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Topic : Botanical : Fruit

Article 52 bullet 19 August 2009

Dune Soap-berry Deinbollia oblongifolia

By Geoff Nichols

Deinbollia oblongifolia - dune soap-berry, duineseepbessie ; iQinisa-masimu

Walk through any patch of coastal bush along the coastal belt of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape to around East London and you’ll find this medium sized shrub of about 5 metres tall. It is a common garden "pioneer/volunteer" plant that often arrives and looks in its early stages for all the world like a young forest mahogany (Trichilia dregeana). The leaves are compound and the 5-8 pairs of leaflets have a paler green slightly matt appearance hence the confusion with the forest mahogany, which in fact has a darker green compound leaf that is fractionally glossier.

Sombre Greenbul feed on this shrub's fruit

Sombre Greenbul feed on this shrub's fruit in late August into early September on the coast. This is one of the prime late winter food plants on the eastern coast of Southern Africa. A must for any garden

The dune soap-berry is usually multi-stemmed and if it isn't then you should nip out the terminal bud to force it to become multi-stemmed thus ensuring more terminal clusters of flowers which are small and creamy coloured. It is however the pale yellow 10mm diameter fruits that make me want this plant in my garden, especially in the winter months when all else is dry and dormant this plant has ripe fruit that provides a welcome meal for the birds and monkeys. If you are feeling a little adventurous then try the fruit the fleshy inner part is quite palatable to us humans!

Dune Soap Berry - Deinbollia oblongifolia Dune Soap Berry - Deinbollia oblongifolia

Dune Soap Berry - Deinbollia oblongifolia flowers appear in early June when most other trees are resting. Dune Soap Berry - Deinbollia oblongifolia fruit appear in late August and September. Highly palatable even to humans and these fruit keep many birds and animals alive when the bush is at its lowest ebb. Even forest antelope feed on the fallen fruits dislodged by Monleys and birds.

This plant has another use that we often overlook; the leaves are the food for the larvae of two species of butterfly of which only the former occurs in the Durban area the forest queen (Euxanthe wakefieldi). The gold-banded forester (Euphaedra neophron) is arguably South Africa's most handsome butterfly and its caterpillars feed on the dune soap-berry and the jacket-plum (Pappea capensis) however the gold-banded forester only occurs as far south as about Mtunzini. The other butterfly that uses this plant as a larval food plant is the black-and-orange playboy (Virachola dariaves) though the female lays her eggs on the fruits and the caterpillars then eat the fruits. The other butterflies that feed on this plant are the Charaxes. In this case however it is the adult flying forms that feed on the sweet fermenting fruits.

Deudorix diocles - Orange-barred Playboy Euphaedra neophron - Gold-banded Forester

Left: Deudorix diocles - Orange-barred Playboy this species sips nectar from the flowers and then lays its eggs on the young fruit where the larvae feed on the flesh and seed. Right: Euphaedra neophron - Gold-banded Forester another butterfly arguably the most striking forest dwelling butterfly in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Females lay their eggs on the underside of leaves of the Dune Soap Berry.

During the early summer you can also find another dune special growing on Deinbollia this is a parasitic plant Tapinanthus kraussianus - Krauss’s Mistletoe or the more descriptive common name of Lighted Matches. This parasite has flowers that are attractive to sunbirds and the fruits are relished by the fruit eating birds of the dune bush like Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Dark-capped Bulbul, Yellow-rumped and Red-fronted Tinkerbirds are all great distributors of this plant. When you have found a flowering plant of the Mistletoe, mark the plant and come back in two or three months to collect the fleshy fruits. Pop out the inner sticky bit that covers the seed proper, this sticky substance was rendered down in the past to make bird lime. Then stick the seed to a thin about 10mm branch or twig of a Dune Soap-berry and wait for the Mistletoe seed to germinate, about one in five seeds will attach themselves to the Deinbollia and there you are a new mistletoe in your own garden.

Krauss's Mistletoe Krauss's Mistletoe

Krauss's Mistletoe - Tapinanthus kraussianus or Agelanthus kraussianus or Loranthus kraussianus one of the prettiest of our parasitic mistletoes. Flowers in mid winter when all else is resting. Fruits ready in early summer for the various birds and mammals.

All in all a very useful garden subject with value as a form plant in the landscape as it is fairly columnar in shape and has distinct terminal heads of leaves. Enjoys full sun but will survive in the shade but not flower as well. I often use this plant in herbaceous or shrub borders to add a little interest and I also plant it in groups so that you get the bulking effect otherwise it can get lost amongst the other species especially while it is still small.



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