The Wildebeest's guide to South Africa

Powder-puff Tree

Afrikaans name: Poeierkwasboom

Powderpuff Tree

Photo © Steven Herbert

Barringtonia racemosa

The Powder-puff Tree gets its name from the long tassels with fluffy white flowers. These tassels, which are racemes, can be up to a metre long. The Powder-puff Tree grows to a height of around 10 metres with some specimens growing to 15 metres. and it may be found in groups in or near marshy or swampy areas. They are often found in mangrove swamps.

It has large leaves which are around 30 cm in length. These grow in clusters at the ends of the branches. It flowers twice a year, in spring and then summer. The fruit is reddish-green and up to 4 cm in length. When ripe they fall off the tree and are most often dispersed by water.

Leaves of a Powderpuff Tree

Photo © Steven Herbert

The tree is fed on by caterpillars of the Red-tab Policeman butterfly. The fruit has been used traditionally to treat fever. The Powder-puff Tree is popular with gardeners in coastal areas. They can be very attractive, particularly when grown in full sun. Various parts of the tree, such as the bark and seeds, contain a poison called saponin. These elements of the tree are ground into a powder and that is thrown in water to stun fish. Bats and moths are attracted to the putrid smell of the flowers.

Bark of a Powderpuff Tree

Photo © Steven Herbert

References and further reading

Trees of Southern Africa - 3rd edition - Author: Keith Coates Palgrave - Published: 2002 - Page: 782

The Complete Field Guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei - Author: Elsa Pooley - Published: 1994 - Page: 346

The Beach Book - Author: Jerry Gosnell - Published: 2011 - Page: 129

The Beach Book - Author: Jerry Gosnell - Published: 2011 - Page: 106

Sappi Tree Spotting: KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape - 2nd edition - Author: Val Thomas and Rina Grant - Published: 2004 - Page: 242

A Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa - Author: E. Palmer - Published: 1983 - Page: 254

Everyones Guide to Trees of South Africa - Author: Keith, Paul and Meg Coates Palgrave - Published: 1989 - Page: 81


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