Know our own native plants !
Gymnosporia buxifolia
South African hedge plant with benefits

A Gymnosporia buxifolia sapling in excellent health at Spirit of Nature nursery in Cape Town.A perfect hedge plant, among its other virtues: Gymnosporia buxifolia sapling in excellent health at Spirit of Nature nursery in Cape Town.

Gymnosporia buxifolia
in the garden

Gymnosporia means naked seed and buxifolia 'with leaves like a common box tree'.

As a hedge plant, Gymnosporia buxifolia is an excellent candidate in South African gardens. It grows in all our climate zones and it has neat, dense, attractive foliage which can take pruning. If you are looking for a security hedge, it has serious thorns. The branches bear robust, sharp, slender spines up to 10cm in length. As a hedge or shrub, it can serve as a suitable background for other plantings, reaching a height of 2-3 m. It also makes an attractive small, gnarled evergreen tree up to 7m in height.

It can be showy when in flower, covered with cream or white flowers in clusters along the branches. It flowers in early summer (August to November in the southern hemisphere). Some people find the smell of the blossoms obnoxious, so plant it well away from the house if you don't like off odors. However, this very perfume brings a plethora of ecological advantages.

Source:, and Toos van den Berg, nurserywoman.

More than a hedge plant:
ecological services

G. buxifolia's perfume, described by SANBI as foetid to sickly sweet, is the kind of smell very attractive to insects, from flies to bees and butterflies. Growing the plant will support all of these insects, and the insects will support insect eating birds. Not only this, but most nestlings, even those of seed eating birds, require a diet of insects till they are grown. Therefore a tree which attracts so many insects will support nesting birds. In addition to all these plusses, the thorns on the tree branches serve as anchorage for nests, and shelter for nesting birds and other small animals.

Butterflies can be very host specific. Their larvae, which we know as caterpillars, may have evolved to eat only one plant. When that plant goes, the butterfly dies out. This is the case with many insects all over the world. Therefore plant native plants, with which the insects have co-evolved, and don't spray the caterpillars when they appear, if you care about insect diversity.

G. buxifolia is indigenous to South Africa. It therefore starts with a winning hand for maintaining insect diversity due to its co-evolution with our insects. One study pertinent to our topic, cited in the Journal of the South African Lepidoptera Society, is an illustration. The larvae of a butterfly Sicyodes cambogiaria were collected on Gymnosporia buxifolia in South Africa in a wooded ravine.

The conservation status of G. buxifolia is of least concern.

Growing tips for this fabulous, easy hedge plant, G. buxifolia

Gymnosporia buxifolia is a generalist and can be planted in any soil. It is water wise, drought and cold hardy.

Further description of G. buxifolia

The leaves of G. buxifolia are glossy, dark to lemon green with red growing tips. The leaf is oval with a toothed edge, but the leaf form varies. So too does its positioning on branches vary from alternate to clustered. The seeds are round, wrinkly and leathery, coloured white to greyish brown and 7mm in diameter. Each such round capsule contains 1 to 4 seeds partly covered by a yellow coat.

The bark grows corky and gnarled with age, making an interesting tree if not used as a hedge plant.

The natural habitat of
G. buxifolia

G. buxifolia is widespread in southern Africa and reaches up into tropical Africa. It is found in valleys and on dry ground in a high variety of vegetation zones, namely grassland, Fynbos, Nama-karoo, forests, thickets and savanna-bushveld.

Beyond use as a hedge plant: the other uses of G.buxifolia

G. buxifolia is a medicinal plant, traditionally used in the treatment of pleurisy, chest colds and coughs, diarrhoea and snakebite. But caution must be applied as it is said to be poisonous. The seeds are also not edible to humans.

The timber is dense, making it fine grained, heavy, hard, and strong. It has been used for tool handles, engraving, turning and furniture, but prolonged skin contact with the wood may cause irritation.

Availability of G.buxifolia in Cape Town, South Africa

Gymnosporia buxifolia seedlings can be bought for the very reasonable price of R50 at Toos van den Berg's new nursery 'Spirit of Nature' in Lucullus road Kraaifontein. The price given is on the 15th of May 2021 and will increase with time.



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