What is the plant
Dombeya rotundifolia, the dikbas or "South African wild pear" (it is not related to pear trees), is a small deciduous tree with dark grey to blackish deeply fissured bark, found in Southern Africa and northwards to central and eastern tropical Africa. Formerly placed in the Sterculiaceae, that artificial group has now been abandoned by most authors and the plants are part of an enlarged Malvaceae.
Trees are normally 5–6 m tall with a single well-defined trunk, growing on deep soils, river banks and rocky places. Leaves and flower buds are densely covered in stellate hairs. One of the first species to flower in spring, often with Erythrina lysistemon. Flowers are abundant and sweet-scented, usually white but occasionally pale pink. Flowers (15–20 mm diameter) inconspicuous round fruits form at the centre of the brown, dead, persistent petals. Wood is bluish-grey, dense, hard and extremely tough, and was sought after during the era of building wagons and carriages.
Most of the cultivated dombeyas are shrubs with attractive pink or white flowers closely related to D. rotundifolia, such as Dombeya burgessiae or Dombeya autumnalis; the latter was described when its habit of flowering during autumn became apparent.
It is drought and frost tolerant, it is popular with beekeepers due to its high nectar production that attracts a multitude of bees and butterflies. Its flowers in showy profuse displays make it a highly valued ornamental tree. It produces a good timber with a greyish-blue heartwood and suitable for woodworking. Freshly-cut timber has a strong aroma of fishmeal.
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