Cussonia paniculata



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Botanical Name
Cussonia paniculata
Family
Araliaceae - The ivy and cabbage tree family.
Pronunciation
koo-SOH-nee-ah pah-nik-yew-LAY-tah subsp. sin-yoo-AH-tuh
Common Name(s)
English: Mountain cabbage tree
Afrikaans: Bergkiepersol; Sambreelboom
IsiXhosa: Umsenge
IsiZulu: Umsengembuzi; Umsenge
Tshivenda: Musenzhe
siSwati: Umsenge
Plant Group
  • Tree A woody, self-supporting perennial plant usually with a single main stem and generally growing more than 6 meters tall.
Plant Size
  • Very Small
    Tree3m to 4m
    Shrub25cm to 50cm
    Perennial/ground coverUp to 10cm
    Bulb10cm to 20cm
    SucculentUp to 5cm
Position
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Drought Tolerance: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Frost: Hardy The plant can withstand freezing temperatures or frost without artificial protection.
  • Roots Invasive Do not plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
Specific Information

Blue green leaves, an unusual shape and gnarled, rough bark make this tree an interesting focal point. In the wild, Cussonia paniculata subsp. sinuata, (which is the species grown most often), is often found in rocky crevices where it's root is protected from fire damage. They look particularly fitting when planted amid large rocks or boulders.

All the members of this genus form a swollen stem base beneath the ground and care must be taken not to damage this when planting out.

I have specimens of Cussonia paniculata in my garden in the Eastern cape, but the foliage is green rather than blue, so they are possibly the sub-species paniculata​ which is found only in the Eastern Cape.

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Flowers
Description

a large head of tiny flowers on short dense spikes

Season
  • Summer to Autumn Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
Colour
  • yellowish green
Growth Rate
  • Slow Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Accent or Focal Point A plant used to attract the attention because of its colour or form.
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Boundary A plant useful for planting around the edges of the property to form a green or colourful backdrop, an impenetrable hedge, to hide walls or create privacy.
  • Container Trees, shrubs and ornamental species that can adapt to growing in a restricted environment.
  • Filler Either a fast growing tree or shrub used temporarily to fill in an area while the permanent plants grow to a desired size, or a plant used to fill gaps in borders or beds.
  • Provides light / dappled shade A tree with an open to sparse canopy, through which varying degrees of sunlight can penetrate.
  • Rock Garden An area constructed of larger rocks, arranged naturally, to emphasise the use of stones as a main element. Generally plants used do not need a lot of care.
  • Suitable for smaller gardens Such plants do not have invasive root systems, remain small or controllable and can often be grown in containers.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
Distribution and Habitat

Cussonia paniculata subsp. sinuata is found in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, the Free State, Gauteng,  Limpopo and North West, and further north, occuring inland in rocky places, often in rock crevices 

Cussonia paniculata subsp. paniculata​ is limited to the Eastern Cape

Planting Suggestions

Try to emulate the rocky habitat where Cussonia paniculata often occur. Plant in a well-prepared hole with well drained soil mixed with of compost. Mulch well to retain moisture.

The best way to propagate is from very fresh seed in a tray deep enough to allow space for the tuber to form. Keep moist but not wet in light or semi-shade and transplant carefully after four months.

Cuttings may take but will not form the flesh rootstock needed for optimal growth and for survival during drought.

The old method of digging a deep hole and filling it with soil and compost has resulted in many trees failing to thrive, dying, rotting at the base or worse still, falling over in later years due to poor root development.  Refer to the following sites for the best method of planting trees:

Treehelp.com: Planting a tree

International Society of Arboriculture: New Tree Planting

Tree People: Plant the right way

For those of you who have a clay problem try:

Rod's Garden: Planting in clay soil

Medicinal Uses

The thick root, peeled and eaten raw can be used as a source of food or water.

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Comments

A well-established (at lease 5m tall)Cussonioa Paniculata in my garden in Benoni failed to produce new leaves this Spring. It is in close proximity to two other Cussonias, and they produced new leaves as normal. Any idea what the problem could be? I have heard that cutting mack the head of the tree (ie say the highest 1,5m) could stimulate regrowth. Is this true?

Hi Peter

I can't make an assessment as to why this tree did not produce leaves. There are a number of factors that could come into play: damage to the caudex from insects, disease or rotting; the age of the tree; insect activity or disease in the trunk or on the crown...

I do recall that one year the emerging leaves my C. paniculata in my Jhb garden failed to leaf and on closer inspection it was seen to be ravaged by caterpillars. However, it recovered soon after and produced another set of leaves.

Usually if a cussonia loses its 'head' through breakage or cutting, it does recover and regrow, but if there are other problems this may be the final death blow. I would be sorely tempted to go for the cutting because I am impatient, but it would probably be wise to take a more cautious approach. Perhaps give the tree a bit more time and investigate all other possibilities, even clearing some of the soil away from the caudex (if possible), to check for signs of trouble. Look for softening or sponginess of the caudex or along the trunk.

If you do decide to cut, you could do it now, before summer sets in, or better still wait until winter when the tree is dormant.

It would be interesting to hear from you again - I'd like to know what action you decide to take and the results you have. Keep me posted.

Perhaps someone else has some ideas.

Regards
Lorraine

Hi Lorraine, I have a Cussonia paniculata which is about 5yrs old. This year it developed its first flower. The plant now looks extremely depleted as it seems to be putting all of its energy into the flower. Should I lop the flower off? Should I boost the growth with fertilizer (recomendations please?)? Should I merely be patient and wait for the flowering period to pass? I really want the plant to survive as it was/is gorgeous and is a feature in our garden. Do you think I might have success collecting some seed and propagating from them. A couple of years ago I cut off some suckers and planted these. One survived and it's nothing like the original plant. I'd love some advice and would be very grateful to hear from you. Cheers Mary

Hi Mary

This is not unusual and I would, as you say, be patient and wait for the flowering period to pass.

Collecting seed from Cussonias has its difficulties. They are usually difficult to reach and the seed should be fully ripened - it is often a race between you and the birds as to who gets the prime seeds. Viable seed can be recognised by the plump, pulpy layer covering the seed, but this does not guarantee that the seed has not been internally parasitised. Once viable, healthy seed has been gathered, propagation is reasonably easy as long as the seed is collected fresh, the pulpy layer is removed and it is planted immediately.

From my research I have the impression that a cutting is unable to develop the underground swelling or caudex which is necessary for the plant to thrive and I have found no evidence that this is a method used to propagate Cussonias.

Hope this helps.
Regards
Lorraine

what is the desirability and the succession status of this plant

Hi Joyce

Sorry I can't help you. I'm afraid I don't even understand the question! I am just an ordinary gardener without any botanical or scientific training whatsoever.

Kind regards
Lorraine

Hi Lorraine- I have a 15 foot tall extremely healthy Cussonia in the Bay Area of San Francisco California. It's also 15 years old and started flowering about 3 months ago. It only has one "head" . My question is: will it keep growing after the flowering & fruiting (bees have been going crazy!) or will it die? Thanks - Julie

Hi Julie

There is no reason it should die. I also have a specimen with only one head. It flowered and nothing much seems to be growing up there so far, but it has sent out more than 10 side shoots along the trunk, which will eventually grow into branches. The tree seems to take a while to recover from the effort of flowering.

I found the following interesting discussion, dealing with this question, at http://www.cloudforest.com/cafe/forum/63082.html

Kind regards
Lorraine

Hi Lorraine,

Have you ever moved an established (2-4m tall) Cussonia from one place to another in the garden? We are having a few pine trees felled and the work may disturb or break / kill our established and beloved Cussonias!! Can we dig up and move it away on the day, and then re-plant again in the same spot?? Maybe a few steel droppers nearby will help to deflect any falling pine and protect them somewhat? I suppose which is the bigger risk - remove and replant or hope for the best??? Thanks!

Hi Hazel

I have only every moved small Cussonias of up to 2 meters. This was done successfully except in one case where a chunk of the large underground storage root was damaged and subsequently rotted. I have avoided moving anything larger because of the fear of damaging the root system. I think you have answered your own question: to decide which will be the greater risk, a decision only you can make as you are more able to assess the situation than I am.

Sorry I can't be of much help and I hope that your tree survives the event without damage.

Kind regards
Lorraine

Does Cussonia have an invasive root system? My tree was planted very close to the wall and it seems like its lifting the foundation. Please assist urgently. SHOULD I REMOVE THE TREE?

Hi Kalpana

My sincere apologies for not replying earlier - my website has been inactive for a few months.

In answer to your first question, please read the information in the above text, under the heading 'General information'.
And in answer to your second question, yes, you should remove it.

Kind regards
Lorraine

I want to plant a cussonia in a school quad, do they have invasive roots which could cause damage to the building? It will be planted at least 3m from the nearest wall.

Hi John

Yes they do have invasive roots but 3 m or more should be enough.

Regards
Lorraine

The leaves are turning brown and dropping off but the stem is healthy and plant has good position and good drainage.

Hi Jerry

I doubt if you have anything to worry about. In some areas Cabbage trees lose their leaves in autumn. However, you may want to check carefully if there is any evidence of insect activity.

Kind regards
Lorraine

We planted 2 Kiepersol trees in our garden in Linden about 10 tears ago - about 30m apart - one in front of the house and one at the back. They grew very well and are now about 4 m high. Both flowered for the first time (at exactly the same time) after 5 years. At that time they only produced flowers - no new leaves. The flowers attracted a lot of birds and insects, but afterwards the stems oozed a brown sap and started dying back (both trees). I cut off the stems below the affected areas and the next year both produced healthy leaves and new shoots. Now, about 5 years later, both have produced flowers again, but one of them also had new leaves on 2 of the stems with flowers on the other two. The flowers have died now, but with the same result - the stems are dying back. Shall I cut off the affected stems again, or wait to see what happens? I am scared they may die back completely!

Hi Johan

Sincere apologies for not replying to your query sooner.

I have seen this a couple of times in my garden. I did not cut back the first time and the rot travelled really far down the stem. I eventually cut it off and the tree recovered but it took quite a long time. The next time I cut the rotting part off as soon as I discovered it. I have no idea what causes this to happen so I just deal with the problem as it arises.

Kind regards
Lorraine

I recently detached the dried husk of dead flower heads from my Cussonia Paniculata. Inside, it was ravaged by tiny white maggot-like pupae, which also appear to have produced a brownish, slimy gunge. The tree was otherwise very healthy and has been in my yard for almost 12 years. I've no idea what to do next, so any handy tips will be very much welcomed?

Hi Martin

My sincere apologies for not having answered your query sooner.

The larvae are the young of one or other beetle which uses the Cussonia as a host. As the critter has not done any damage to the tree, just get rid of the dead flower heads and no other immediate action need be taken.

Kind regards
Lorraine

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