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Corkwoods & Cabbage Trees (Burseraceae & Araliaceae)

Corkwoods (Burseraceae)

Burseraceae is known as the myrrh family because one species of Commiphora from Arabia produces an aromatic resin which known as myrrh. Local species also produce resin, but of no commercial value. Commiphora is probably the most important genus in this family and most of the southern African species grow in hot, arid regions. The English common name for the genus is corkwood.

Many species in this genus have distinctively peeling, or warty, mottled bark and all of them grow readily from truncheons.

The dark, warty markings on the bark of Commiphora merkeri have given rise to the name zebra tree or zebra corkwood.


The paper-bark corkwood, Commiphora marlothii, has been planted in the Burseraceae section and has bark that peels off in enormous papery flakes. It is possible to write on this paper with a soft felt pen. The inner bark is dark green and smooth. This species has bright yellow autumn foliage. All its stunning attributes make it an excellent tree to plant in a dry, aloe or succulent garden. It deserves more attention in horticulture.

Commiphora neglecta also has dark green inner bark but it peels off in much smaller flakes.


There are only about 4 species that grow in high rainfall areas and of these Commiphora harveyi is the one species that occurs naturally in the Lowveld Garden.

By far the most stunning bark is that of the white-stem corkwood, Commiphora tenuipetiolata, which grows in the arid northern regions, near the Limpopo. (This picture was taken at Van Coller's Pass in the Zoutpansberg Mountains.)



Cabbage Trees (Araliaceae)

The main genus represented in the Araliaceae section of the Garden is Cussonia. These handsome trees with their interesting leaves and thick, succulent trunks are commonly known as cabbage trees or kiepersols. There are nine species in the Garden.

Cussonia spicata grows wild in the Lowveld Garden. It has rough, corky bark and an impressive candelabra inflorescence which can become very heavy. Because the wood of this species is so soft and brittle, branches have been known to break under the weight of the enormous flowering or fruiting head.





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