blood pressure.
The pulp of the ripe fruit is edible.

Michael Hickman
28 March 2014

Indigenous Landscape Design Specialist

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