Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Uses and cultural aspects (Tarchonanthus littoralis)


The five species that made up the Tarchonanthus camphoratus complex are widely used in traditional medicine. The leaves and twigs are used, either drunk in a tea or chewed fresh, to treat headaches, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, colds, flu and other chest ailments, rheumatism, internal bleeding, anxiety, indigestion, heartburn and other stomach troubles, and to relieve toothache. An ointment made with the leaves is used to soothe chilblains and sore feet and sometimes used to massage the legs before a long journey. In combination with wild sages, the Khoisan people used them to treat fevers and measles. The Khoisan people used to smoke the leaves as a dagga substitute (hemp, marijuana). The leaves are tied into hair to perfume the hair or rubbed into the scalp to keep the hair free of nits and dandruff or just for the perfume. Leaves and twigs are used as an insect repellent among clothing and linen. The fragrant, cottony seed heads are used to stuff cushions and pillows, which are said to be excellent for headaches and sleeplessness. Leaves tucked under the pillow are said to ensure a peaceful night. The wood burns, even when green, giving off a perfumed smoke. Burned leaves and seeds also give off perfumed smoke and are used to fumigate huts, and smoke is inhaled to treat rheumatism, headaches and sleeplessness. The wood is heavy and fairly hard, tough and termite-proof but is difficult to season and chop. It polishes well and has been used for musical instruments, cabinet work and is suitable for turnery. It is used for boat-building and to make yokes and yoke pins. It has also been used for the shafts of spears and bows, and for walking sticks. It makes a durable fence pole, said to stand for 30 years. The wood is said to be poisonous and capable of causing a septic sore on the skin that heals with difficulty. In Griqualand West, the old tradition was to surround the homestead with an outer fence made of thickly woven camphor bush sticks. In the modern home, its long straight coppice growth can be cut and used as sturdy garden stakes. Its leaves and seed heads can be used in potpourri or to perfume clothing or linen cupboards. Tarchonanthus littoralis is a quick-growing, small, dense tree. It has the ability to survive and thrive under harsh conditions that many other plants cannot tolerate. It can be planted to provide a windbreak, as a pioneer in a new garden to provide shade, and to bind the sand. Tarchonanthus littoralis also has excellent proportions for small suburban gardens, never getting too big, with a decorative trunk and shapely crown. It grows right beside the sea and tolerates salt spray, which makes it tailor-made for coastal gardens. It is ideal for difficult sites on the Cape Flats where it thrives in the nutrient-poor sandy soils, strong wind and summer drought. It is water-wise and can be planted in dry areas or in gardens that are not irrigated. It also does not mind being pampered in the average suburban garden. Plant in well-drained soil in a sunny position. Give it a good start with plenty of compost and water in its first few years. Once established, it requires very little attention. Prune to shape when young or keep tidy as it matures, and remove unwanted shoots from the base to keep the trunk clear. Gardeners looking for a female plant for the decorative fruiting heads, should either buy a plant bearing fruit, or learn to tell the difference between the male and female flowers. To achieve pollination and viable seeds, one must plant a male and a female tree. Tarchonanthus littoralis can be propagated by seed or cuttings. Seed is best sown when ripe in late summer to autumn or stored dry and cool and sown in spring to early summer. Seed is ripe when the fruits detach easily from the inflorescence, either by gently pulling or knocking them off. The seeds in their cotton balls can also be picked up from under the tree. It is virtually impossible to remove the seeds from their woolly covering and they can be sown with hairs still attached. Use a well-drained medium, sow the seeds thickly in a single layer and cover them lightly to stop them from blowing away. Germination takes 4–6 weeks with a 70–80 % success rate. Seedlings can be transplanted as soon as they are strong enough to handle. Take semi-hardwood cuttings in early summer, treat with a rooting hormone and place under the mist with bottom heat. Tarchonanthus littoralis takes a while to root and on average only half of the cuttings taken will root. AuthorAlice Notten; Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, April 2008

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