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Curtisia dentate – Assegaai
Family: Cornaceae (dogwood family)
A medium to tall evergreen tree, 2-12 m and up to 20 m in height. The bark is smooth and grey or cinnamon-coloured in young specimens but it becomes rough, dark brown to black and deeply square-fissured with age. The leaves are simple, 25-100 x 19-76 mm, egg-shaped with pointed tips and coarsely toothed edges, and are arranged in opposite pairs. The upper surface is smooth and dark glossy green whereas the undersurface is grey-green with conspicuous veins. The undersurface of the leaf, the leaf stalk and the twigs are all covered with small, reddish hairs. Very young growth is velvety to the touch and bronze-gold in colour.
The flowers are inconspicuous, not very attractive nor are they scented. They are small, drab cream- or fawn-coloured and velvety and appear in much-branched sprays at the ends of twigs in spring-summer.
The fruit is a small, rounded to oval, fleshy berry, about 10 mm in diameter. They generally appear 6-10 months after flowering (May-Oct), and are white, or white tinged with pink, sometimes becoming red, and crowned with the remains of the calyx. The fruits contain a four-chambered nut, one seed per chamber, although not all four seeds are always formed. Fruits are edible but bitter.
Curtisia dentata grows in most of the forests in southern Africa and Swaziland, from sea level to 1 800 m. It ranges from the Cape Peninsula through the forest patches of the eastern Western Cape to the forests of the Knysna region, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Swaziland. In the forest it is usually found in climax forest and grows into a tall tree. It also grows on grassy mountain slopes and in coastal scrub forest where it is a small bushy tree.
The bark is in great demand for traditional medicine, and is used to treat stomach ailments, diarrhoea and as a blood purifier and aphrodisiac. It is used only in special mixtures because it is now too scarce to be used in most mixtures.
Growing Curtisia dentate
Curtisia dentata is handsome, fast-growing and easy to grow. It grows into a tall shapely, densely-leafy evergreen tree with a rounded crown that looks good all year round. It can be grown in full sun to light shade. In full sun it becomes bushy, and makes an attractive, tall, leafy hedge or screen. Its roots are non-invasive and it has a long lifespan, i.e. 30+ years. It is a good tree for gardeners wishing to attract birds to their garden.